Champion Lakers eager to pad depth

Two years ago, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said it would be difficult for anyone from his NBA Summer League team to stick on Los Angeles’ regular-season roster.

He wasn’t being arrogant, merely honest, and Kupchak was right. The Lakers muddled through nicely on their way to back-to-back titles.

This year is different. The champs are on the lookout for roster help as they gear up for a Three-Peat run.

”We only have eight players under contract,” Kupchak said Thursday after the Lakers signed veteran guard Steve Blake. ”And one of them (Luke Walton) has a bad back.

"You’re supposed to have 13 on your roster, and you can have as many as 15. So we have some spots open this time, which makes the Summer League important. We need to look at trying to fill some of those openings.”

The Lakers, who didn’t have a first-round draft pick on June 24, bring a mixed-bag roster to Cox Pavilion for the Summer League, which begins for them at 5 p.m. today against the Detroit Pistons.

The roster includes five-year veteran Gerald Green, who won the All-Star slam dunk contest with the Boston Celtics in 2007 when the game was played in Las Vegas, and D.J. Strawberry, who spent time with the Phoenix Suns and played in the D-League last year. Courtney Sims, who has three years’ NBA experience, is on the roster.

Two second-round draft picks — Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter — will try to make good first impressions on the Lakers. Ebanks, a 6-foot-9-inch forward who was drafted 43rd, averaged 11.2 points in two years at West Virginia, but rebounding and defense might be his ticket to the NBA. He averaged 8.1 rebounds for the Mountaineers as a sophomore.

Caracter, a 6-9 center who was dubbed ”Baby Shaq” in junior high, was drafted 58th. He never lived up to the teenage hype, playing only so-so for Louisville before transferring to Texas-El Paso, where he was second team All-Conference USA. He has slimmed down from 305 pounds to 277 in advance of the Summer League.

”You’re clearly most interested in your draft picks,” Kupchak said. ”But we want to take a long look at everybody we’ve brought to Vegas. Everyone’s going to have an opportunity.”

Ebanks and Caracter are reason enough for the Lakers to field a team. They need to see if either is worth investing in long term, and maybe they can provide some bench depth.

It’s also a chance for Kupchak to watch other rosters, hoping to find someone who can make the Lakers better.

”Even if we weren’t looking to add to our roster, which isn’t the case this year, it’s important for us to be there to evaluate other players," Kupchak said.

■ NOTES — Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was honored Thursday at the Summer League tipoff dinner, which benefits St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Karl, diagnosed with throat cancer in February, is expected to return to coach the Nuggets this fall. … He’s not suiting up this year, but Golden State guard Steph Curry practiced with the Warriors’ squad Thursday at Sierra Vista High School. He is staying in shape in preparation for USA Basketball’s Las Vegas minicamp, which begins July 20.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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