Oct 14, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
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.
- IN: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson were all signed to guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season.
- OUT: Dwight Howard choose to sign in Houston in free agency; Earl Clark did the same with the Cavaliers, as did Antawn Jamison, now with the Clippers. Metta World Peace was waived using the amnesty provision, and was picked up by the Knicks. Other seldom-used players who are no longer Lakers: Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks.
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:11 AM EST
This is the Chicago Bulls that are hard to beat, Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose. Since Rose went down with a torn meniscus the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor — they had been giving up 13 more points per 100 possessions defensively than they had with Rose. That was just…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:21 PM EST
NEW YORK – In a game that was supposed to be a lively and competitive rivalry contest between two teams who share a city and began the year sharing aspirations of contending for a title, the end result was to fans what the entire season has been for both the Knicks and the Nets —…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:38 PM EST
NEW YORK – The Knicks ended their nine-game losing streak with a blowout win over the Nets in Brooklyn, and early in the fourth with the game already decided Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani got into a brief scuffle that resulted in both players being assessed technical fouls. Garnett is normally the one to blame…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:53 PM EST
Otto Porter could make his Washington Wizards debut this weekend. He has been out since before training camp with a hip flexor injury, but the No. 3 pick overall could get some NBA action soon. And teammate Marcin Gortat is worried about him. Jokingly. But Porter’s slight frame (6’9, 198 pounds) became a joke, as…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:51 PM EST
Dwyane Wade missed the Heat shootaround on Thursday, he was back at the hotel with what the team called “flu like symptoms.” That will now keep him out of the Heat’s game Thursday night against the Bulls, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. Wade has missed several games this season to rest his knees,…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:24 PM EST
Michael Carter-Williams is becoming must-see NBA TV — 17.7 points a game plus 7.3 assists a game playing at the fastest pace in the league. And don’t forget the 3.1 steals a game. But this weekend the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race will be sitting out with a sore knee. He…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
Nelson Mandela, the iconic former president of South Africa who helped lead his nation out of the apartheid era to one of more equality, has passed away at the age of 95. The loss is humanity’s, but the world is better off for his full and purposeful life. NBA Commissioner Stern issued this statement on…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:19 PM EST
We know Kobe Bryant will not play Friday against Sacramento — he said as much and he’s not even traveling with the team to beautiful central California. So what about Sunday in Staples Center against the Raptors? Maybe. That’s as good as it’s going to get right now. Kobe spoke with reporters after his third…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:37 PM EST
The Boston Celtics may be on top of the Atlantic Division — at 8-12, but still on top of it — that doesn’t mean Rajon Rondo is rushing back to the court following ACL surgery. In his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub Ainge talked about weeks not days,…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:12 PM EST
The Clippers lost to the Hawks because of their defense on Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 51 percent as a team overall, hit 12-of-23 from three, were able to get more than a third of their shots inside 8 feet and shot 64.3 percent on them. The Clippers starting five had a horrible defensive…
Dec 5, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
An NBA fan was handed this at an NBA game Wednesday (and his friend posted the photo on Reddit, where I saw it). It’s a “red card” warning for what is deemed abusive language or behavior to someone — a player, a coach, the referees or another fan. The warning is clear: keep it up…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:15 PM EST
The Houston Rockets’ offense has been one of the best in the NBA this season. James Harden on the outside, Dwight Howard inside and a good combination of role players has worked well. But not Wednesday night. Against the Suns the Rockets shot 35.2 percent as a team and 29 percent from three. It was…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:33 PM EST
The Knicks and Nets as engaged in a thrilling competition: Which team is the biggest laughingstocks in the NBA? Both can lay claim. They have oversized payrolls, cartoonish owners, coaches on the hot seat and underwhelming stars. The Knicks have seen Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin feud, and the Nets have matched with Jason…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:22 PM EST
“I’m not done.” That quote sums up what Derrick Rose said in about 25 different ways during his first press conference since tearing his meniscus, an injury that required surgery and is expected to sideline him for the season. The press conference was streamed on CSNChicago.com. Rose was asked what he would say to those…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:43 PM EST
Anybody who tells you they know what Carmelo Anthony is going to do this summer is selling you something. And it’s something that doesn’t smell good. But we are going to be inundated with this stuff between now and July 1, when Anthony likely will become a free agent. The latest was ESPN personality Stephen…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:40 AM EST
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert posted this before the Pacers game Wednesday night. I’d say he should get that looked at, but my guess is the Pacers’ trainer Josh Corbeil is not blind. If this were anything serious Hibbert wouldn’t be out there. And Hibbert said it didn’t hurt — he shot 6-of-9 from the…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:09 AM EST
Kevin Durant did it in a movie nobody really saw (Thunderstruck). Michael Jordan did it with cartoon characters (Space Jam). Shaquille O’Neal did it… poorly (Kazam). Now LeBron James is about to be the latest NBA superstar to head to the big screen and star in a movie. Well, we don’t know how big his…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:36 AM EST
With the Nets off to a 5-13 start in the East, there is a lot of finger pointing going on. Losing does that. That includes fingers at first-year coach Jason Kidd, who recently demoted lead assistant Lawrence Frank to be basically the highest paid video coordinator in the NBA. The Nets offense has been isolation…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:28 AM EST
Nike held an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles to unveil its latest signature shoe for Kobe Bryant, the Kobe 9 Elite. And it’s a huge change from what we’ve seen out of Bryant’s line over the past several seasons. From the official release: “Designed with Kobe’s tech insights and…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
Mark Cuban tried to just spend his way to an NBA title. It didn’t work. It rarely does in the NBA — you need an elite player or two, but you can’t just go Steinbrenner and try to buy all the talent in the world to go around them. You need the right kind of…
- Knicks snap nine-game losing streak by crushing depleted Nets 1
- David Stern issues statement on passing of Nelson Mandela, players take to twitter 6
- Kobe Bryant sounds close to return, will not offer specific date 5
- Knicks and Nets might not remain so mockable for long, so enjoy it while you can 14
- Derrick Rose to those doubting his return: “You can be a fool if you want to” 13
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (64)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (42)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (41)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (38)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (36)