Phil Jackson plans to give Derrick Caracter an increased role
The first sign that forward Derrick Caracter will assume a bigger role with the Lakers: Instead of Coach Phil Jackson ignoring the rookie, he's now zinging him.
"The rookie is still learning how to get around the court and where to go," Jackson said.
The second sign: the personnel around him during practice Saturday. Center Andrew Bynum continued rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Forward Pau Gasol limited his practice to various rubber-band exercises. And forward Lamar Odom appeared to be absent altogether. With the Lakers' 108-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday requiring heavy minutes from Gasol (43) and Odom (39) while Bynum remains sidelined, missing practice served as a temporary solution to offset fatigue.
"We're trying to get through that today," Jackson said.
Six games into the season, Jackson doesn't see giving so many minutes to Gasol and Odom as a long-term strategy because of his fear that they will burn out. He openly wondered how he could limit the Lakers' front-line minutes when he has to deal with Theo Ratliff's limited mobility and Caracter's inexperience. Becoming a backcourt team seems like a possibility, but Jackson has insisted all season that the team's strength lies in its inside game.
For now, Jackson has grudgingly decided to enhance Caracter's role, possibly as early as Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers. It's not exactly what Jackson envisioned when the Lakers drafted Caracter out of Texas El Paso this off-season with their second-round pick.
"We didn't expect this situation to be like this, obviously," Jackson said. "We expected these kids to be in the D-League."
Instead, Caracter made enough of an impression during the Lakers' summer league games to receive a two-year contract worth about $1.1 million in which just the first year, at $473,604, is guaranteed. Caracter's life story involves the unpredictable. The highly touted recruit transferred from Louisville because of character and weight issues. He lost enough weight at Texas El Paso to become a second-round pick. And now he might become a regular in the Lakers' rotation, mostly out of necessity.
"I have more time to be out there to prove myself," Caracter said, "and with very little time to do it."
That's why any progress Caracter has made with conditioning, footwork, ballhandling, post moves and understanding the triangle offense all seems to be relative. Thanks to his continuous work at shedding weight, Caracter's 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame has given him a muscular yet mobile presence around the basket. But Caracter's ballhanding and decision-making prevent him from fully tapping that potential.
This concern is not the main variable affecting whether the Lakers can three-peat, but expediting Caracter's learning process could help stave off problems with Odom and Gasol lacking rest. It's a responsibility that Dan Barto, IMG's pro/college training coordinator, predicted Caracter would need to anticipate.
"He needs to mentally be prepared," Barto said. "Bynum is starting the year a little bit banged up. They have a history of guys being banged up. And Phil is obviously going to challenge him as a project anyway or possibly even ignore him. He needs to be prepared for all of that."
That time has come. Jackson said that "Derrick's going to have to find some time out there out on the floor" after Caracter averaged two points on 28.6% shooting in 4.6 minutes per game. Caracter concedes that he's still learning the forward and center positions, and he pledged to continue following his training camp approach.
"I just have to mentally focus in," Caracter said in September. "Mentally, I have to do the same thing that got me here and do the same thing now and even more. Focus in on learning the triangle and the different options out of it, and stepping in and being confident."
-- Mark Medina
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