2013-2014 L.A. Lakers Season Preview
Though they may actually be better than expected, the Los Angeles Lakers are faced with the unfamiliar task of fielding a competitive team in an ever-improving Western Conference in the aftermath of a disappointing season and surprising offseason. With the rumors and rumblings of a return to “Showtime” only to have an injury-marred season unceremoniously come to an end at the hands of the rival San Antonio Spurs, this year’s Lakers squad (sans Dwight Howard) already has a different feel to it, let alone an entirely new look and outlook.
Make no mistake about it, the Lakers will always have championship aspirations from an organizational standpoint. The difference is, for the first time since just prior to Pau Gasol’s acquisition from the Memphis Grizzlies about six seasons ago, the team’s immediate future is shockingly uncertain. Even more surprising than the first desired free agent actually deciding to pass on the opportunity to don the purple and gold is the recent reports regarding internal doubts the organization currently possesses the ability to land the bigger-named free agents when the time comes.
As we approach the unfortunate seven-month anniversary of Dr. Jerry Buss’ passing, the uncertainty of the franchise’s future should actually be most unsettling to Lakers fans. As for this upcoming season, observers will likely be treated to a more pleasant experience, regardless of the outcome, due simply to the combination of lowered expectations and a roster of players that actually desire to play together. In the franchise’s favor, the front office was able to swiftly rebound from the disappointment of losing Howard by adding the youth and athleticism the team severely needed in Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar. Chris Kaman should add stability in the middle in a reserve role, as the former All-Star signed a two-year deal with the Lakers in the offseason. The additions of several non-guaranteed contract players such as Shawne Williams and Marcus Landry should make for a strong in-camp competition for rookie second-round draft pick Ryan Kelly as well.
- Jabari Davis
In & Out
Additions: Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman, Ellias Harris, Xavier Henry, Marcus Landry
Subtractions: Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Antwan Jamison, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock
Five Guys I Think…
It’s hard to believe that losing the game’s best center in Dwight Howard without getting any assets in return could actually make the Lakers a better team in 2013-2014, but as long as Kobe Bryant comes back healthy, that really could be the case. Yes, they’re old, and no, their free agent signings were not earth-shattering, but getting Howard out of the clubhouse (and out of the middle of a clogged-up lane) could work wonders on L.A.’s morale and offensive movement. Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Kobe might just have enough to make one respectable playoff run, even if championship aspirations probably aren’t reasonable.
3rd place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
Last season, the Lakers had arguably the most talented team in basketball. Now, they find themselves closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. It has been a rough offseason for the Lakers. Dwight Howard is gone, Kobe Bryant is injured, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are continuing to decline and the Lakers seem poised to have one of the worst defenses in the league this season. Nearly all of Los Angeles’ additions this summer are offensive-oriented players (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman, etc.) and Mike D’Antoni is still coaching the team, which doesn’t bode well for the team’s defense. If Bryant, Nash and Gasol can stay healthy and get on the same page, the Lakers may be able to sneak into the playoffs, but that’s hard to imagine given how competitive the Western Conference will be during this upcoming season. The more likely scenario is L.A. heading to the lottery and then blowing up the roster next offseason, when they’ll have a ton of cap room to play with.
3rd place – Pacific Division
- Alex Kennedy
To say the Los Angeles Lakers underachieved last season would be a colossal understatement. Even though the team ultimately rallied to secure a playoff spot, the campaign was filled with drama, injuries, tension and enough rumors and storylines for a daytime soap opera. Heading into this season the expectations for this unit are much lower. The team’s backcourt, once thought to be an area of strength, now has plenty of question marks. Former league MVP Steve Nash is a year older and Father Time appeared to rear its head in 2013. Future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant’s status remains uncertain as he rehabs from a ruptured Achilles. The Lakers did bring in a collection of young talent such as Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry in free agency. All three seem to fit head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, but each has their own question marks from previous stops to overcome. For the first time in years the focus in Los Angeles will be on basketball and not high drama entering training camp, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
3rd place – Pacific Division
- Lang Greene
A new era in Lakers basketball, which features the late great Dr. Jerry Buss’ kids running the franchise in his place after he passed away last February, has gotten off to a rocky start. Despite a highly publicized campaign to try and get Dwight Howard to stay in L.A., they watched him leave for the Houston Rockets. They recovered quickly with some really good bargain signings in Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Wes Johnson, but this year is all about survival for the Lakers. They hope to make a big splash next offseason with so many names being available in free agency. They’re positioned to have a ton of cap space, but they have to get through this year first. The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers have left them in the dust in the Pacific Division, but you can never count out a team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash on it. If that trio can stay healthy and the guys playing for new contracts thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s system, the Lakers could still remain one of the top eight teams in the West – which is all they were last year with Howard anyway.
3rd place – Pacific Division
Aside from his competitive nature, the thing that is driving Kobe Bryant is his hunt for six championship rings. And as the Sun sets on one of the all-time great players this league has ever seen, the Lakers’ front office will do all it can to ensure that Bryant is given the best opportunity possible to win another title. Unfortunately for the Lakers, any expectations of a championship parade down Figueroa in June 2014 are far fetched. This season, with just Bryant, Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar remaining from the 2010 title team, the Lakers’ roster is a hodgepodge of talent not necessarily resembling the pieces of a homogenous basketball playing machine. Though there are some productive and talented players including Chris Kaman and Nick Young, the Lakers will need a throwback season from Steve Nash if they are to have a realistic chance at doing damage in the playoffs. With a deep upcoming draft and loads of cap space in July 2014, though, the Lakers are thinking more long-term. This season is more about biding time and remaining competitive enough to convince one of the top tier free agents of next summer that they can team up with an aging Bryant to form a contender, similar to the way that James Harden, no doubt, helped convince Dwight Howard of the same in Houston. Another division title awaits the Los Angeles Clippers, but the Lakers will be back, and soon.
3rd place — Pacific Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: While Kobe Bryant is almost certain to be the team’s top scorer, and everyone would love to see Steve Nash return to form and assert himself as the playmaker he was just two years ago in Phoenix, Pau Gasol should actually be the team’s top offensive player from an overall standpoint. Gasol has proven time and time again that he possesses one of the game’s top offensive arsenals from the low block when he is the primary target in the paint. His willingness to read the defense and ability to make the proper assessment of whether to assert himself or create for a teammate make him the perfect player to channel an offense through. if healthy, expect Gasol’s productivity to return to the 18 point, 10 rebound, 4 assist range he consistently hovered around just a couple seasons ago.
Top Defensive Player: Even though they’ve addressed some of their perimeter issues from a defensive perspective, the loss of Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace from that defensive first unit will be difficult to overcome. With Pau Gasol presumably starting at center, Jordan Hill’s greatest impact could come from the defensive end. As a high-energy player, Hill possesses the ability to protect the rim and play the pick-and-roll at an above-average level. The key remains, can Hill stay out of early foul trouble, and find a way to stay healthy enough to provide the Lakers with the type of output they need? If Hill can do each, these Lakers can be relatively successful at that end. If not, then expect them to be even lower than the 22nd-ranked defensive team they were in 2012 with Howard and World Peace. That’s an awful lot of pressure to place on a role player, but if the former 8th-overall pick wants to finally take that next step, it is precisely the challenge he will embrace.
Top Playmaker: Injuries and team necessity relegated Nash to that of a glorified spectator’s role at times last season, but this year’s Lakers squad will be best-suited with Nash as a playmaker on 2013-14. While, you absolutely want his ability as a shot-maker to be exploited, in order to fully capitalize on Nash’s ability, you also need him up around double-digit assists. With Bryant returning from such a major injury, these Lakers would be much better off if Nash is physically capable of playing 25-28 minutes of highly-efficient basketball. Permitting Bryant to ease back into action by lessening the load of on-court responsibilities has to be one of the team’s top priorities.
Top Clutch Performer: Don’t take the fact that we’re calling for a lightened workload for Bryant upon returning to mean we don’t think he is still one of the league’s greatest threats in a clutch situation. While injuries and the natural attrition of minutes played may take away a player’s burst or jumping ability over the years, players like Bryant simply live for the opportunity to defy all odds (and detractors) if only for a clutch moment. Expect Bryant to have the ball in his hands in those moments. Whether he decides to be a playmaker or a scorer in those situations is left to be determined.
The Unheralded Player: Even though fans will undoubtedly show appreciation for his efforts, even if only to spite the loss of Howard at times, Kaman is still likely to be the least heralded player in the regular rotation. After averaging 10.5 points, and 5.6 rebounds in just about 21 minutes of action per night with the Dallas Mavericks, whether paired alongside Gasol or in providing reserve minutes, Kaman should be able to match and surpass those numbers in 2013-14.
Best New Addition: This will be a distinction that should probably be shared by several players, but will likely be established as Nick Young. Other players may have more of an all-around impact, but Young should provide some of the scoring punch the starting small forward position has lacked for several years. That isn’t to say Young is expected to be a solely one-dimensional player, as for these Lakers to be successful, the 28-year-old will also have to match up with the league’s top scoring threats.
- Jabari Davis
Who We Like
1. Kobe Bryant: By far, the easiest to answer, as Bryant remains one of the league’s most intriguing storylines, even at this point in his career. Bryant’s offensive brilliance in 2012-13 places the Lakers in a precarious position of wanting to remain loyal to a long-term hero, but also acknowledging the necessity to enact plans for the future while he is still a member of the team. The team should be commended for going-for-broke last season with the moves for Howard and Nash, all while continuing to set themselves up for the next two free agent classes. Circumstance and unavoidable injuries may have derailed that effort, but Bryant is once again faced with the challenge of overcoming a major obstacle. A role, we’ve seen him absolutely relish in the past.
2. Pau Gasol: Gasol is one of the easier players in the league to truly enjoy and respect. The easy-going, but highly effective manner by which you see him perform while on the court is seemingly exactly the type of person he is in life. Not coincidentally, these traits are what make Gasol such a good teammate. With pending free agency looming overhead and a return to being the focal point of the post offense, expect Gasol to give the type of effort you’ve grown accustomed to seeing in years past.
3. Steve Nash: Although, technically, still a member of the “50-40-90″ club in 2012-13 (49.7/43.8/92.2) Nash would likely tell you his 50-game season was disappointment, to say the least. Lofty team goals and expectations aside, Nash must have fantasized about pick-and-roll opportunities with Howard, Gasol, and even Bryant before heading into last season. Now, finally healthy, and fully equipped with a roster of players that complement his preferred system, Nash finds himself with an opportunity at redemption.
4. Nick Young: Signing a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum with the Lakers may have surprised some, but Young wanted the opportunity to play for his hometown team, and seems excited over the challenge of competing against (practice) and with Bryant once he is able to return to action. At nearly 17 points per game just two seasons ago, the Lakers simply need Young to be consistent in his productivity, and steady on the defensive end. Nash and Bryant should create plenty of offense for Young, but the Lakers will need him to provide them with a player they can place on the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and even Carmelo Anthony.
5. Wesley Johnson: Johnson was also a strong candidate for the “unheralded player” category, as many of his efforts could go without notice in the box score. With speed and length, Johnson has the ability to disrupt passing lanes and provide support in pick-and-roll situations. If he can find a way to consistently knock down the open corner-three, Johnson could find his way squarely into D’Antoni’s rotation as a main contributor.
- Jabari Davis
The will, strength, and determination of Bryant remain this team’s backbone. Even in the midst of the most pronounced period of transition in nearly a decade, Bryant is still the team’s best option in so many categories. A testament, not only to his hard work and dedication to his craft, but also to the organization’s determination to consistently place a winning product around their most prized asset. Even in his 18th season, and returning from an Achilles tear, the organization continues to show support for Bryant even in consideration of future plans and players. We witnessed a considerable adjustment in Bryant’s game when the team needed him to be in a playmaker’s role in Nash’s absence in 2012-13. For these Lakers to truly progress, we’ll need to see a more permanent shift from one of the league’s All-Time greats.
Far be it from me to tell Bryant he can no longer compete and be every bit as great as he has always been. It would, however, be to the benefit of his team and his own personal well-being if he decided to permit himself to ease his way back to action by calling upon his teammates to shoulder more of the load. There will be plenty of opportunities to display that killer instinct or even the propensity to come through in the clutch along the way that Bryant doesn’t need to prove *every* point on opening night. As one of the league’s most evolved minds, Bryant has to realize his detractors are going to find some negative about each accomplishment regardless of the circumstances, so the sooner he is willing to embrace a role like Tim Duncan has with the Spurs, the more likely it will be that he is able to compete for another title or two. Again, we would never tell a man like Bryant how to approach the game he has so masterfully perfected, but I will say that as an outside observer and one that simply appreciates the history of the game, we would all be better-suited if Bryant were able to be a part of at least one more attempt at a Finals appearance in the future.
- Jabari Davis
They still have a starting backcourt with a combined age of 74 in a division that features a Warriors guard core that is 48 by comparison. We don’t even want to touch teams like the Cavaliers that will counter with a starting backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (both 21). The lack of lateral foot-speed along the perimeter, additions aside, will still be this team’s biggest concern in 2013-14. The hiring of longtime-Laker Kurt Rambis as an assistant coach could prove to be one of the key additions of the summer. Rambis, you’ll remember, was a major part of the development of the defensive schemes from Phil Jackson’s most recent back-to-back run with these Lakers. It will be interesting to see if this coaching staff will be able to find ways to mask some of the age they have with the proper attention to detail on that end.
- Jabari Davis
The Burning Question:
Who will the Lakers be able to sign in 2014 and 2015?
We know there are some within the organization that still have eyes for players like Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony, but with absolutely no guarantees either of them would seriously consider joining the Lakers, the future of this organization seems to be as up-in-the-air as we’ve ever seen it. Everyone, from the coaching staff, to the players, to even the front office seems to be in a one-year evaluation period. The Lakers could have the most spending power in both of the next two summers, and with plenty of talent beyond the two biggest names available over the next couple seasons, the proverbial “keys to the kingdom” are essentially up for grabs. As Howard found out last year, and many great players have known before him, when it comes to being the franchise player for this organization, “heavy is the head the wears the crown.” Whether this year or over the next few, the question will always remain: Who will rip the ball out of Bryant’s cold, dead hands? While Bryant is still upright, one thing is certain; the struggle for power will come with a fight. For the Lakers organization, they can only hope it does not come at a cost.
- Jabari Davis