Lakers draftees make splash in debut
LAS VEGAS -- The Lakers' starting lineup for next season appeared a little shaky Friday with news of Derek Fisher planning a trip to Miami to talk with Heat president Pat Riley about a job, but the end of Los Angeles' bench looked a little brighter after impressive summer league debuts by the team's two rookies.
Second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks, selected No. 43 out of West Virginia, and Derrick Caracter, picked No. 58 out of UTEP, both came away looking like steals in their first taste of NBA action.
Ebanks, the 6-9, 210-pound Trevor Ariza body double at small forward (he even wore Ariza's No. 3), led the Lakers with 21 points to go with two assists and two steals.
Caracter, 6-9 and now 270 pounds -- after losing more than 30 pounds since college -- added 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the Lakers' 89-84 loss to the Pistons.
"I think both Caracter and Ebanks showed themselves capable of being in the league and being on the roster," said Chuck Person, the Lakers' coach for the five games the team will play in the Las Vegas Summer League.
With the Lakers already deep into the luxury tax next season with five players still left to sign, there is financial incentive for the team to sign the pair to rookie minimum salaries of $473,604.
Every dollar paid by the team to the remaining free agents it signs will have to be paid out double in a check to the league office to cover the fee levied for overspending, so filling out the roster with Ebanks and Caracter is the direction general manager Mitch Kupchak wants to go in if they prove capable, rather than going for more expensive options in veterans Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga who command minimum salaries in the $1 million range.
"I had to play a role at West Virginia that really didn't call for me to score and now I get a chance to show that here," Ebanks said. "It was fun. I was having fun out there, showcasing my talent."
Person described Ebanks as a "runner, a defender ... [and] a good slasher" and noted that while the rookie isn't known as a 3-point shooter, the coach believes he will be able to make them at the pro level. Ebanks was 1-for-3 from 3-point range Friday.
Caracter, who was two picks away from being "Mr. Irrelevant" of the NBA draft, has more of an uphill battle to make the team, but Person came away impressed with the fight he showed.
"Derrick did some good things in the post, made his jump shots, rebounded really well," Person said. "Obviously he has some things to work on, that's the reason he got drafted No. 58. He lacks a little size so his height he makes up for with strength and the ability to have a nose for the ball."
The undersized power forward said he embraces the underdog role.
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"Every guy -- this rookie class, the class before me -- I just want to compete with everybody out there," Caracter said. "Just show them that I'm not worried about guys' names or anything like that -- I'm out here to compete and try to help my team win."
While summer league is a tough testing laboratory to get a feel for how a player can react in a structured system -- Detroit and L.A. combined for 46 turnovers in the game, after all -- part of Person's duty as coach is to introduce the incoming players to the triangle offense and see if they can grasp it.
"The guys showed the ability that they can pick it up and execute the things that we can do out of the basic triangle," Person said. "The team shot better than 50 percent from the field, which does show good execution."
Despite the endorsement, Caracter was asked what he needed to work on before Saturday's game against Denver and said: "The triangle. The triangle. Just trying to understand it, understanding the spots and all that that they're teaching me. Everything will work out."
Person also added he was impressed by Ibrahim Jaaber (11 assists) and D.J. Strawberry (14 points), both of whom have an outside shot at making the team as a backup guard, should Shannon Brown leave via free agency.
Bell still available
Veteran free-agent forward Raja Bell refuted an Internet story that reported the 33-year-old rejected a contract offer by the Lakers.
"I have not expressed any disinterest in joining the Lakers," Bell told ESPNLosAngeles.com in a phone interview Friday. "I have not been extended an offer that I could have rejected. They are one of several teams I am in contact with."
Bell said he has received several phone calls from former nemesis Kobe Bryant recruiting his services for next season.
In a radio interview with ESPNDallas.com's Tim McMahon earlier in the week, Bell ranked his top-three preferred destinations as Florida (the Heat or Magic), New York (Knicks or Nets), or Dallas. Bell played for the Mavericks in 2002-03.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten. Pedro Moura contributed to this report.