- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Lakersare spreading their roots 100 miles north of Los Angeles after the NBA announced Tuesday that the Lakers' new D-League affiliate for the 2010-11 season will be the Bakersfield Jam.
The Lakers were one of three NBA teams last season, along with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, to own its own D-League franchise, but the Lakers announced in May that they were suspending operations of their development team, the D-Fenders, for one year in order to restructure the team's business operations and find a smaller venue to play in other than at the Staples Center before Lakers games.
"We will be the affiliate of the Bakersfield team which, from our point of view is natural," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday. "It's perfect for us. There were a couple options that the [D-League] ran past us and just from a geographical point of view, it just made sense that we would be affiliated with the Bakersfield club."
Kupchak estimated the Lakers have played nearly a half a dozen preseason games in Bakersfield in the last decade and acknowledged the influence the team has on the inland city located halfway between L.A. and Fresno, Calif.
"We consider Bakersfield an extension of our fan base," Kupchak said. "It's a nice drive to get there. Many fans from Bakersfield drive down to our games so it's a natural fit for us and in terms of sending our players on assignment, logistics dictate that it makes the most sense that they can drive there, we can drive and watch them play, our fans can watch Lakers designated players play in Bakersfield, so it's perfect. We're happy and excited that it worked out the way it did."
Los Angeles did not have any rookies on last year's team and the player with the least amount of experience was Adam Morrison, who was in his fourth year. NBA players are only eligible to be sent down to a D-League affiliate in their first two seasons in the league.
The Lakers have assigned Jordan Farmar and Sun Yue to the D-Fenders in the past and could have the opportunity again next year to use the D-League as a seasoning tool should second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter make the team.
"It all depends on the injury situation and how players develop," Kupchak said. "If players have a great training camp and [head coach] Phil [Jackson] chooses to play them from time to time in an NBA game, then they're probably going to be better off playing with the NBA team, but if there are no injuries and they're not a rotation player and they're beginning to get stale, it will probably make sense to have them go play somewhere and in this case that would be Bakersfield."
According to a statement released by NBA D-League president Dan Reed, "Nearly one-third of all NBA Draft picks have played for their NBA D-League affiliate since the program's inception, and these affiliate relationships are a key reason why 20 percent of all NBA players have NBA D-League playing experience."
Kupchak and Lakers assistant GM Ronnie Lester would often sit in the stands to watch the D-Fenders' games prior to the Lakers games at Staples Center and will try to make the trip to Bakersfield as much as possible if Ebanks, Caracter or any other members of the team are assigned to the Jam.
"We'll miss that convenience but once again, we still plan to make the drive to Bakersfield, especially if we have a player or two that we send down for experience," Kupchak said.
As for the D-Fenders' coaching staff, assistant coach Rasheed Hazzard is an employee of the Lakers even though he helped out the D-Fenders during their season last year. He will continue to act as an assistant coach for the Lakers and assume more scouting responsibilities next year. D-Fenders head coach Chucky Brown will not be retained.
"Unfortunately it does affect Chucky Brown who was the head coach," Kupchak said. "Chucky is a good person and a good coach, but we don't have the team anymore so there's no need for a head coach."
Lakers not in Bell's top three
According to a team source, the Lakers are interested in pursuing former Kobe Bryant nemesis Raja Bell with the approximately $1.8 million a year left over from the team's mid-level exception after agreeing to terms with free agent guard Steve Blake last week.
But Bell, the 33-year-old free agent who played in only six games in 2009-10 before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left wrist in December, has other teams in mind.
In an interview with ESPNDallas.com's Tim McMahon and Ian Fitzsimmons, who were guest-hosting the Galloway & Company show on ESPN Radio 103.3 FM on Tuesday, Bell said his top three destinations are the state of Florida -- either the Heat or the Magic -- because "my parents and my sister would get a chance to see their nephews and their grandsons," the New York area -- either the Knicks or the Nets -- because he also has family in that area or the Mavericks because of how the organization treated him when he played there back in 2002-03.
Bell, however, did not shut the door on the Lakers, saying, "Right now I'm kind of wide open. Obviously I'd like to play for a team that has a chance to win something. It's been a while. The last couple years I've been on teams that didn't play for much and I can honestly say that I miss that."
Bell, who told the radio station that he is fully healthy and "can't even remember what it feels like to be injured," has been recruited to join the Lakers by none other than Bryant, according to Yahoo! Sports. But Bryant isn't the only one who's been calling.
"[The recruiting is] pretty heavy," Bell said. "Players always will reach out to you and text you and just kind of guys who are your friends and already have your number will put that bug in your ear very early when you're coming up as a free agent, just to kind of get you thinking along the lines of playing for their team. That happens every day."
As a 10-year veteran in the twilight of his career, Bell, who estimated that he has been contacted by over a dozen teams already but hasn't been given an offer, said he is waiting on the teams with cap space to make their moves on the major free agents to see what interest will be left to sign him.
"Not a whole lot is getting done these days in anticipation of what's going to happen with the big guys," Bell said. "We're just kind, everybody is, hanging out and waiting … It's all kind of a holding pattern until some of this stuff really starts to shake itself out and then I'll really have a better sense of where I'm looking to go."
If the Lakers were to sign Bell, he would primarily see minutes as Bryant's backup.
"Role is a big part of it," Bell said. "Where I'm at now, it's not so much whether I start or not … It's about being able to contribute and being able to be a piece of the puzzle that they need."
Ready to spend
Despite the Lakers already having committed $82 million to seven players next season, which is nearly $14 million over the luxury tax threshold, Kupchak said Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss did not make the mid-level exception off limits when signing new guys for next year.
"With Dr. Buss, it's never a situation where, 'You have this much money to spend and not a penny more,'" Kupchak said. "He doesn't operate that way. He's really a basketball person and the way he's always approached it is, 'Tell me why and who you're thinking about and then we can discuss it.' He's never averse to using all the resources available, providing it makes sense and it makes sense to him. It's up to me to explain it to him. There's never a, 'No,' answer unless I don't explain it right or it's not something that he wants to do."
Kupchak echoed Bell when talking about the timetable ahead of the team for finding another player to use what's left of the MLE on and add them to the roster.
"The mid-level and whatever may be left of the mid-level [after signing Blake] is a resource that we have available to us," Kupchak said. "Because of what's going on right now in the NBA, there's almost a logjam of activity. I'm not exactly sure what anybody's options are going to be at a certain stage of this free agent process -- stage one being the LeBrons and the Wades and the Bosh and the Stoudemires. I think once that stage plays out, then you'll go to the second and the third wave … The mid-level and pieces of the mid-level remain a resource and when we get a feel for who's available and what's available, I think we can better make that decision."
Phil, Fisher update
Phil Jackson announced he was coming back last week and Derek Fisher said he would like to come back if the money is fair, but both the coach and the captain still don't have deals in place.
Regarding Jackson, Kupchak said: "I made a comment last week where I said I don't expect us to have any problems with us going to contract with Phil and I think that remains the case. I'm not sure if it would be a day or two but I think it's very possible that Phil would be signed by the end of the week. I just don't anticipate any glitches."
He was more tight-lipped when it came to Fisher: "We've had an open dialogue now for several days with his representative and that's really far as I'll go in terms of sharing information."
This and that
LeBron James opened a Twitter account, @kingjames, Tuesday and Ron Artest was asked on his Twitter account, @RONARTESTCOM, what Kobe Bryant's Twitter name was. "Kobe and god don't tweet Everyone else does," Artest tweeted in response … With the Lakers working out their summer league team this week in L.A. before opening up their summer league slate in Las Vegas on Friday, Kupchak is pleased by what he sees so far. "We have a couple players who look like they might have a chance to make our roster, so that's comforting right there," Kupchak said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann