“We definitely want to beat the Bulls record and go 73-9″ (Metta World Peace)
PG Steve Nash Steve Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris
SG Kobe Bryant Jodie Meeks, Andrew Goudelocke
SF Metta World Peace Devin Ebanks, Darius Johnson-Odom (r)
PF Pau Gasol Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark…..Reeves Nelson (r)
C Dwight Howard Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre (r)…..Gary Somgyi (r)
Offseason Recap: If you were in Southern California this summer then you remember the ground moving on the 4th of July. It had nothing to do with fault lines but everything to do with Steve Nash. That trade caught almost everyone off guard on the holiday. In just one move, the Lakers reminded everyone that they’re all about Right Now. This team wasn’t going to waste another year of Kobe Bryant’s twilight on just the conference semis. The team also finally was able to avenge the Chris Paul fiasco.
Serious ‘props’ go out to the Laker front office. GM Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss over the past year played the Dwight Howard saga like a fiddle. They waited in the weeds as the Nets wasted months of cellphone minutes and texting with the Orlando Magic. The purp n’ yellow just stood by, with their Andrew Bynum-chip, and waited for a big trade to materialize. Exploring all avenues, they eventually found the 76ers and Nuggets as ideal trade partners. This four-team Megadeal allowed everyone to get what they wanted (except maybe the Magic). Despite taking on Chris Duhon’s contract in the trade, L.A. also managed to add the talented Earl Clark. He could see important minutes at either forward spot this season.
Adding Antawn Jamison for the veteran’s minimum and SG Jodie Meeks for slightly more were two major coups. Jamison will do whatever the team asks of him and also be a great presence in the locker room. Meeks, a knock-down shooter, will help space the floor and allow Kobe to play the SF more often.
Keeping bigman Jordan Hill was also huge this summer. Yes, he got a nice mid-level deal, but I think he’s worth every penny. The guy has double-double ability and will allow the Lakers to one day move Pau Gasol’s contract (hopefully soon). The return of versatile SF Devin Ebanks is also a big plus as World Peace won’t be around forever (sorry).
Speaking of Metta, he played his best ball in years last season heading into the playoffs. He acknowledged that his back was finally healthy and his pinched nerve was pretty much gone. All accounts are that ‘MWP’ is as ripped and spry as ever. Look for a lotta peace to be dished out in training camp.
Lastly, the team also improved its coaching staff…adding veteran NBA head coaches Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff. Eddie, a former Laker guard from the 80′s, will be in charge of implementing the new Princeton offense in L.A. Should Mike Brown falter, he’ll may also be the next head coach of your Los Angeles Lakers…but that’s for another blog.
Strengths: Star Power. The Lakers may just get every big call from the refs all season. There’s a serious resume listed at every position, even Metta (defensively). Though Dwight will likely miss training camp rehabbing from back surgery, it should still be an intense session. There are a lot of young guys who want to prove that they can be part of such a star-studded rotation. Ebanks…Goudelocke…even Earl Clark have something to prove.
Last season the Lakers were a great rebounding team, leading the league in total boards. I look for that to continue with the swap of Bynum for Howard. Even the diminutive Steve Nash is a deceptively good rebounder from the PG spot. The Lakers were also a top 10 shooting percentage team last year. Howard’s paint points, Nash’s long range shooting, and the new Princeton offense will only improve this ranking in 2012-13.
Weaknesses: It’s never easy incorporating so many new pieces on a team, especially ones with serious egos. Add to that the new offense and homework may be steep early on. However, Steve Nash can adapt to any offense on the planet with that I.Q. of his…and he can teach an entire squad with him along the way. But Dwight Howard unfortunately doesn’t have that same ability. While he sits and watches the team practice in October, he’ll be a step behind learning that new offense. But I guess on this team, all Howard has to do really is run straight downcourt and seal his man. Other than setting the occasional pick, it’ll be all about catching and finishing inside for DH12. He doesn’t even need touches in the post to be successful, so hopefully he left those canned Patrick Ewing moves back in Orlando.
The Lakers were 26th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage last year, a number that should go up with Nash and Meeks out there. It really has to go up, or else Dwight will feel suffocated inside…considering his PF is actually taller than he is (not a good look). The team also fouled more than anyone else in the league in 2011-12. Howard, a player known for getting into foul trouble himself, needs to be judicious on defense. Dwight will be called upon to contest whoever blows by Steve Nash or gets by Kobe Bryant on the perimeter. ‘Superman’ should take a page out of Andrew Bynum’s book…it’s sometimes better to affect the shot through intimidation than to go for the swat.
Prediction: Many people think that Kobe Bryant won’t defer to a point guard like Steve Nash, who has to have the ball in his hands and running the show. A younger Kobe maybe, but this older Bryant (with nothing left to prove individually) is too smart of a player not to take advantage of his new PG. The Black Mamba will pick his spots every night and every quarter, only turning it on when he needs to. He’ll be the freshest he’s been in years when April rolls around.
Bryant will also play more small forward than ever before, which is a very natural progression for an aging SG. Though this will take minutes away from Devin Ebanks, it’ll make the team much more potent on offense. A Meeks or Goudelocke at the ’2′ alongside Nash and the the other stars on the frontline will be a tough lineup to defend for anybody. I don’t see this team struggling early on as many think (i.e.- Celtic Bill Russell). While Howard will be slow to get up to speed on the new Princeton offense, it isn’t a factor considering Steve Nash is running the show. He could probably get a middle school team flowing into NBA sets in one recess break.
I do think there’s one more move coming in L.A., and it’ll be one that helps catapult this team to great heights. I predict that Pau Gasol (and his $20M/yr salary) will be traded at the February deadline. No matter how good a passer Gasol is, Dwight needs space and to be the sole ‘bigman’ on the floor. Let alone the fact the L.A. could do a lot with Pau’s $ and even send out a bad contract of their own too (Chris Duhon?).
I see the Los Angeles Lakers winning the Western Conference but not with 73 wins as Metta World Peace thinks. They’ll finish with around 62 wins, just ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder…the team they’ll face in Conference Finals. L.A. is old school, playing inside-out….OKC is new school, winning without a big presence down low (hey, it worked for the Heat). But as long as Sefolosha is in the game to guard Kobe, Steve Nash has a place to hide on defense (Thabo isn’t a threat). Plus, Dwight is back there to clean up all the mistakes. That leaves MWP on KD and Howard vs. the inferior Thunder ‘bigs’…..Mike Brown has to like his chances. Scott Brooks, who I think is a way better coach, will have to be perfect to beat the new L.A. lineup…..Lakers in 6.
In the NBA Finals, they’ll face the equally star-studded Miami Heat. For that outcome, check back for my upcoming blog of the Lakers-Heat matchup (spoiler alert: Lakers win).