Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Albeit the chaotic spectacle that is and has been the Los Angeles Lakers offseason, the team’s state is beginning to solidify and settle. It was just a few months prior that myself, and just about every other diehard Lakers fan, had thrown in the championship towel and seemingly accepted the reality of our coming entrance into mediocrity (at least for the 2013-2014 season). With Dwight gone, Kobe’s injury and the ESPN updates notifying fans of player acquisitions that prompted little to no excitement, it became rather easy to wallow in the collective vibe of defeat.

But, hear this: the sun has not yet set in the City of Angels. Amidst the analyst predictions and blunt criticisms of the media, the organization has continued to work towards the salvation of the squad, making some recent key moves that have not only restored faith in my own perspective, but may also cause all those relishing in the idea of a failed Los Angeles season, to cease with their celebration and put the big ol’ glass of Haterade down.

Most Important Player: Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is not only the most important player on the Lakers, but he’s the most valued facet of the franchise. His will, tenacity and hunger for absolute superiority in his craft has shaped the imagery of what it means to suit up in the purple and gold. If we were speaking about any other athlete, it might be hard to believe that a man faced with a career-threatening injury just this April, is now jumping off 40-foot diving boards and running on anti-gravity treadmills; but that’s who Kobe is and that’s why he’s everything to this organization.

Bryant’s entire career can be outlined by the overcoming of adversity (mental and physical), so although the torn Achilles ranks supreme on the list of calamities, I believe that for a man like Kobe, it’ll result in not only a deep rejuvenation of physical and mental tenacity, but a historic comeback that will be one for the books. Not to mention, he flourishes in a sea of doubt. Don’t be surprised to see records broken and haters silenced. #MAMBA

X-Factor: Nick Young
The Los Angeles native brings more to the team than many are probably aware of. Young is a versatile player at 6’7” capable of fulfilling the duties of both small forward and shooting guard quite well. He’s quick, refreshingly aggressive and consistent. His demeanor is one of style and swagger, two qualities that the Lake Show will benefit from tremendously.

Averaging 11.3 points throughout his NBA career, Nick will provide the gift of buckets while simultaneously relieving Bryant of some of his scoring responsibilities. The man is a gem in my book, having already defended the squad’s honor by deeming the ESPN 12th place ranking (in the Western Conference) as “terrible” and “disrespectful.” I don’t believe Dwight once shared a similar sentiment, at least one that was genuine. Nick Young is the Matt Barnes improvement that we needed. He’ll bring fire, passion and grit and I have a feeling he and Bryant will get along quite well.

Note: Kurt Rambis is the ultimate X-Factor.

Rotations: In its current state, the Lakers have a solid 11-man rotation. I say 11 because Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly are quite young and are still figuring out their respective games. The two need to be afforded time to mature and develop. Once this transitional period has passed, I believe they’ll add much depth and security to the roster.

Assuming that Kobe is healthy enough to play game one of the regular season, he’ll lead the starting lineup along with Steve Nash, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol. Young and Hill will help immensely in the vein of energy, size and speed, making the starters a much more resilient group.

Due to the addition of some quality players, the bench will be far more relevant and will have to produce consistently to keep the Lakers in the playoff conversation. Nash will find relief from Jordan Farmar/Steve Blake, guys who both perform better with a greater number of minutes. This is an ideal situation for the PG position being that Nash should have ample time to rest while being able to coach/polish his back-up, particularly in a Mike D’Antoni-style system. As for Vino’s supporting cast, you have to go with Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks, while Nick Young and Elias Harris should share the minutes for back-up shooting guard. Although this should be the go-to plan, the previous four players mentioned can all transition into one another’s position making the bench a much more dynamic group.

Jordan Hill is the absolute preference when it comes to filling the majority of the power forward minutes, yet it will remain highly important that Chris Kaman, Sacre and Kelly are able to alleviate some of his playing time. This also goes for Pau. For the 2013-14 season to be successful, Gasol, Hill, Kaman, Sacre and Kelly need to be ready to play inside and down low while also taking on forward responsibilities and assignments.

D’Antoni prefers a guard-heavy system, but with the wisdom of Kurt Rambis, we may see a little more pick-and-roll action with a focus on choreographing the offense around the big men. I think the two working together will be a huge bonus for the team.

Reverting back to the topic of Sacre and Kelly, they both have a lot to learn. Kelly will be very valuable once seasoned due to his height and ability to shoot the long ball. Sacre needs to mature, although I’m a goof myself, there’s no room for snake dances and crazy eyes on the bench next to Kobe. Hopefully, Kaman remains healthy and continues to bother everyone who’s not on his team.

What Needs to Go Right: EVERYTHING! In all seriousness, we must stay healthy. That HAS TO GO RIGHT. One of the most argued reasons as to why our season went the way it did last year was the tumultuous injury plight. It seemed as though every time one key player healed up, another one dropped down. Being that we have a group that’s been exposed to heavy shifting, and is still quite new (much like last year), they need time to play with one another before things start to click. Chemistry is everything and if guys can’t get to know one another, more importantly, get to liking one another on and off the court, it’s unlikely that any flow or rhythm will be fostered.

D’Antoni has to listen: Mike D’Antoni’s stock went up ten-fold (in my book) when he hired Kurt Rambis. Now it’s time to prove that the decision was made with the right intention: to learn, change and adopt a coaching style that better fits a team like the Lakers. Rambis will not only provide valued insight in regard to all things technical, but will also be able to aid in bridging the gap between the players and D’Antoni. It’s been said that D’Antoni must force Bryant into playing less this season, but if everyone listens to one another, particularly Kobe, Rambis and D’Antoni, there will be no issues with having to force anyone to do anything. Things will simply set into their proper place.

I would note that Kobe’s recovery has to go smoothly and his comeback has to be inspired and epic, but that would be an insult to the greatest Laker to ever adorn the uniform. TRUST IN VINO.

Pau has to MAN UP. There’s nothing more to say. We’ve seen time and time again that the Spaniard has the ability to play hard inside, finish aggressively to the basket, block shots, grab boards and be an incredibly pertinent player. Hell, we went to the NBA Finals three consecutive years after he was acquired. Two of those years resulted in championships. He just needs to get his mind right; this will result in him playing correctly, which in turn will help him in avoiding injury and eliminate the psychological burden of a disapproving Kobe.

DEFENSE: The defense needs to be twice as good as last year. I believe that addressing the issue of communication between the coaching staff will solve this problem. Rambis knows defense.

It’s Really Bad If: Nothing changes. Mike D’Antoni has to be willing to let go of the system he’s so incredibly attached to running. His guard-oriented, fast-paced, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass style of play is the reason we’re more prone to injury, less focused on defensive action and far too wasteful of the talent that’s available on hand. Granted, I think he brings great strategy to the game, especially due to the way NBA basketball is currently played, but we do need to utilize our size. Slowing things down a bit will create a harmonious environment for all players involved.

Bold Prediction: The Lakers will win the season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, and will not only make the playoffs, but will finish higher than the 8th seed in the Western Conference. I’m not going to argue any further as to why, just wait and watch.


Steve Blake, PG
Strengths: When he gets hot, the kid can shoot, particularly from the perimeter.
Weaknesses: Inconsistency. Turnovers. If he can produce a few three balls a game while committing no turnovers we’ll be in great shape.
Season Prediction: He’ll perform much better with the help of Farmar and a healthy Nash. He improves with a less-pressured role and gets the minutes he needs to build confidence.

Kobe Bryant, SG
Strengths: Best player in the world. Black Mamba. #Vino.
Weaknesses: Achilles injury.
Season Prediction: He’ll play fewer minutes, but not too many less. His recovery and comeback will be one for the ages. Expect to see even more pump-fake, pump-fake, pump-fake, pump-fake juke moves on every and any defender. His jump shot will become too lethal being that it’ll be the move he’ll have to rely on for the sake of his health. Kobe’s stopping at nothing until he gets that sixth ring, and like last year, he will ensure that the Lakers make the playoffs, at the very least.

Jordan Farmar, PG
Strengths: Quick guard. Spot-up shooter. Gets along well with Kobe. Returning from an overseas league.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent. Returning from an overseas league.
Season Prediction: He’ll find purpose in this upcoming season and take the team’s success personally. The guy’s elated to be home. Gotta love those L.A. natives.

Pau Gasol, PF
Strengths: Seven-footer. Has some of the best hands of any guy his size. Great height coupled with delicate finesse.
Weaknesses: The soft factor. In his defense, Gasol has sustained a fair amount of injuries and has been affected psychologically with trade rumors and disgruntled teammates, but it’s time for him to put all that aside and play hard.
Season Prediction: I think Pau will find he’s more successful playing inside with a greater role. It’ll boost his confidence and force him to let the beast inside emerge. If he stays healthy and gets off to a good start, this new assignment will be much better for his overall production and ego (which needs a boost).

Elias Harris, SF/PF
Strengths: He’s young and fresh. Elias played for Gonzaga for 4 straight years, a notable basketball squad; one that is generally relevant in the post-season. Let it be stated: playing 4 years college prior to entering the professional league gives one valuable experience, and is a huge bonus in the vein of development and maturation. Don’t we all wish that most NBA players would’ve stuck around their respective schools for just a few more years?
Weaknesses: He’s very young and new to the league. He’ll have to acclimate to the NBA pace, speed and environment.
Season Prediction: Harris will adjust quickly and be an offensive threat. He’s a good kid and a major acquisition for the roster, not to mention his rebounding ability.

Jordan Hill, C
Strengths: He’s got size. Grabs boards and is not afraid to shoot the ball. Quality big man. Versatile and accurate.
Weaknesses: Injury-prone. Legal past?
Season Prediction: If he stays healthy, he will be without a doubt, one of the biggest factors in the team’s success.

Wesley Johnson, SG/SF
Strengths: Tall. Defensive. Can shoot the three.
Weaknesses: Prefers to play the SF position, but may be forced into a guard heavy role.
Season Prediction: If there’s an issue with Nick Young’s production, Johnson will definitely transition into a more predominant role as a guard. He’s highly versatile and wherever this upcoming road takes him, he will definitely be a factor off the bench: bucket-wise, production overall-wise, most definitely from three-point range.

Chris Kaman, C
Strengths: Big. Nitty-gritty. Chip on his shoulder. Grabs boards; great rebounder throughout his entire career averaging 8.0 a game over ten seasons.
Weaknesses: Jolly green giant. I apologize, I’m still trying to accept him as a Laker.
Season Prediction: Despite the disgruntled response from Laker Land after Kaman was picked up, he’s incredibly valuable. When Kaman is healthy, he’s a pretty damn good player.

Ryan Kelly, PF
Strengths: Great size and can shoot the three-ball. Was coached under the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.
Weaknesses: Young, inexperienced and injury prone.
Season Prediction: He’ll need to let this season be more of a learning experience. I think for the most part he’ll benefit from training under guys like Kobe, Pau, Nash and even Kaman. Will most likely contribute some valuable minutes late in the year if he can avoid getting hurt.

Jodie Meeks, SG
Strengths: Mini mamba. Quick, fast and determined.
Weaknesses: Subpar defender.
Season Prediction: Jodie Meeks will pick up where he left off last year; being productive and solid.

Steve Nash, PG
Strengths: One of the best facilitators the game has ever seen. Coach on the floor. Knows D’Antoni’s system. Has one of the most accurate floaters in the league.
Weaknesses: Age. Coming off a serious injury.
Season Prediction: He’s acclimated and healed. Nash will prove himself as far more of a factor this coming season. With all the young guard additions, he’ll be able to play just enough minutes to make significant contributions while not stressing his body too heavily. He’ll become our Derek Fisher: coming through when it matters most. Not only production-wise, but spiritually as well.

Robert Sacre, C
Strengths: 7’0”, 260 lbs, 24 years of age.
Weaknesses: Immature. Unrefined. I believe this year will be a pivotal opportunity for Sacre to improve and develop his role as a relevant big man.
Season Prediction: His playing time and numbers will grow vastly. Kurt Rambis, being one of the most aggressive, Lakers defenders historically, will help this young man exceptionally. He’ll cool it with the belly dancing and focus more on dominating inside.

Nick Young, SG/SF
Strengths: He’s not afraid to shoot the ball. Consistent production. Swagger. Style.
Weaknesses: May have issues sharing the ball, but I think Young knows his role and will play accordingly.
Season Prediction: X-Factor. Will be one of the major reasons we finish higher than the 8th seed when the season is through.

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