The Los Angeles Lakers Can’t Win on Paper
The Los Angeles Lakers opened training camp on Monday in what was a packed house of media-types, wall-to-wall. The scrums were almost untenable and yet, despite a sea of reporters, there was still a lot to be learned about the Lakers and the upcoming season.
The obvious take – expectations are through the roof. With the offseason acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, anything but a title would be considered a “failure” for this loaded roster.
“We all understand the opportunity that we do have and how hard we need to be successful,” Pau Gasol said. “It’s going to take a lot of discipline, a lot of concentration and sacrifice. So we have to be ready for that.”
Last season, the Lakers were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs for the second-straight year. The season was rushed after the lockout and Gasol was nearly traded prior to the year for Chris Paul.
Now, the Lakers have rebuilt with one of the best shooters at the point guard position in NBA history in Nash and a more polished, experienced center in Howard (in place of the less consistent Andrew Bynum).
“It feels really good to be in a situation [where] we don’t have to deal with and go through what we had to last season,” Gasol said. “Once you have fewer distractions, you can do your job better.”
Howard, recently traded from the Orlando Magic, is recovering from back surgery. It’s still unclear if he’ll be ready for opening night, but the general sense from Laker camp is that he’s not terribly far off from a return.
Howard was typically jovial but didn’t expand much from his recent mantras of “being happy to be here,” “not wanting to talk about the past,” “not wanting to talk about the distant future (as a free agent next summer),” and gave little insight into his exact return date from the back injury.
Small forward Metta World Peace stood out as a player in tremendous shape. According to his brother, Daniel Artest, Peace weighed in at 247 pounds. He’ll be listed at 255 in uniform, but is nearly 20 pounds lighter than he was a year ago.
A strong year from Peace, both as a defender and a spot-up shooter, could be a significant factor this season.
The team also added depth to the bench with veteran Antawn Jamison and shooter/scorer Jodie Meeks.
“First and foremost, I’m going to be the guy coming off the bench,” Jamison said, noting that sometimes he’ll be playing with different mixes of starters and reserves, at various positions and in multiple roles. “I’ve been in so many situations in my 14 years, now 15, that I’m able to adjust. I’m able to fit in whatever they’re asking me to do.”
Meeks has a reputation as a pure shooter, but the Lakers may ask for him to do more than just hit the open looks that will naturally come his way.
“I’m going to be asked to guard the point guards a lot,” Meeks said. “I’m still young and I’m still quick and youthful. If they need me to do that a lot, I’ll do that.”
Head coach Mike Brown has a new stable of assistant coaches led by Eddie Jordan, who will bring in the Princeton Offense, which vaguely resembles the Triangle Offense that helped Kobe Bryant, former head coach Phil Jackson and the Lakers win five championships. Brown will also be joined by Steve Clifford, Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person and Darvin Ham.
The Lakers have tremendous upside given the talent. Coach Brown needs to utilize his defensive expertise along with a mixture of the Princeton Offense, Nash’s talent to create for others and Bryant’s elite scoring ability. It’s a lot to ask all in one season, but the potential is off the charts.
“I’ve never played on a team with this much talent and balance,” Nash said. “I’ve played on some very good teams, but a front line like this? And to have a Kobe Bryant on the roster as well is phenomenal. This is probably the best chance I’ve ever had.”
Most players noted the team has a lot to accomplish to reach those heights.
“We understand that you don’t win championships on paper,” Gasol said. “You have to want it more than anybody else, regardless of the roster. We feel good about what we have and just have to get better as we go along.”
If the Lakers stay healthy and the combination works as expected, the team may be the favorite to come out of the Western Conference. Even with added star-power and depth, Los Angeles still has to get through teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Miami HEAT and Boston Celtics.
The team will start their preseason on Sunday, October 7 against the Golden State Warriors at the Save Mart Center in Fresno. The official season opener is October 30 at STAPLES Center, hosting the Dallas Mavericks.
Rounding Out the Roster
The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill, who was very happy to return.
Steve Blake has a minor foot injury, which will need another week (give or take) to heal. He played in the Princeton Offense with Eddie Jordan in Washington.
Chris Duhon, after serious soul-searching, said he’s in better shape both physically and mentally to help the Lakers.
Earl Clark, who also came over in the Magic trade, noted that coaches have yet to use him properly throughout his career as a so-called “tweener.”
Given the glut at point guard, Darius Morris was happy to have a guaranteed contract. He noted his opportunities will come, but equally he’d love to play instead of just learn from the bench.
Devin Ebanks noted he skipped summer league because of a minor but real injury to his knee, not because of his uncertain contract status.
Both Morris and Ebanks, due to technicalities, can block a Laker trade should they choose to do so.
Andrew Goudelock seemed to understand that, with a non-guaranteed contract, he has an uphill battle to make the regular season roster.
Conversely, second-round pick Darius Johnson-Odom believes he can make a place for himself in the league as a high-level, athletic defender.
Robert Sacre, Ronnie Aguilar and Greg Somogyi are all tall. It would seem like one has a chance to at least temporarily make the roster, especially if Howard isn’t ready to start the season on time. Sacre may have the edge.
The team also invited Reeves Nelson and Chris Douglas-Roberts, but both will need outstanding camps to earn a roster spot.
If the Lakers are willing to cut a guaranteed contract like Clark’s $1.24 million, then perhaps another spot opens up, but that would probably be a stretch.
Best guess, the Lakers will carry their 13-guaranteed players along with Sacre and Johnson-Odom, but expect a competitive camp before final decisions are made.