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NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Dec 15, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

kobe-lakers-preview Getty Images

Last season: 57-25, second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The trip to the postseason was shorter than usual for the then-back-to-back defending champs, as they were unceremoniously swept out of the second round by the eventual champion Mavericks.

Head Coach: Mike Brown takes the helm in his first season with the Lakers after Phil Jackson finished 11 in Los Angeles, going to the finals seven times during that span and winning five NBA titles. Brown of course has the experience of coaching a team led by one of the league’s best players, as he was the man in Cleveland responsible for guiding LeBron James and company to the best regular season record in the league a couple of times, along with a trip to the NBA Finals.

Key Departures: Lamar Odom was traded away to the defending champion Mavericks, after the deal that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers was vetoed by the league office. Odom was hurt by this, and immediately requested a trade. And for some reason, the Lakers decided to immediately grant this request. Someone might have wanted to remind the Lakers’ front office that just because a player asks to be traded, you don’t have to give him away for nothing just to appease him. If that were the case, Kobe Bryant would have been gone in the summer of 2007.

Oh, and Shannon Brown signed a one-year deal in Phoenix as a free agent.

Key Additions: Does a Traded Player Exception count? Because that’s what the Lakers received from Dallas in return for the league’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year. If you’re looking for actual bodies that L.A. added, then we have Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono — both of whom are substantially worse than the departed players whose minutes they’ll likely be taking.

Best case scenario: The Lakers were not a team that was completely broken, despite their shortcomings in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. L.A. was gassed after three straight trips to the Finals, and mentally, believing that somehow once the playoffs began that they would magically solve all of the problems that were evident during the regular season wasn’t a great place to be. The Lakers got what they deserved against Dallas, but talent-wise, they were just fine. That’s no longer the case entering this season.

Trading Odom away for nothing more than a traded player exception — collective bargaining agreement jargon for empty salary cap space to acquire somebody else, so, essentially, thin air — is, by itself, a terrible move from the Lakers’ front office. When you add the fact that they gave Odom to the Mavericks, the very team that beat them four straight times in last year’s playoffs, well, on paper, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Now, if that was step one to clearing some cap space to help the Lakers acquire Dwight Howard, then fine. But as of right now, Howard is off the trading block, and the Magic seem content to start the season with him on their roster. At some point, the Magic will likely look to trade Howard, in order to get something in return instead of the nothing they’d receive if he left at the end of the upcoming season as an unrestricted free agent. But with Howard waffling recently on the intensity of his desire to leave Orlando, it’s not a guarantee that he will be traded at all, much less to the Lakers.

Right now, with the loss of Odom and the less than inspiring roster additions that the Lakers have managed to make thus far, the best case for a successful season in Los Angeles — meaning, at minimum, a trip to the Finals — is acquiring Dwight Howard. Short of that, losing depth while helping the defending champs seems like a step or two in the wrong direction, and teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies are as strong as they were last season, if not stronger. Getting out of the West with less talent than before isn’t likely, so really, the Lakers need to pin their hopes on acquiring Howard, while still keeping either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum on the roster.

For that to happen: The Magic will have to start slowly, and Howard will need to once again realize that the Magic have failed to provide him with the correct pieces necessary to win not one, not two … well, at least a single NBA championship. With Kobe Bryant waiting in Los Angeles — along with Gasol or Bynum, one of which would have to stay to make it worth the Lakers’ while, at least in the short term — the Lakers should be the preferred option for Howard if and when he should once again tell his current team that he won’t be back next season.

More likely the Lakers will: Begin their descent into mediocrity as Kobe Bryant plays out his final few seasons as angry and disgruntled as ever? Not just yet. But if the current roster is the one the Lakers are forced to go into battle with for the duration of this season, it’s tough to envision them doing much better than a deep trip into the Western Conference playoffs, when successful seasons for this core group of players are measured only by championships.

Prediction: 48-18, third seed in the Western Conference.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    I have a hard time believe the Lackers winning pct is going to improve(up to over .700) unless they somehow get Howard very early in the season. They will miss Odom, especially in this shortened season with less rest between games. I think 48-18 is a little too optimistic…I’m thinking more like a drop-off from last year’s winning %(695) to somewhere around .650…so I’m predicting closer to 42 wins. Unless they get Howard within the first 10 games of the season.

    • bozosforall - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:51 AM

      A healthy Bynum isn’t much of a dropoff from Howard. The real key is if the Lakers find a decent replacement for Fisher as the starter at PG. Don’t necessarily need Chris Paul but anyone who is an improvement over Fisher will make the Lakers a better team overall.

      Baron Davis would be perfect.

      • ftbfan76 - Dec 15, 2011 at 12:13 PM

        A healthy Bynum isn’t even as good as a Sam Perkins… You’re an idiot to even compare Howard to Bynum.

      • ludachrisgsx - Dec 15, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Baron Davis just announced he has a herniated disc and will be out 8 months. He’s not an option. Not many other options out there for the veteran’s minimum… Boykins? Redd? Not much of an improvement. I think they need to trade for a better point guard, but who can they trade and who can they trade for?

        I know Blake played bad last year but maybe it’s just a matter of him playing in a system that will suit him better. He might be better than any of the other options out there. And I really think keeping Fisher around makes sense for chemistry, even if he is relegated to the bench. He’s needed in the locker room and would be a good back up. If Blake doesn’t look like a good fit, maybe package him with a couple of the younger players and a draft pick for a better PG option. Problem is, if they trade away anymore, they have less to offer for Howard.

        Tough situation they’re in.

      • detlefschrempfriedrice - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:36 PM

        Reaaaally? Baron Davis????

        Not even gonna touch the Bynum-Howard dropoff comment

    • passerby23 - Dec 15, 2011 at 12:16 PM

      I’m with you on this. I predict much more of a drop-off. The Lakers bench is awful and is going to struggle mightily to score. Do you sacrifice a few wins to give the starters some rest? Do you log more minutes for the starters to garner a higher seed? Either they play their terrible bench or exhaust the starters.

      In either case, won’t matter because they’ve lost a lot of scoring punch and their defense hasn’t improved. They are a year older and the rapidly diminished productivity of Artest (Metta World Peace) and Fisher is going to expose them. I predict a 5th seed behind Dallas, SA, OKC, and LAC and 40 wins.

    • ludachrisgsx - Dec 15, 2011 at 4:45 PM

      I don’t think the Lakers were playing to their full potential last season. I think they have the potential to get back to at least the Conference Finals, but I don’t see them winning it all with this squad. And I think Chris could also be right with them not doing as well, especially with a new coach in town. Transition is never easy.

      Kobe and Drew were both hobbled with knee issues last year and the team lacked the defensive effort that Brown might be able to instill. Phil never really focused much on defense. I just question the offense. If Kobe returns to form, which is a big if, and if Drew isn’t limited by his knee brace, and Gasol isn’t a push over on defense, they might actually do really well. They lost Odom but brought in another big body so they still have their size on defense. They will miss Odom’s offense more than his defense.

      I think with the loss of Chandler and Barea, the Mavs are worse off than the Lakers, even with the addition of Odom. Chandler gave them the toughness they lacked in recent years and I believe he was the key reason they won it all. Either way I think OKC is just as good as both of them now, and Miami has the edge over everyone in the west anyway.

      If the Lakers stay healthy, they could make another run, but I agree with others that they still need to pull off one more small/medium trade for a better PG and they need some more depth on the bench. Artest is a year too old and Walton is wasting valuable space on the bench. Kapono might be able to hit some 3 pointers, but he’s going to be a defensive liability in my opinion. Outside of Kobe, there’s also a big drop off when it comes to people who can drive to the basket and create open looks for others.

  2. therealhtj - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    This Laker squad may really go either way. If Kobe’s knee really bounces back from the German voodoo treatment, Pau finds his early season form of last year, and Bynum stays healthy and focused once he comes back from suspension, the team could be as good as last year. Bynum playing up to his potential still trumps LO and his helter-skelter performances throughout the season. Unfortunately that and his health are just two things that can’t be counted on. The Lakers will still be so out-manned at the 1 and 3 many nights, that their advantages at the 2, 4, and 5 will be negligible unless those three are truly playing at all-star levels. Again, that’s something that’s simply not a given.

  3. tsi4431 - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    I love how this whole article is negative, yet they predict a 3rd seed. Funny thing, Mavericks were a 3rd seed last year too. Ignorance is bliss.

  4. 973yenots - Dec 15, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    Why is that a shock! The media are like chameleons! ( always off and on the bandwagon! )

    • bozosforall - Dec 15, 2011 at 2:24 PM

      Sounds just like Boston fans (on and off the bandwagon). LMAO

    • snoopy2014 - Dec 15, 2011 at 5:22 PM

      Wait. Since when do chameleons ride on wagons? What chameleons have you been hanging out with?

  5. ftbfan76 - Dec 15, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Funny thing is that all the Lakers Fans are now Clippers Fans.

    • omniusprime - Dec 17, 2011 at 8:56 AM

      Not a Chance!

  6. cosanostra71 - Dec 15, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    The Lakers still have championship potential as their ceiling. Whenever you have a frontcourt as potent as they do, you are a legitimate contender. Whether they realize that potential isn’t certain, but they are still going to be a force to be reckoned with.

  7. rowdyrr - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    Why don’t the Lakers trade Pau Gasol for Scola and Kevin Martin? Yep, they’re the Lustres (and the Rockets won’t also take M.W.P; once was enough)

  8. bebopa - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    the Lakers ride is through, it was a bad situation only made worse by the trading of Odom, a senseless move. Kobe will be worked harder than last year because this team is devoid of talent for the most part. They will struggle to make the playoffs.

  9. omniusprime - Dec 17, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    I don’t see the Lakers doing as well as predicted, not without Odom. Kupcake really screwed up brining in Mike Brown to coach and letting Odom go for nothing. Laker’s front line is now suspect with only two good players. I won’t be watching many Laker games this season, and no other games. I doubt they will get past the first round in the playoffs this year. If they win 40 games I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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