Last Season: 41-25. 1st in Pacific Divsion. 3rd seed in Western Conference. Lost to Oklahoma City 4-1 in the Western Conference semi-finals.
Who’s Gone: Andrew Bynum (traded to Philadelphia); Derek Fisher (traded to Houston mid-season); Ramon Sessions (FA – signed by Charlotte); Matt Barnes (FA – signed by Clippers); Josh McRoberts (traded to Orlando); Luke Walton (traded to Cleveland mid-season); Troy Murphy (unsigned – FA); Jason Kapono (traded to Cleveland mid-season); and Christian Eyenga (traded to Orlando).
Who’s New: Players: Steve Nash (sign-and-trade with Phoenix); Dwight Howard (acquired from Orlando); Jordan Hill (acquired from Houston last season); Antawn Jamison (signed – FA); Jodie Meeks (signed – FA); Chris Duhon (acquired from Orlando); Earl Clark (acquired from Orlando); Robert Sacre (rookie) and Darius Johnson-Odom (rookie).
Coaches: Eddie Jordan (Assistant – Philadelphia); Steve Clifford (Assistant – Orlando); and Bernie Bickerstaff (Assistant – Portland).
Shortened or not, last season was supposed to be the “comeback” year for the Lakers after a humiliating sweep by Dallas that no one, including Phil Jackson, could’ve predicted. Unfortunately, the team was lacking in many areas and didn’t have a unified focus to even deal with the Denver Nuggets in the opening round derailed another run to the Finals.
For a franchise that is used to NBA Finals appearances and putting together strings of championships, something had to be done regardless of everything that contributed, acceptable or not, to last season’s early exit — even if it means losing the player that many believed to be the future of the franchise.
Enter Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, and of course, Dwight Howard.
In just one summer, the Lakers front office provided the team with potential answers to the problems that plagued them all of last year — lack of a dominant interior defender, lack of bench scoring, and not having a point guard who can dictate the offense the way it should be and, more importantly, elevate everyone’s productivity — including Kobe Bryant.
But even with the injection of Nash and Howard into the system, the reloaded roster has yet to convince many, even former Lakers, that this year’s title will return to Los Angeles.
Seven-time champion (3 with L.A.) Robert Horry argued that the Lakers’ second unit isn’t strong enough to help the team get to the Finals while Hall-of-Famer James Worthy is more concerned with their chemistry and Mike Brown.
It’s not easy to argue with those who have been there and seen it all. However, I have to say that too many people are severely underestimating 2 factors: the level of talents and the position of each new players play at.
As I alluded to earlier, the Lakers not only filled in the holes they had last season, they got two of the best players in their respective positions.
If you can’t get past Nash’s age, then you haven’t really seen how this guy has been taking apart all types of defenses for the past 16 years, not with his athleticism or quickness, but with his passing on a consistent basis. To give some perspective, the Lakers won their last 5 titles with Ron Harper (who isn’t even a point guard) and Derek Fisher as their starting point guards.
Harper and Fisher averaged in the playoffs during their title years 42.8% from the field, 31.5% from behind the arc and 3.08 assists per game…combined.
Nash in his final playoff appearance as a Sun in 2010 alone averaged 51.8% from 2, 38% from 3 and 10.1 dimes per game. Last season at 38 years of age, he was even better averaging 53.2% from the field, 39% from distance and dished out 10.7 assists per outing in the regular season (Suns didn’t make the playoffs).
As for Howard, we all know about his 6 NBA All-Star appearances and 3 Defensive of the Year awards. But did you know that he also led the league in rebounds 4 times (2008-2010) and has improved his shooting percentage in the playoffs from 54.8% in 2006 to 63% in 2011. Not bad for a guy who’s supposed to be offensively inferior compared to Andrew Bynum.
Yes, his point and rebounding totals will probably go down now that he’s a Laker, but his increasing efficiency in scoring says he’s continuing to learn where to pick his spots in the paint against defenses geared to slow him down and developing counter moves (i.e. hook shots, running hooks) as well.
His career assists (1.5 per game) may not be something to write home about, but remember, he was surrounded by shooters in Orlando. There aren’t many teams out there who have the speed in every position to help and recover. And if Howard is constantly facing single coverage, there’s no reason for him to do anything but score.
Of course, that’s not saying that Dwight is actually a deft passer by nature. But with the hybrid of Princeton/whatever-Nash-can-come-up-with offense the Lakers are expected to run this season and the number of quality centers he’ll face on a nightly basis, he doesn’t need to be a Gasol-level type passer. The motion of the offense and Nash’s keen passing will make the game easier than it’s ever been for him.
So if you take into account how much the game will be simpler for everybody with the addition of Nash and Howard (not to mention Jamison and Meeks), you don’t have to be a Laker fan to realize that this team really has a higher ceiling to get it done and has enough talent to compensate for say, poor stretches or slow starts than most teams in the league.
Even if Metta World Peace wants the team to beat the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls regular season record of 72-10, don’t expect the Lakers to enter the season with a mindset of doing just that. Unlike the past 2 years, winning the championship this year has never been at the forefront of the team’s to-do list as it is now.
That’s because there are elements, such as the older collective age of the starting lineup, Kobe’s impending retirement in 2014 and showing Howard that there’s no better place to win championships than in purple and gold, that are present now that wasn’t before.
That being said, don’t be too surprised if this team surpasses the 60-win mark for the first time since the 2008-09 season. In fact, it would be disappointing to a certain degree if the Lakers don’t get to at least 60 wins.
It’s the little details (Metta’s preparation and slimmer physique, overall excitement of the entire team, having an offensive system that will take advantage of the talents, etc.) that say this team is bound to do something special come June.
Of course, their work is still cut out for them as soon as training camp opens on Tuesday. But how many can truly say they don’t expect anything short of a championship for a team that features Kobe, Dwight, Pau and Nash?
There are an endless supply of cookie-cutter reasons from naysayers as to why this Laker team won’t amount to much of anything this upcoming season. So much so that they make it sound like the concept of a “super team” is a brand new thing.
“No chemistry”, “too old”, “no bench”, “Kobe is too much of a ballhog” and so forth.
But I understand the “concerns”.
I mean how many GMs, in their right mind, would want to assemble a team of 4 future Hall-of-Famers and one of the best (and intimidating) perimeter defender in the history of the NBA who also happened to be motivated enough to get in the best shape of his career since winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2004.
Who would want to have that headache of a problem when winning a championship is at stake?
Mitch Kupchak should’ve listened to Pat Riley and Danny Ainge.
Two guys who know first-hand that having this much talent in one team will never result in a title.