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ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Oct 14, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Kobe Bryant AP

Last season: It was supposed to be yet another year spent contending for a championship for a storied Lakers franchise that already has 16 of them. L.A. loaded up with free agent talent in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and was on paper the team most believed would stand in the way of a second straight Miami Heat title.

Instead, it was a season full of drama and disaster. The Lakers were decimated by injuries to nearly anyone that mattered, Howard struggled to embrace head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and the team snuck into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round by the Spurs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Bryant went down with a torn Achilles injury near the end of last season that will have a lingering effect on the team entering this one.

Signature highlight from last season: Bryant’s Achilles injury and subsequent free throws that helped give the Lakers a much-needed late season win to keep their playoff hopes alive was a candidate here, as was Steve Nash, literally the best teammate in the game, losing his temper Dwight Howard. But those were both bummers for Lakers fans, so instead let’s revisit some vintage Bryant heroics during one of the team’s most exciting wins of the year.

Key player changes: The loss of Dwight Howard in free agency immediately dropped the Lakers out of championship contention in the eyes of most pundits. But L.A. did a nice job of adding talented role players at below market value to support the stars still in place on the roster.

Keys to the Lakers season:

1) The health of Kobe Bryant: Recovering from an injury as severe as a torn Achilles is no small task, even for someone with a ruthless work ethic and insanely high pain tolerance as Kobe Bryant. While his rehabilitation appears to be going well and Bryant has said that he’s ahead of schedule, the timing of his return isn’t nearly as important as the quality of his play whenever he does see the court this season for the first time.

Assuming a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with the latter playing in a contract year as the featured big man in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, there is still legitimate star power on the Lakers roster beyond whatever Bryant brings. He puts the team over the top, however, in terms of having enough talent to do real damage — but only if he’s back playing close to the level we’ve come to expect, at least for the majority of the season.

2) Pau Gasol returning to All-Star form: Ever since coming to the Lakers via trade during the 2008 season, Gasol has been the one who largely was blamed publicly when things weren’t right with the team. He’s been the constant subject of trade rumors, and due to a variety of factors, many thought it was a long shot that he’d even be back with the Lakers this season.

Gasol appears healthy now, and after being marginalized in favor of Dwight Howard, D’Antoni has spent every opportunity praising Gasol’s abilities, and seems genuinely excited about being able to feature him in the offense. There should be a monster year on the horizon for the Spaniard, and depending on what version of Bryant we see, Gasol’s return to form could help the Lakers overachieve by most people’s standards.

On the flip side, Gasol is in the final year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he stumbles at all or the team doesn’t produce wins in spite of his stellar play, the Lakers could look to dump him at the trade deadline in order to make sure they get something in return for a player of his caliber. A lot will hinge on Gasol’s play this season, both in terms of the team’s fortunes, as well as what the future may hold for him personally.

3) One word — Defense: The good news for the Lakers is that Mike D’Antoni has had a full training camp to put in his offense, and the Lakers have added players like Nick Young and Jordan Farmar who should thrive in his system while having no trouble putting up big numbers.

But D’antoni teams have never been known for their lock-down defense, and the personnel in place this year looks to be woefully inadequate on that end of the floor. Nash, Young, and Chris Kaman have a history of struggling defensively, yet all are expected to play big minutes this season. Bryant has proven he can play above average defense over the years, but was dreadful there a season ago, largely by personal choice.

These Lakers don’t have quite enough firepower to outscore teams, and don’t have nearly enough defensively to shut their opponents down for extended stretches .That middle ground is likely going to be troublesome to escape, and along with the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, it’s the primary reason that most have the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs.

Why you should watch: Well, the first reason is you won’t have much of a choice — the Lakers will be on national television 29 times. Beyond that, the intrigue surrounding how Bryant returns, what Nash has left to give in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and what ends up happening with Gasol are each reasons on their own, and combined they’ll make the Lakers as interesting as usual.

Prediction: 46-36, one more regular season win than last year’s supposed world-beater squad, and enough to secure one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

Look, there are six teams that are essentially guaranteed to make the postseason in the Western Conference, which only leaves two spots up for grabs. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this Lakers team, but I’m taking the optimistic approach on Kobe’s health and the overall team talent being enough to finish in seventh or eighth place when the regular season is finished.

  1. grapenutz08 - Oct 14, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    lmao. So this Laker team will have a better record without Dwight Howard??? Did you see this team defensively without Dwight on the floor?? Kurt you’ve lost all credibility. Go back to Forum Blue and Gold. Nick Young and Jordan Farmar??? Cmon

    • Kurt Helin - Oct 14, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      Did I write this? Brett is more optimistic about LA than I am, I would say 42-43, about flat with last season if everything breaks right. Truth is likely more like 38, which could be high if Gasol gets traded.

      • Anoesis - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:14 PM

        And I’d like to thank you for allowing Brett to write this instead, giving most Lakers fans a reason to read it. Although if it had been by you all the anti-Laker fans would have loved it. And yes, grapenutz has reading comprehension issues.

      • Kurt Helin - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:54 AM

        Yes, I know I’ve never written anything Lakers fans liked….

      • adamsjohn714 - Oct 14, 2013 at 11:24 PM

        C’mon, Kurt. We all know that you write basketball stories 100 hours a week under all these aliases. Just be honest with everyone.

      • Kurt Helin - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:51 AM

        Yes, I’d be bored if I didn’t create other nom de plumes.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:16 PM

      Clearly OP has never heard of Ewing Theory.

  2. benndover - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Some sports writer at Yahoo must have a hard on for Kobe and the Lakers cause EVERYDAY there is some article that has to do with them….

    The Lakers are going to get jack stomped this year no matter how much faith you guys have in them…

    Gasol is too old and brittle to last, Kobe is a cry baby and if the Lakers are getting beat all the time i wouldnt doubt it if he mysteriously” re-injures himself to not be blamed and the rest of the Fakers are worth a hat to piss in…

    • smoothaswilkes - Oct 14, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      You realize this isn’t Yahoo, right? Otherwise cool story, bro. Really like your prognostication of the Lakers chances this season. (Was “Fakers” a typo? I’m pretty sure they didn’t change their name.)

      You do seem to have a thing for Kobe yourself. Not sure when he was crying, maybe you can post a link? And I’ve never seen him fake an injury. Ever. Finally, how much is “a hat to piss in” worth? I’m not sure I’m following your analogy, the new players on the roster were signed for around 9-10 million this season. Is that enough for the hat you speak of? Seems a bit too much for me but I don’t like to piss in my hat so…

      • asimonetti88 - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:13 PM

        No dude, he totally faked the Achilles injury. He even went and had surgery to sell the whole deal. Then, to really play it out, he went through months of rehab just so people would believe his fake injury.

  3. 00maltliquor - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    Hey benndover, bend over. Mija.

    GOOOO LAKERRRRSSS!!!!!!!!!

    • norcal031 - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:49 PM

      Man you sound like such a pathetic Wack job…..your always on here saying crazy things. You better have the number of a shrink cuz u gonna need it come xmas time.

      • raylewisandhisteeth - Oct 14, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        It’s spelled “you’re” you moron.

  4. lakerade - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Despite the lack of championship aspirations (don’t tell Kobe though), whatever happens this year is going to help the franchise going forward. Make the playoffs? Still just a move or two away from true contention. Miss the playoffs? Lottery pick to go w all the cap space, and more time to figure out how Kobe and/or Pau’s cap numbers play into that. Tempered expectations, sure, but that will allow this squad to blossom at their own pace, if ever.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      They are four moves (3 players, 1 coach) and one season of gelling away from true contention.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 14, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      46 wins would be great. I think a lot has to go right for that to happen, but they have the talent with Pau, Kobe and Nash. I’m really excited to see what Pau can do this year. He is such a talented big man, with outstanding passing out of the post that can really facilitate ball movement within D’Antoni’s offense.

      If they could win 46 games this year, I’d be very happy. I agree with your optimistic view of the year, and I’m excited for the season to start and be watching basketball instead of just talking about it.

  5. norcal031 - Oct 14, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    There is absoutly zero chance the lakers win 46 games. Brett you are just saying that so you don’t get death threats from Internet Assassin Laker Loons. I mean look at the team……..Kobe isn’t comming back any time soon and when he does he will just make things worse because he will try and do too much which will take away the growth of the younger players.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:18 PM

      Which young players are the Lakers trying to develop? Almost the whole team is on one-year contracts, they’re not looking to develop anyone.

  6. JHathwell - Oct 14, 2013 at 7:11 PM

    Some things that were evident to Laker fans will become apparent to the rest of the world this year as it relates to the negative impact Dwight had on this team. His refusal to play pick n roll (“I’m tired of it!”) essentially torpedoed D’Antoni’s offense from day one, and they were forced to placate Dwight in an attempt to re-sign him. jesus, they spent the bulk of the second half playing Kobe at the point, spotting Nash up in the corner and feeding Dwight in the post. Does anyone think that was what D’ Antoni wanted to be doing?

    This team will be as good or better than last year because they can now play the D’ Antoni offense without Dwight there to mess it up. If he’s healthy, Pau will absolutely thrive in this system as the main post option, and the Lakers quietly did a nice job of signing shooters who will fit the offense. The question is whether Nash has anything left in the tank, but I for one am not going to assume that the answer is “no” just because he suffered one fluke injury and spent the bulk of the season playing off the ball.

    Oh, and does anyone remember how bad the Lakers were on D last year, and why? There was zero chemistry on the defense help-wise, so team were repeatedly beating the lakers down low because Dwight was flying around trying to block everything and freelancing and the rotations were never there. Assuming that the defense will suffer because Dwight is gone is completely false, as anyone who actually watched the Lakers last year could tell you.

    Honestly, this team is going to surprise everyone, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they won 50 games. Now, they’ll be dogmeat in the playoffs, but I think this season is going to teach people alot about what a corrosive force Howard truly was, and that the bulk of the blame for last year belongs to hi, not Mike D’ Antoni.

    • Kurt Helin - Oct 14, 2013 at 8:51 PM

      A Laker fan who thinks they will be better on defense, that is the definition of optimism.

      • JHathwell - Oct 14, 2013 at 9:20 PM

        Oh, don’t mistake me here. Not saying better, just saying not significantly worse. The problem last year wasn’t just schematic, it was chemistry, effort and everything else you can think of. That was a fractured team, morale-wise.

        If nothing else, this team will be happier and more unified in purpose. Doesn’t mean Nick Young, Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks are going to morph into Michael Cooper, but it does likely mean they might actually put forth the requisite effort.

      • Anoesis - Oct 14, 2013 at 10:21 PM

        I didn’t see where he said the team would have a better defense. Could you point that out for me? What he said, in a nutshell, is that Howard’s strong point is defense and yet it didn’t seem to make much difference.

        Will they be even worse on defense? That remains to be seen, but I think they’ll play more of a team defense instead of expecting Howard to reject everything. If they are worse on defense it will be due to factors other than not having Howard.

      • adamsjohn714 - Oct 14, 2013 at 11:22 PM

        No, Anoesis, they will be worse on defense and it will be directly because they don’t have Dwight Howard.

      • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:26 PM

        @Kurt Helin – I don’t know what crack Laker fans are smoking, but I’m highly doubtful they even make the playoffs this season. By my count if everyone on every team were to stay healthy, I’d rank 1-8 as:

        1-4: OKC, Spurs, Memphis, Houston (in some order. I don’t think it’s clear)
        5/6: T-Wolves/Nuggets
        7/8: Golden State/ Utah

        The Lakers might squeeze 7 or 8, but I just can’t imagine the Lakers beating out any of the first 6. If everything breaks right and some miracles happen, MAYBE they make 7 or 8, but that’s it.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 2:17 AM

      “Some things that were evident to Laker fans will become apparent to the rest of the world this year as it relates to the negative impact Dwight had on this team.”

      Ha! 17 years in and Lakers fans still haven’t come to grips with the negative impact that Kobe has on the team, and here they are now trying to lecture us about identifying negative influences… how absurdly ironic!

      • JHathwell - Oct 15, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        17 years later, it’s nice to see there are people out there who still wear their Kobe hate like a badge of honor.

        Tell me, where is logic in decrying the impact of a 5 time NBA champion on his teams while defending a guy who has never won anything and essentially ruined the laker chemistry last year?

        You see, this is a factual statement, not one based on emotion and anger. You should try it.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:38 PM

        “defending a guy who has never won anything and essentially ruined the laker chemistry last year?”

        This is what I’m talking about. The delusion level is astounding. Kobe sabotaged chemistry last year, not Dwight.

        It wasn’t Dwight who – on media day – said he wasn’t interested in sharing. Kobe said that – then he backed it up during the season by dominating the ball to the point where they had Steve Nash playing shooting guard.

        Kobe is very sensitive to criticism and if you say that he needs to stop dominating the ball – as Lakers fans said to him last year (to which he called them ‘stupid’) – he will only do it more.

        But Lakers fans are completely lost in their delusion where Kobe isn’t responsible for the disaster of 2012-13… but didn’t Kobe say THIS IS MY TEAM? Yes, he did. Well, okay, then let him take responsibility for HIS team.

        “I got a question earlier about whose team this is,” Bryant told reporters at the Lakers media day Monday. “I don’t want to get into the, ‘Well, we share …’ No, it’s my team.”

      • JHathwell - Oct 15, 2013 at 8:29 PM

        Show me on the doll where Kobe touched you, brother.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:45 PM

        That’s all you got? It’s not personal, it’s strictly basketball.

        Are you going to keep pretending like Kobe isn’t notorious for the things I’ve been saying? Of course you are… you’re a Lakers fan.

      • JHathwell - Oct 15, 2013 at 9:55 PM

        Your opinions just come off as emotional and not based in reality so I don’t really feel the need to argue with you. I would merely point to the 5 rings on Kobe’s finger and/or the Lakers’ record in the years prior to Dwight’s arrival as evidence of his ability to win at the NBA level.

        Similarly, I’d point to the Lakers’ swoon in the one year Dwight was there as evidence that his arrival had a negative effect on the team.

        Again, I’m dealing with fact here, not emotion or speculation.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:45 AM

        “Your opinions just come off as emotional and not based in reality…”

        Smh. You Lakers fans… I swear… one can only laugh.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:51 PM

        Contrast how Kobe “welcomed” Dwight and Nash with what The Miami Heat did in 2010. When asked whose team it was they said “its our team” – when they said who will take the last shot they all pointed to each other.

        They did not care about pointless/immaterial credit for “whose team” it was, they only cared about winning championships. If Wade had took a hardline approach like Kobe did last year the Heat would’ve been the biggest spectacular dream team failure of recent history instead of last year’s Lakers.

      • jimjacknjose - Oct 15, 2013 at 7:24 PM

        Sure Kobe’s a ball hog, doesn’t pass, whatever. Say what you want, but without Kobe on the team, Shaq doesn’t win his rings and Pau Gasol doesn’t either. Please save your stats, PER #s, and references, 5 rings is enough validation for a positive impact to me. BTW, I’m NOT a Laker fan.

      • antistratfordian - Oct 16, 2013 at 12:54 AM

        You don’t have to be a Lakers fan to be wrong. Anyone can be wrong.

        Jackson and prime O’Neal is a tandem that would’ve dominated regardless. Those two were made for each other philosophically. What they could’ve done had they stayed together without Kobe’s interference… who knows. Jackson really wanted the Lakers to keep Shaq instead of Kobe, but Bryant was Dr. Buss’ pet project so Shaq was gone. C’est la vie!

        Obviously, Kobe would not have any rings had he not been with Jackson and Shaq/Gasol. Put him on any other team without those guys – nothing but strife and endless facepalms.

      • jimjacknjose - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:25 AM

        Everyone can speculate, just like everybody can be wrong. All the arguments that you posted are all speculations, nothing more. I know you hate Kobe, but please just like Lebron, he has cemented his place in history, let’s not be ignorant and ignore them. He may not be the most efficient, but you can’t argue that the man gets results. We can all speculate whether Lebron could or could not win a ring without Wade and Bosh…

      • antistratfordian - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:37 AM

        Kobe’s place hasn’t been “cemented” – far from it. His legacy will only decline slowly each passing year, particularly as advanced stats become everyday stats. I’m here to partially oversee that process.

        “you can’t argue that the man gets results.”

        I can argue that he doesn’t get results. That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.

    • redbaronx - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:43 PM

      JHathwell – What logic makes you think the Lakers could win 50 games this season? You seem to forget that Kobe, Nash, and Pau are a year older, Kobe and Nash coming off injuries, and that even if everything you said about Howard is true and the team gels, Kobe and Nash play from end to end and the team plays in 100% peak form, that still doesn’t mean the Lakers could make 50 wins. Other teams in the West have IMPROVED. 40 is about where I’d put them IF Kobe and Nash can return to form.

      • JHathwell - Oct 29, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        The logic is simple. the 2012 lakers won plenty, then Dwight Howard came in and everything fell apart. Without a limited offense player to cater to, the offense will thrive. For the first time in his Laker tenure (since his first few months there) Pau has the low block all to himself, and he’s in a contract year to boot.

        Yeah, the defense is gonna suck, but Kobe, Pau, Nash and the compliment of shooters they’ve acquired is going to be enough to outscore plenty of teams, especially if Nash can go.

      • redbaronx - Oct 29, 2013 at 7:29 PM

        @JHathwell – If Nash can go, you might be right. But I wouldn’t bet on it for two reasons:

        A) Nash was slowing (speed and stamina) down 2 years ago before the injury. Unless he’s been doing workouts with MJ’s former trainer, I don’t see it.
        B) You really would have to have the best of all scenarios to even get the same amount of wins they had last year. The teams in the West are stronger and the young teams have gotten more experience. It really is a lot to expect of the Lakers to win 50.

        We’ll see….

      • JHathwell - Oct 29, 2013 at 7:40 PM

        I happen to be a big believer in the D’ Antoni offense when he’s actually given the personnel and the freedom to run it, and my prediction is based almost solely on that. This team isn’t great shakes on paper, but most of the guys they signed are D’ Antoni types who can shoot and stretch the floor. With Pau in the post, you have an excellent scorer and passer who will almost always find the open guy, and until he gets hurt, Kaman will make a nice duo with Pau because they compliment each other. Pre-season or not, the two looked awesome together.

        In the end alot rides on Nash but maybe not as much as we think. Jordan Farmar is going to shine like a diamond in this system, and while he’s never going to be Nash, he’s an incredible athlete and a pretty good long range shooter who fits like a glove here.

      • redbaronx - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:16 AM

        @JHathwell – I always thought Farmar was a good player, but for some reason he decided to go to Europe for a couple of seasons. He should have come back when the lockout was over. I can see your point about him thriving within D’Antoni’s system and I hope he does.

      • JHathwell - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        Looks like Jordan and Xavier Henry are going to do very well.

      • JHathwell - Oct 29, 2013 at 4:46 PM

        Here’s a more detailed explanation:

        http://thesonofsambowie.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/why-the-lakers-will-be-better-than-they-were-last-year-and-why-it-wont-matter/

  7. 32magicman - Oct 14, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    Love the lakers but they will not be playing postseason this year. They will be scored on at will with Nash at the point and without Howard down low.

  8. philaw123 - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    And for Adam Silver’s first real order of business as NBA commish… the first pick in the draft goes to… the Los Angeles Lakers.

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