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.
May 19, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the…
Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets
May 19, 2013, 8:34 PM EDT
We already know what we’re in for in terms of the steady stream of reports and rumors that will flood us leading up to the free agent decision of Dwight Howard this summer. It even has a nickname, and although he’s technically not a free agent for another six weeks or so, the Dwightmare has…
May 19, 2013, 7:11 PM EDT
When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and…
May 19, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT
The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were…
May 19, 2013, 5:07 PM EDT
In honor of the way Tony Parker is currently carving up the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, here’s a look at a compilation of his top 10 plays of the 2012-13 regular season. And just think — this doesn’t even include the circus shot he hit over the Warriors, which would…
May 19, 2013, 3:34 PM EDT
Now that the Conference Finals are upon us and there are just four teams left for both local and national media to cover, the amount of focus on each, along with everything that’s said will be magnified exponentially. Our first case study of this postseason comes out of Miami, where reporters talked to Heat players…
May 19, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT
PBT continues profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we look at a key member of the NCAA title team in Louisville. Rim protection matters. It mattered in college at Louisville and it matters in the NBA. And that is what Gorgui Dieng brings to the NBA — and can bring…
May 19, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
J.R. Smith had an incredible regular season for the Knicks, and was every bit deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year honor he was given for that performance. He also was brutal in the postseason, struggling to find his shot ever since he was suspended for Game 4 in the first round of the…
May 19, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
This video was recently released by the folks that run the website for LeBron James, and it gives us a glimpse into the types of motivational words and teachings that young NBA prospects received from James and Chris Paul five years ago. The highlights come from a 2008 summer camp that took place before the…
May 19, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
One of the more popular cries from the Thunder fan base after the dismal all-around postseason performance of Kendrick Perkins was that the team should rid themselves of his contract (two more seasons at nearly $19 million total) by using the amnesty provision on him this summer. In the new collective bargaining agreement, teams have…
May 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
SEASON RECORDS Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West San Antonio: 58-24, second seed in the West PLAYOFF RECORDS Memphis: Beat the Clippers 4-2 in the first round. Beat the Thunder 4-1 in the second round. San Antonio: Beat the Lakers 4-0 in the first round. Beat the Warriors 4-2 in the second round. SEASON…
May 19, 2013, 12:01 AM EDT
The Pacers sent all five members of the starting lineup to the podium for the postgame press conference following their 106-99 Game 6 win over the Knicks, which goes a long way in telling the story of how they were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team defensive effort that Indiana exhibits…
May 18, 2013, 11:12 PM EDT
WIth the Pacers’ win over the Knicks in Game 6 on Saturday in the books, the schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals is now set. Miami will host Indiana beginning on Wednesday, May 22, and all games will be televised nationally on TNT with a start time of 8:30 p.m. Eastern. Game 1 – Wed …
May 18, 2013, 10:52 PM EDT
Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 6 and with the Knicks surging and clinging to a two-point advantage, Carmelo Anthony drove baseline and elevated, almost certainly expecting to finish this dunk over Roy Hibbert to further extend his team’s lead. Hibbert got there first, however, and met Anthony at the rim for this monster…
May 18, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
Nate Robinson wasn’t only the Bulls’ main scoring punch during the playoffs, he symbolized the team’s heart, as well. Robinson put in many memorable performances during his injury-ravaged team’s run into the second round, including leading Chicago to a thrilling triple-overtime win over the Nets in the fourth game of that series, and helping to…
May 18, 2013, 7:01 PM EDT
By winning Game 5 against the Pacers, the Knicks have turned their series. After it seemed Indiana had a decided advantage, each remaining game is basically a tossup. Both teams could make arguments for why they have the upper hand in Game 6 tonight: In the Pacers’ favor: The Knicks are 0-4 at Indiana this…
May 18, 2013, 6:31 PM EDT
UPDATE: 6:28 p.m. ET: George Hill has been cleared to play in Game 6, the Pacers announced. Here’s the official release: “Over the last two days under the care of the Indiana Pacers’ medical staff, George Hill has participated in each step of the NBA’s Return-to-Participation Exertion Protocol as part of the NBA’s Concussion Policy.…
Dennis Schroeder bows out of combine in Chicago, plans on skipping Eurocamp due to likely draft promise
May 18, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT
Dennis Schroeder is an international prospect from Germany that has been rapidly moving up draft boards. The 19-year old point guard is listed at 6’2″ with a 6’7.25″ wingspan, and the speed and flair with which he plays is already eliciting comparisons to Rajon Rondo in terms of ability, body type, and style. Schroeder was…
May 18, 2013, 4:07 PM EDT
For months, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has maintained he’s done as Team USA’s basketball coach. But he might be having a change of heart. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated: Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged in a phone interview Saturday that he’s in discussions to return as head coach of USA Basketball through the 2016 Olympics.…
May 18, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT
Damian Lillard is getting special edition shoes from adidas to honor his Rookie of the Year campaign with the Blazers. As with all commemorative releases, it’s the small design details that make them something worth coveting. From the official release: “The shoe’s sockliners feature Damian’s Twitter handle, an Oakland satellite print and “9800s” to represent…
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