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NBA season preview: L.A. Lakers

Oct 15, 2012, 10:00 AM EDT

Lakers new guard Steve Nash of Canada smiles as he walks past Kobe Bryant during NBA media day for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in Los Angeles Reuters

Last Season: Failure. For a team that measures success in terms of championships, especially when it has enough talent on paper to compete at that level, 2012 just wasn’t good enough.

The Lakers struggled with depth and exited the playoffs in the second round for the second straight year, this time to a younger, more athletic, and more explosive Oklahoma City Thunder squad. This came after going a longer-than-planned seven games in the first round against a talented, yet inexperienced Nuggets team that shouldn’t have been able to push L.A. that far.

Key Departures: There were departures, though not many close observers of this Lakers team would choose the word “key” to describe them. Ramon Sessions departed for a bigger role in Charlotte, Matt Barnes switched to the less glamorous locker room down the Staples Center hallway, Josh McRoberts is now in Orlando, and Troy Murphy is just gone.

The Lakers did, of course, lose their All-Star center from a season ago in Andrew Bynum, but they acquired a replacement whom they hope will be one of the keys to returning to championship relevance.

Key Additions: Here’s where things start to get interesting. L.A. helped end our long national Dwightmare by trading for one of the game’s top-five players in Dwight Howard, giving up Bynum in the process. Howard for Bynum on its own is an improvement on paper, but not one large enough to tilt the championship odds immediately in the Lakers’ favor. The acquisition of Steve Nash, however — a two-time MVP, a master conductor of the offense and one of the game’s best shooters — might have done exactly that.

Antawn Jamison was added for some scoring assistance off the bench, and backup two-guard Jodie Meeks should provide some productivity when Kobe Bryant is getting some rest.

Three keys to the Lakers season:

1) Kobe thriving without the ball in his hands: Nash is one of the best point guards in the game, but to do what he does best, he’ll need the ball to open possessions. With Howard and Pau Gasol on the floor at the same time, there should be a number of successful offensive possessions where Bryant doesn’t even see the basketball. Obviously, this will be a major adjustment. Will Bryant choose to adapt to the new offense — one that, much like the Triangle, features motion and multiple options at every turn — or will he resist and revert to old habits of forcing isolation situations with the shot clock winding down, while his teammates stand around and watch? There’s a time for that, certainly, but with all of the weapons on this year’s roster, those situations should be the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

2) Will the bench be enough? A starting five featuring Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol, and Metta World Peace should provide plenty of punch on both sides of the ball to win on most nights. But regular season achievements are not why this core was assembled, nor will finishing the regular season with the league’s best record mean anything if the starters are gassed for the playoffs. Bryant and Nash need to save themselves somewhat for the postseason, and limiting their minutes will only be possible if the bench doesn’t blow huge leads which force the team’s veteran stars to sub back in early in the fourth quarters of games which should have already been decided.

3) The correct utilization of Pau Gasol: From a numbers standpoint, Gasol appeared to be every bit as effective as he’d been in his seasons in L.A. that resulted in championships. But to those who watched the majority of the team’s contests, Gasol seemed uncomfortable, under-utilized, and out of place in head coach Mike Brown’s attempt at an offense.

The Lakers need to find a way to maximize Gasol’s talents, and the new Princeton offense that the team is implementing this season should go a long way in doing so. Gasol has great court awareness and is able to make the smart pass, but is also a deft scorer — both on the low block, and from mid-range distance on the perimeter. The team needs to recognize this, and perhaps watch some film of the gold medal game of this past summer’s Olympics to truly see what a force Gasol can be when given the right opportunities.

What Lakers fans should fear: Two words: Mike Brown. L.A.’s head coach used the lockout-shortened season as a constant excuse last year, lamenting the lack of practice time available for him to get his new systems installed. Well, no such excuse will be available this season, as Brown has had all summer and a full training camp to design and implement sets which will maximize his team’s talents.

The team added former NBA head coaches in Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff to assist Brown, who has always been described as a defense-first coach. If the defense is top-five in the league, that’s great. But last year’s Lakers were middle-of-the-pack defensively, and the offense never gained the necessary cohesion to contend deep into the postseason. With all of the talent assembled for the 2012-13 run, the blame will undoubtedly fall on Brown’s shoulders if he’s unable to bring this group to the level of champions.

Prediction: Dwight Howard is an upgrade over Andrew Bynum, but the basketball IQ and shooting prowess of Steve Nash is what pushes this team over the top. Anyone predicting anything other than a trip to the Finals for this stacked Lakers squad is being delusional at worst, or contrarian at best. The Thunder return essentially all of their important pieces, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be waiting in the East. But the amount of talent in the Lakers’ starting lineup is too much to dismiss, and they should ultimately take home the title if things go anywhere near as planned.

  1. cantonbound13 - Oct 15, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Championship!

    • kikosmom - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:23 PM

      and lastly, what’s the most important issue….

  2. cosanostra71 - Oct 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    can we just start the season already? I’m so excited to see the LAKERS!

  3. broncobeta - Oct 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    “Anyone predicting anything other than a trip to the Finals for this stacked Lakers squad is being delusional at worst, or contrarian at best.”

    Really? So you’re either a retard or a douchebag if you think OKC can beat the Lakers? This article was just sad.

    • passerby23 - Oct 15, 2012 at 1:08 PM

      Completely agree. To think that the Thunder COULD beat the Lakers – a young team getting better who have the kind of players to cause matchup problems with the Lakers – is delusional?

      I AM picking the Lakers to win it all, but age, injuries, and chemistry are always concerns and they CAN be beat. I am reminded of the same talk from ’04 when Malone and Payton signed. They almost didn’t get to the Finals and then lost.

      • hoodheisman - Oct 16, 2012 at 2:53 AM

        If you paid close attention to the Lakers – OKC playoff series…. the Lakers would not have blown multiple 4th quarter leads with solid, consistent play from the PG position. Add Steve Nash and the Lakers take that series…. Then replace an all-offense, no-defense center with a 3-time NBA defensive player of the year…. and it’s delusional to think OKC could win more than 2 games in a best of 7 with the Lakers… Lakers in 5.

        Any comparison to the ’04 squad is laughable. There’s no similarity. Consider these 3 key differences:

        (1) The 04 Lakers had no team chemistry or leadership with the Shaq-Kobe feud…. Nash and Kobe are two of the saviest, most intelligent guys in the league. They won’t let any personal agendas fracture this squad like it did the ’04 squad.

        (2) Karl Malone couldn’t guard anybody in ’04, while Shaq wasn’t willing to guard anybody in ’04…. Howard’s the best defensive big man in a league where none of the contenders can field a real threat at center… match up wise, it’s not even close. Defense will win this championship.

        (3) What happens when your best defender and most athletic player is a big man? Nobody’s gonna pick ‘n roll the Lakers with Howard on the court…. and the pick ‘n roll is exactly how the ’04 Lakers those Finals….

      • passerby23 - Oct 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM

        (1) I’m not saying the current Lakers WON’T have chemistry, I’m just making the comparison that the ’04 Lakers and current Lakers were/are essentially handed the trophy before ever stepping foot on the court. As I said, I’m picking the Lakers to win, I’m just saying I remember all of the talk in ’04 about the Lakers breaking the Bulls win record and steamrolling everyone.

        (2) To say that “Malone couldn’t guard anyone” is a bit of a stretch. He was forced to miss extended time with a major knee injury and it was Gary Payton who couldn’t contain opposing players. Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups both carved up the Lakers perimeter defense.

        And this is precisely why I say the Lakers carry some risk with their roster. Nash is no spring chicken with a history of back problems. Howard is coming off back surgery. Jamison and Artest are old. Kobe and Gasol are not young either. That’s a lot of age where an injury to any of their top 4 could be a huge blow. And you can say that with any team, but the fact is age carries MORE risk.

        (3) I agree, Howard is a force to be reckoned with defensively. I don’t think it’s accurate to say Bynum played no defense though, it’s just that Howard is much better.

        While I agree that the Lakers would not have lost those games, you also have to consider that OKC has also gotten better with more experience. They have the kind of offensive players to hurt LA where they are weak.

        My point is that there are no guarantees. Malone, as durable a player as there is in the history of the game, finally broke down in ’04. You can talk about the Kobe-Shaq feud, but they did win 3 consecutive championships together (in dominant fashion) despite their differences.

  4. crtzinc - Oct 15, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Honestly, this Laker team has the most complete starting five in the league and an upgraded bench. Chemistry will not be the issue, with respect to the Heat and Thunder the only thing stopping the Lakers from hanging banner 17 will be health.

    • passerby23 - Oct 15, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      Health is a big one though. They’re old with two guys with noted back problems. I agree their bench is much improved and that if everything holds steady, they should win it all.

  5. succulentnipples - Oct 15, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    Jodie Meeks. That’s funny.

    • cosanostra71 - Oct 15, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      I think Meeks will be able to fill a role off the bench. He will probably mostly be asked to be a 3 point shooter, something he has done at a 37% clip over his career. As a starter or major bench contributor I would agree with you, but I think he’ll only be playing 15-20 MPG. Of course, he could be another Steve Blake and totally flop but I’m confident about him.

  6. tsi431 - Oct 15, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    I like the fact when Kobe goes to the bench we can feed the ball to Dwight with our bench. When Dwight goes to the bench its Nash/Kobe time. When Nash goes to the bench its Kobe/Dwight time. Its win/win/win either way.

    • money2long - Oct 15, 2012 at 5:37 PM

      there’s simply a bunch of ways one can go with the offense! mike brown is salivating

  7. sbodi - Oct 15, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Let’s Go Lakers!

  8. jerdogthompson - Oct 15, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    Jesus. How about y’all get around a camp fire and sing coom by ah my lord, repeat ad nauseum.

    I’ve never seen such a sad display of Laker homerism. So lets starts with the only aspect this bunch will fess to, staying healthy.

    Well, Jordan hill has a HERNIATED DISK………he can keep claiming what he wants about “getting the core strong” “back in a week”, blah, blah,blah. His own doctor has acknowledged his injury is closer to his pelvis therefore much higher potential for season ending injury than D12. Which brings me to my next point, despite all the “rosy forecasts” nobody but his doctor and D12 knows when he will play. Not to mention, who here is naive enough to think that the NBA is not a mans game? Meaning, that area in the paint requires a lot of BANGING. Herniated disks are a degenerative type injury. I refuse to explain what that means just know that’s its not good. Needless to say, for anyone with half a brain no Jordan hill is disastrous for an already sub par bench.

    Now lets skip over to the fact the bench is just simply put, bottom 15 in the league. I could care less how good the starting 5 is(assuming we will see the starting 5 anytime soon) the fact of the matter is Nash&Kobe will need to be kept at about 30 minutes a night to even have a ice cube chance in h**l to be healthy come playoffs. That would leave about 18 a night for Blake & Duhon? How’d that work last year for your team?

    I see much fan fair for Meeks & AJ. I will give its a upgrade over last year, it’s a small upgrade at best. Don’t need to get into particulars for those in the know(that excludes a majority of Laker fans).

    What I’m saying is all you homers need to CFD, calm f**king down and see what the newly formed team Viagra is capable of before counting another banner which would only “tie” the Celtics 17.

    Enough said, let the hate blogs commence. On three, ready………….

    • cosanostra71 - Oct 16, 2012 at 12:21 AM

      Jordan Hill is the fourth big man in the rotation

    • adeedothatswho - Oct 16, 2012 at 2:22 AM

      HEY EVERYONE SHUT UP!!! The doctor is speaking. If there’s one thing this guy knows, it’s the backs of basketball players.

  9. 00maltliquor - Oct 15, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    Prediction: Championship!

  10. 00maltliquor - Oct 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    ” Anyone predicting anything other then a trip to the Finals for this stacked Lakers squad is being delusional at worst, or contrarian at best.”

    Haha, I F’n LOVE it! Was that a subliminal jab from Brett Pollakoff to paulhargis53!? You know he’s sick!
    lakerluver- CAN YOOOU DIG IIIIIIIIIT!!! *In Shaq voice*

  11. dagonz67 - Oct 17, 2012 at 2:19 AM

    I am really excited for the Lakers this season The Lakers have 2 major weak points the coach, and the bench. Even though it is a pre-season game, our bench just got spanked by the Jazz’s bench tonight 65-19. Right now for us to win it all with our bench is like trying to win the Daytona 500 with no spare tires. And….as usual Mike Brown is using Blake ( 2nd worst rated PG currently in the NBA) The Lakers CAN NOT win it all with Brown, no way. His decision making is just not sound, he is a 2nd rate coach on a 1st rate team. CDR and DJO looked solid, but of coarse Brown won’t play them. The Lakers will NOT win more than 55 games if they do not get some decent free agents Barbosa? and a decent coach. We need a decent bench to give Nash, Howard and Kobe much needed time off.

  12. omniusprime - Oct 27, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Kobe will thrive playing off the ball while Nash handles getting the ball up court and starts the offense. Without the ball it’s harder for teams to double team him so he should have more opportunities for scoring easy baskets. besides Kobe will p[ut up with anything as long as the Lakers win and win a championship. Clown Brown is the weak link in this All Star team, hopefully Eddie Jordan will take charge of the offense and Clown Brown will be smart enough to shut up. Go Kobe!!! Go Lakers!!!

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