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2011-2012 LA Lakers Season Preview
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On December 18, 2011 @ 1:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
The Los Angeles Lakers appear to be in a transition phase. Often that means a step backwards but the organization hopes to be able to improve upon last year’s second-round exit to the Dallas Mavericks.
Coach Phil Jackson has retired. Lamar Odom has been traded to the Mavericks with no current player coming back in return (a draft pick and a potentially powerful $8.9 million trade exception instead). Shannon Brown is also off to the Phoenix Suns.
The newcomers include Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and rookies Darius Morris and Andre Goudelock.
Jackson is/was arguably the greatest coach in NBA history; Odom the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Can new Head Coach Mike Brown and McBob step in without the team taking a step backwards?
The hope is that the lengthier rest period (caused by the lockout and early playoff exit), Kobe Bryant’s improved condition (knee) and a healthy Andrew Bynum trumps any and all concerns.
Then again, there was the near-trade for Chris Paul and the specter of a possible Dwight Howard sweepstakes (not necessarily to the Lakers in the end) hanging over the club. Will that be a distraction?:
|Five Guys Think…|
|Even with the Chris Paul trade falling through, this is still going to be a much different looking Laker team. The pieces may still be very similar to what they were last year, but they’ll be used far differently now that Mike Brown has replaced Phil Jackson as head coach. Actively looking to complete a blockbuster trade, the Lakers will be surrounded by rumors all season long. That’s nothing they’re not used to, though. With Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant they’ll once again be serious competitors for a championship. The play of center Andrew Bynum will really be what determines their chances. The front office showed a lot of faith in him by trading away Lamar Odom for a trade exemption.
1st Place, Pacific Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
Missing out on the Chris Paul trade was not the end of the world for the Lakers, but giving up Lamar Odom for a trade exception left a gaping hole in the team’s rotation. Add to that a new head coach, a new system, and sky-high expectations from fans who don’t forgive losses and this could be a really difficult year for the Lakers. As things stand they are the second-best team in LA, though a Dwight Howard trade could obviously change that.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
- Bill Ingram
There’s a shadow looming over the Lakers, dark and ominous, making me believe that Kobe Bryant is done winning championships. Chris Paul would have made the team more interesting, but not necessarily better, and in the aftermath of that, simply giving away Lamar Odom seems like a mistake to me. This team is old, brittle, and overpaid, so unless everybody stays healthy for a strong majority of the year, it just doesn’t feel like the Lakers have it in them to make it back to the Finals. I say all of this believing full and well that the team will win their division; we are talking about Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, after all, but in the postseason I’m not buying them in a seven-game series against Oklahoma City, or even Dallas or Memphis. As long as Kobe’s healthy, this is a formidable organization. I just don’t know if they have enough to go the distance anymore.
1st Place, Pacific Division
- Joel Brigham
The Los Angeles Lakers were thoroughly dominated in their shocking second-round playoff elimination sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks last season. Now the franchise enters the 2012 campaign with a new head coach in Mike Brown who has to instill a whole new schematic framework within the constraints of a condensed season. The Lakers also must replace versatile forward Lamar Odom, a key contributor on recent title teams, who was shipped to Dallas in the offseason. Still, a trio of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will keep the club in the title hunt and also reduce some of Brown’s adjustment period based on their sheer talent alone. The Lakers will be near the top of the Western Conference, but does Bryant have enough to overcome the hurdles coming the team’s way?
1st Place, Pacific Division
- Lang Greene
The Los Angeles Lakers missed out on Chris Paul and traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a large traded-player exception. The Lakers must have another move up their sleeve, right? They’ll continue to pursue Dwight Howard, but it will tough to compete with the New Jersey Nets’ offer. The roster as currently assembled is still talented enough to compete in the Western Conference, but they aren’t as scary as they have been in recent years. Mike Brown isn’t Phil Jackson and the team is aging. Now, with the Los Angeles Clippers nipping at their heels, they’ll have to make some moves if they want to remain the best team in Staples Center. They’ll win the division this season, but they’ll need to make some changes if they want to remain atop the standings.
1st Place, Pacific Division
- Alex Kennedy
|Top Of The List|
Top Offensive Player:Bryant is still one of the biggest stars in the league. Last year he averaged 25.3 points a game on 45.1% shooting despite skipping practices most of the year while recovering from offseason knee surgery. He had a minor procedure this summer (non-invasive) that reportedly has him in excellent shape. The Lakers are going to need Kobe and is explosiveness to lead the team through an uncertain time.
Top Defensive Player:Formerly known as Ron Artest, Metta World Peace is still the team’s best perimeter defender. Peace admitted that he didn’t come to camp in shape and Coach Brown has said initially he intends to bring him off the bench. For the Lakers to climb back to the top in the West, they’ll need Bynum to continue his emergence as a defensive stopper. Andrew’s goal is to be a top-five rebounder and to play in all 61 games (the first five are out due to suspension – J.J. Barea hit in the NBA Finals). So while Peace in important, Bynum needs to be the team’s top defensive player.
Top Playmaker:This is by and large the biggest issue on the team as currently constructed. If Bryant is the team’s top scorer, can he also be the primary playmaker? Last year he averaged a team-high 4.7 assists per game but then he was getting a combined 6.6 assists nightly out of his big men (Pau Gasol and Odom). Now that Odom is gone along with the triangle offense, the Lakers are going to be even more dependent on very suspect core of point guards including Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and rookie Morris. If Morris can quickly establish himself as an NBA rotation player, that would be a boon but that’s a lot to ask of a second-round pick. Fisher is well past his prime and while he remains a clutch outside shooter, he has never been an especially strong playmaker. For now their best creator is Bryant but the Lakers could be in trouble in this, unless they fully embrace the team concept. Of course there’s a marginalized training camp and packed schedule limiting practice time, so that too may be very difficult to achieve.
Top Clutch Player:Two years ago Bryant hit game winner after game winner. Last year that just wasn’t the case and while the team was still very potent, that magic just wasn’t as prevalent. If Bryant’s knees are indeed in top form, the league may see a very dangerous Kobe.
The Unheralded Player:Last year’s second round pick Devin Ebanks didn’t get much of a chance under Coach Jackson, who rarely played rookies under normal circumstances. Ebanks didn’t show enough initiative to Jackson but with a new coach, and time well spent throughout the lockout improving his jump shot, Devin may become a vital rotation player. He has good height (6’9”) and is a capable defender. The Lakers are team in need of youth, spring and athleticism and Ebanks may step into that void
Best New Addition:McRoberts has yet to make his mark in the NBA but he’s an active, surprisingly athletic big man. While he’s not nearly as skilled/versatile as Odom, if Josh can make it his priority to bang the boards at a high rate and stay out of foul trouble, he may diminish the loss of Lamar. Morris also has potential to carve out a role is arguably the team’s truest point guard. Kapono can shoot and while he isn’t especially strong at any other aspect of the game, the Lakers have desperately needed a dead-eye for some time now.
- Eric Pincus
|Who We Like|
|1. Kobe Bryant – He’s older than he used to be but is anyone counting him out? If so, probably not a good idea . . .
2. Mitch Kupchak – Dealing with the fallout of the aborted Chris Paul trade, dumping Odom and eyeing the team’s next franchise player (yet to be determined, although Howard and even Deron Williams would certainly be on Kupchak’s radar), the Laker GM has shown a sharp eye and ability for on-the-fly rebuilds. Patience is the key word and Kupchak knows when to lie in the grass and when to strike. The difficult part may be adjusting to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement which is specifically designed to hamper the higher spending (luxury tax) teams.
3. Andrew Bynum – A career/healthy year and the need for a Dwight Howard may be radically diminished. Andrew had offseason surgery (knee) last summer and a late start to the summer s his recovery stretch on longer than initially expected. He’s come into camp in excellent shape and seems ready to take over as the team’s primary/best option in the low post. As long as those knees stay healthy . . .
4. Pau Gasol – Gasol was very unimpressive throughout the playoffs, so much so that he took the brunt of the criticism when the Lakers were swept by the Mavs. Whether it was fatigue after three straight trips to the NBA Finals, something personal, or just a bad moment for one of the league’s best power forwards in the league, the Lakers need Gasol to show that was nothing more than an aberration. The Lakers almost dealt Pau for Paul, which could weigh on Gasol emotionally but so far he’s been completely professional. Bynum will be looking to make his mark and if Coach Brown can successfully integrate the two, and they both stay healthy, the Lakers still may have the best starting bigs in the league.
5. Darius Morris – The Lakers had Morris as a first-round talent and were thrilled when he dropped to them in the second. Morris has true point guard skills. He has good size and while he needs to work on his outside shot, Darius has the potential to be an Andre Miller like player in this league. Of course that’s a leap to compare him to one of the most underrated points in the league. Morris has a lot to prove but the raw tools are there.
- Eric Pincus
|The Lakers have three potentially dominant players in Bryant, Bynum and Gasol. Two are getting older, one is injury prone, but if Coach Brown can keep all three clicking and healthy . . . the Lakers may still be the best team in the West (a year removed from the title).
The compact season doesn’t necessarily help the situation but then again, the experience level (especially with Kobe and Pau) may put the Lakers at an advantage.
Things may feel unsettled but the Lakers may surprise many of the doubters.
- Eric Pincus
|The starting point guard is 37 years old and Fisher was never that fast off his feet even as a rookie.
Steve Blake just didn’t fit last year. He never looked comfortable in his backup role of the bench. Perhaps that was the now-absent triangle offense. The Lakers would love to get a bounce-back season from Blake but they also can’t count on that either.
Morris has potential but is an untested rookie.
Naturally the team could have used Chris Paul (an obvious understatement) but with the strange vetoing of the trade by the league, the Lakers have nothing but question marks at the one.
Age and athleticism across the board may be an issue as well but it’s most exposed at the point.
- Eric Pincus
|The Coach’s Chair By Anthony Macri|
|I am not going to talk about who is in this room. Because the personnel we have don’t really matter. The reality is that the story of our season will be told on whether or not we return to the kind of defensive mastery this franchise was known for just a few years ago. It doesn’t matter if we run the Triangle or all ball screens or a flex offense: the reality is our identity has to come from our effort defensively. We have stoppers at multiple positions, and the game’s best defender at the two. It is completely unacceptable for us to not be one of the league’s best teams on that end of the floor. We should make it our mission to stop every team’s primary scoring option and hold teams to their worst efficiency from the floor. If we can do that, the offense will flow as a result. Let’s change up our mindset, focus, and approach, and challenge for a title again.
- Anthony Macri
|The Burning Question|
Will Kupchak and the Lakers try to win with the current roster or sacrifice the here and now to make a swipe at their next franchise player?
Clearly the team is open to change, opting to save money and lock in Odom’s trade value in an exception. It’s important to note that Odom’s $8.9 million salary would lose value if he remained a Laker, got hurt, struggled to get over the failed trade and/or found a reduced role in Brown’s system.
Sometimes taking in nothing (plus youthful considerations) makes more sense for a team, especially when the trade exception can be cashed in at a later date.
One exception example would be Paul Millsap with the Utah Jazz, a team overloaded with forwards that need serious time like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter (listed as a five but some believe he’ll eventually be an NBA four), and even Al Jefferson who plays either power position.
It’s reasonable to expect that at some time the Jazz will look to thin out a body and Millsap may be the odd man out. The Jazz would have had no need for a player like Odom but if the Lakers were able to come up with some sort of intriguing package built around the trade exception package (and some youthful existing or yet to be acquired assets), that’s something they might consider.
That’s only an illustration to point out that Odom’s value in trade may actually be higher as an exception than a player.
Gasol was nearly traded so the Lakers may need a power forward if they go down that path again.
In Orlando, Howard has a trade demand in place he’s yet to retract. While the Magic will keep him until they feel it’s a certainty they’ll lose him for nothing, the Lakers must be mindful of the possibilities.
As great as Bryant is, he won’t remain on top forever. Last season he was not the best player in the series against the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks.
Attaining the next superstar can be extremely difficult but it’s something the Lakers have been tasked with.
For now, the team will focus on the 2011/12 campaign as the Lakers look to reestablish themselves as a contender, despite being having taken a step backwards . . . at least on paper.
- Eric Pincus
How do you see the Lakers this season, leave your comments below…
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