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.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:08 AM EST
Joakim Noah is playing the best basketball of his career the past few weeks and the Bulls are the third best team in the Eastern Conference. With Derrick Rose down and Luol Deng traded Noah has become the fulcrum of the Bulls offense, and it’s working as Noah has had a triple double in two…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Let’s connect the dots. Joakim Noah is reportedly recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the Bulls. Melo has a son named Kiyan, who turns 7 years old today. Happy Birthday, Kiyan! Kyian’s favorite player is reportedly Derrick Rose. The missing dot: Derrick Rose. What does he think about all this? Chris Broussard of ESPN: One source also…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
Is LeBron done with the mask, or is he just taking a break? Midway through the first quarter of the Heat’s loss to the Spurs, LeBron took his mask off during a timeout. He’d missed his only shot, and Miami trailed by eight. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire after that, shooting 6-for-18…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:33 AM EST
The Clippers beat the Lakers, 142-94, Thursday night – the biggest loss in Lakers history. In the spirit of Lakers schadenfreude, let’s dig a little deeper into the blowout: 48 – Margin of victory/defeat, the largest for the Clippers/Lakers in each franchise’s history 3 – Years since any team has been beaten so badly. The…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:46 AM EST
That feels pretty much how the last three quarters of the Clippers/Lakers game went Thursday night. The Clippers did whatever they wanted all night on the Lakers’ “defense” and that led to a few spectacular plays. The best of them was this ridiculous alley-oop dunk by Blake Griffin. Griffin finished with 20 points in the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
BOSTON – Game-planning for the Golden State last season, the Phoenix Suns wrote “Finesse” on their whiteboard. “Be physical with them, and they tend to back away,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who played for Phoenix last year. Now a Warrior, O’Neal didn’t hesitate to share the observation of their defense with his new teammates. “I told…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:35 AM EST
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while wondering how you could read a novel in 90 minutes, well, there’s an app for that… Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns. If all you think Gerald Green can do is dunk, you need to watch the tape from Thursday night. It may have been true…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:39 AM EST
Adidas and the NBA will tell you that the sleeved jerseys are selling faster than they had projected, which is why you are seeing more of them (including the “Latin Nights” series of games, that are going on this month) . All-Star weekend commissioner Adam Silver said math showed that shooting percentages were almost identical…
Mar 6, 2014, 11:40 PM EST
In the first meeting of the season between the Heat and the Spurs, Miami had little trouble securing victory in the Finals rematch, in large part due to the fact that the Spurs were cobbling together a lineup that didn’t entirely feature the team’s best players. The rematch of the rematch, however, saw the Spurs…
Mar 6, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Plenty of teams are rolling out throwback jerseys these days, but the ones the Raptors are planning for next season may be some of the more highly-anticipated. Toronto will wear the team’s original “Dino” jerseys for select games during the 2014-15 season, according to an official release. “We are excited to bring back a piece…
Mar 6, 2014, 9:14 PM EST
Zydrunas Ilgauskas will have his jersey retired in Cleveland this weekend, and his former teammate with the highest league-wide profile will be in attendance — despite the implications that many will attempt to ascribe to that gesture of personal support. LeBron James will be there when the Cavaliers raise Big Z’s jersey to the rafters,…
Mar 6, 2014, 8:01 PM EST
Dwight Howard returned to Orlando as a member of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, and as part of the Magic’s 25th anniversary season, they played a video tribute to Howard between the first and second periods. Plenty of fans let their disapproval be heard, and boos rained down on Howard as the video began. Howard…
Mar 6, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
And in some very surprising news, a college basketball coach supports the college basketball system. Larry Brown brings some credibility to this — he is the only coach in history to win an NCAA title (1988 Kansas) and an NBA title (2004 Detroit) and is remains one of the great teachers of the game. He’s…
Mar 6, 2014, 6:02 PM EST
If you ask league executives, pretty much everyone expects a 2017 lockout. They see the owners putting in the groundwork now for another work stoppage in three years and most people see it as inevitable. The only question is how long it lasts and if it costs games. Three years from now, the summer of…
Mar 6, 2014, 4:28 PM EST
I’ll be honest, I don’t really remember the Shaq Fu video game. What I do know is that people didn’t really like it. Which is putting it kindly. So Shaq is trying to do a sequel. Of course. Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie has the details. O’Neal and his partners at Big Deez…
Mar 6, 2014, 3:32 PM EST
Suns rookie Alex Len is the only current Ukrainian on an NBA roster. Ankle injuries combined with surprisingly good play from the Suns existing front line (Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, the Morris twins) have kept him on the bench much of the season. However Thursday night he is going to get the start against the…
Mar 6, 2014, 2:34 PM EST
If you want to beat the best, you need to learn from the best. Paul George wants to beat the best, and right now the best is LeBron James. LeBron may be the most physically gifted player in the game (arguably ever) but he also has maybe the best basketball mind in the game. Team…
Mar 6, 2014, 1:49 PM EST
We told you last week to expect this and now it is a reality: Royce White is now a member of the Sacramento Kings. The Kings announced Wednesday the signing of White to a 10-day contract. He was immediately assigned to the Kings D-League affiliate Reno Bighorns. White was the No. 22 pick of the…
Mar 6, 2014, 1:34 PM EST
You know what Tupac Shakur is doing right now? Having lunch with Elvis, Jim Morrison and Andy Kaufman. In heaven (or your afterlife of choice). Because they are all dead. Outside of a hologram at Coachella you are never going to see Tupac again… but then who was that at the Warriors/Celtics game on Wednesday…
Mar 6, 2014, 12:55 PM EST
Tommy Lasorda is a motivator. The legendary Dodger skipper was never a managerial genius with moves that wowed baseball’s intellegentia, but his players would run through a wall for him. He understood enough that is a limping Kirk Gibson wants to pinch-hit in the World Series you send him out there, but mostly he just…
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- Spurs get a little revenge, along with season’s signature win in takedown of Heat 41
- Suns’ rookie Alex Len takes to court with #prayforukraine on shoes 20