Oct 15, 2012, 10:00 AM EDT
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.
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.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Thunder power forward was scheduled to play in African exhibition game
Jul 28, 2015, 7:24 PM EDT
Miami cleared roster room for second-round pick
Jul 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
I can tell you where Batum will land next summer — whichever team offers him the most money.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT
He’ll be back this fall.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
The Lakers and Knicks don’t make a ton of sense for him.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
He’s been sober four years, which is most important.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:29 PM EDT
With more number retirements in Boston on the way in a few years.
Jul 28, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Did Michael Jordan hijack the draft process in Charlotte again?
Jul 28, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Walker is expected to sign the bill to allocate funds for a new arena.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT
Batum will be a free agent next summer.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
The Nets added solid role players in addition to re-signing Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
Udoh played five seasons with the Warriors, Bucks and Clippers.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:59 PM EDT
Barnes hasn’t forgotten Ibaka’s altercations with Blake Griffin.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
Garnett came out to Summer League practices to work with Towns.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
The man made some plays.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Mason Plumlee with a money gun shooting $100s.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:40 AM EDT
Ennis will get the chance to prove his case in training camp.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Larry Brown said the condition had Popovich thinking about retirement.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Well, you don’t see that every day.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Wasn’t this obvious already?
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- Report: Cavaliers sign Matthew Dellavedova 10
- Heat trade Zoran Dragic, second-rounder to Celtics 11
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- Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry among latest big names headed to Team USA mini-camp 8
- Kyrie Irving off crutches, cleared by doctors to start working out 8