Enemy: Los Angeles Lakers
3SOB Forecast*: 37-45
What’s the story with the Lake Show?
With the nightmare of Dwightmare squared away behind them, the Lakers proceeded to gear up on the scraps of the free agent market, with aspirations of kicking the can far enough down the road that they can live out the fantasy for one more season and wait until next summer to address the issue of serious reconstruction, when they project to have the cap room to do so effectively.
For better or for worse, the perpetual narrative that is the Real World: Los Angeles Lakers will continue to pervade the national media space, which from a raw basketball perspective would probably be better served if allocated elsewhere, for the time being.
As long as the promise of financial wiggle room prevails, we can all be certain to be subjected to weekly reflections on why LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or *insert prospective 2014 free agent here* would put the Lakers back over the top. In terms of their current DNA, we’ll continue to hear more about Mike D’Antoni’s porous defensive schemes, the effect of aging (or anti-aging, depending on how he performs) on Steve Nash, how poorly our old friend Pau Gasol fits with this offense, and if we’re lucky, maybe some updates on newly acquired Nick “Swaggy P” Young’s fashion preferences.
But who am I kidding? None of the above is the reason that Los Angeles will be at the forefront of discussion in 2013-14, and deep down, we all know that. If Kobe Bean Bryant was not part of the equation, the sports world would gladly turn a blind eye to all of the above (especially Nick Young’s fashion preferences). When you consider that we are far closer to the end of the rope on what has arguably been one of the greatest careers in all of sports in many of our lifetimes, suddenly the blast of coverage centered around his team begins to shift into perspective.
Kobe: the Black Mamba, and president of the “Vino” club, is hardly painted as a sympathetic figure with his genuinely unapologetic demeanor, but there are few souls out there who would enjoy watching the guy ride off into the sunset on the heels of the way he went out last season.
From an individual offensive standpoint, 2012-13 was kind to Bryant, as he aged like a fine wine; producing one of his more efficient seasons as a pro. In his 17th go-round as an NBA player, his .465 field goal percentage and 17.9 assist ratio were the best of his career. From a team perspective, on the other hand, his Lakers were in shambles for the majority of the year. When the the ship finally began to take course and a playoff bid fell in grasp, Bryant’s season was stripped from him on the 80th game of the campaign — just two away from the postseason.
Nearly five months after tearing his Achilles tendon, Bryant is reportedly on the road to tearing apart the expected timeline for recovery. Time is neither on Mamba’s side, nor the Lakers’ in this matter, as their quest towards being watchable hinges directly upon the 35-year-old’s ability to get out on the court and perform.
To make things interesting, Los Angeles performed a quick act of “getting the band back together,” so to speak, by doing the free agent dance with “glory day” Lakers Sasha Vujacic, the embattled Lamar Odom, and ultimately signing Jordan Farmar back to the states after a stint in Israel.
Who are they cooking with?
Coach D’Antoni is the recipient of a lot of heat (some deserved) regarding the troubles in Laker-land, but to be fair he inherited a locker room that was doomed from the beginning, and did not possess the benefit of a training camp to put his stamp on the roster. Unsurprisingly, however, the team wound up performing in a very D’Antoni fashion, finishing in the top ten in offensive efficiency (105.6 points per 100 possessions), while rounding out in the bottom half of the league defensively (103.6 points per 100 possessions).
In the personnel department, there was and still is a certain disconnect between what they have and what they want to do. With an average age of 28.6, the Lakers clock in as the third-oldest team in the league, but ran a pace of 96.8 possessions per game, which puts them up in the top five alongside the undoubtedly more spry Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Houston Rockets.
The greatest point of contention in this sense was drawn with Gasol, with whom D’Antoni appeared to want no part of. In spite of this, Pau finished last season on an incredibly high note logging three triple-doubles in his last seven games played. The collective ability of he and his coach to figure out how to reconcile their discord will be paramount looking ahead. An element that can help bridge the gaps in the organization in one sense is the impending return of a healthy Steve Nash. Nash is certainly no spring chicken, himself, but has been a long-standing master of the open court offense, and spent his best years in the league under D’Antoni.
So what the Lakers do to address their concerns? I joked about “Swaggy P” earlier, but Young will find himself some serious feature time in this Laker offense, especially if Bryant is not ready to go early on. Young was dreadful shooting from the corners last season (24.6%), but as a general rule is bombs away from the perimeter, and should get a fair share of comfortable looks complements of Nash. Young’s fellow newcomer, and free agent “splash” Chris Kaman is a talented player, but comes as a bit of a head-scratcher given the likely offensive flow. Better fits for the type of style in the post positions seem to be the returning athletic and hard-nosed Jordan Hill, second round pick and quintessential stretch four Ryan Kelly, and promising Summer League addition, Elias Harris.
Finally, on a sentimental note for us Grizzly fans, the most recent Lakers signee is Xavier Henry, who was the last Grizzlies’ lottery pick, but has not shown an ability to adjust to the NBA level, thus far.
How do the good guys stack up?
Lee Eric Smith:
There are many variables for the Lakers this year, the biggest of course being: Will The Black Mamba be back? Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles at the end of last season, and for any other human, doctors say it would take 6-12 months to get back. But this is Kobe Bryant, who has declared he’ll be back for Opening Night, meaning he would suit up against Memphis in November & December.
But there are other variables here also: Will a full training camp under Mike D’Antoni make a difference? With Dwight Howard and the Dwightmare gone, will there be more cohesion? How will Pau Gasol adapt to yet another role in D’Antoni’s system. And then, there are the new additions to the team, guys like Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Xavier Henry. Overall, I think the Lakers are too rag-tag to match up will with a seasoned group of guys like the Grizzlies. D’Antoni has never been known for his defensive schemes, while it’s what the Grizz built their reputation on.
Don’t get it twisted — Kobe Bryant can win a game by himself if need be, and that may well happen this season. But even with Kobe, the Lakers are the inferior team, and I think the Grizz will take the first two games, and split the last two if Kobe is healthy, or sweep 4-0 if he’s not.
There aren’t many September’s when you can make the following statements: The expectations for the Memphis Grizzlies are higher than those for the Los Angeles Lakers…WAY higher. The Memphis Grizzlies will be WAY better than the Los Angeles Lakers. The boys in purple and gold are looking at a long fall, winter, and spring – and maybe a summer on the golf course instead of the hard wood.
It’s no secret that the hopes for the Lakers rest on the tender Achilles heel of #24. When does he come back, how effective can he be when he does come back, will defenses still treat him like a 15-time All-Star or will they leave him space so he can test the limits of his much-discussed rehabilitation? Kobe Bryant has the best doctors, the best trainers, and a unique ability to play through pain. All that said, the Achilles is different, and I’ll be surprised if the Black Mamba steps foot on the court before the ball drops in Times Square for 2014. That’s bad news for the Lakers and good news for the Grizz.
Memphis is extremely talented with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. After a successful 2013-13 campaign, the Grizz made a quiet exit in the Western Conference Finals. Look for them to try and make a big statement early on in the year. Meet-ups in the first half of the year with the Lakers occur prior to Christmas and it’ll be a tall order for Los Angeles to match-up with Memphis, especially in the frontcourt. Randolph and Marc Gasol are a lethal 4-5 combination, and while Pau can hold his own offensively, Randolph’s physicality will likely prove to be too much for the aging Spaniard. Games against the Grizzlies are ones where the Lakers will really feel the departure of Dwight Howard. Chris Kaman is a solid body at Center, but not nearly the defensive threat Howard is, and the Grizzlies should be able to have their way inside.
I think the championship experience of Tayshaun Prince can pay big dividends for a team that’s trying to make it over that next hump into the NBA Finals. His high basketball IQ makes him the perfect on-the-court bridge between the guards and the imposing front-line of the Grizzlies. Mike Miller is also a great off-season acquisition to come off the bench. Will he be as effective as he was in Miami? Not likely, everybody looks better when they’re playing alongside LeBron and Wade, but rest-assured there’ll be more than a few clutch three-pointers in his future – especially against the Lakers – who haven’t defended the three well since Shaq patrolled the paint.
If Kobe is in the lineup for the latter two matchups in February and April, and I think he will be, the game changes significantly. The Lakers have an opportunity to play spoilers in terms of seeding and/or matchups for the Grizz in the second-to-last game of the season on April 14 at Staples – and they may also be playing to stay out of the Lottery.
2013-14 will be a year of role-reversals for the Grizz and LA; Memphis is playing in arguably the best division in the NBA and will likely vie for home court advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Lakers will struggle just to make the postseason with their eyes on securing one or two major free agents over the summer. The critics that are quick to write the Lakers off as a guaranteed Lottery team are too speedy to judge; a team with a one-legged Kobe Bryant has a pretty good shot of making the 8th seed, but this year that could mean a match up with a very hungry, very talented Grizzlies team that’s had two seasons of marked improvement under their belts. In 2013-2014, Memphis could step into territory very familiar to the purple and gold – the NBA Finals. Several teams in the West will have something to say about it; the Lakers won’t be one of them.
Daniel Buerge (@danielbuergeLA):
Well, in case you’ve been living on the moon for the past year, let me be the first one to tell you the Lakers are going through a, well let’s call it a transitional period.
The team is projected to miss the postseason this year for the first time since 2005, and what would only be the sixth time in franchise history. So how do they compare with a Memphis team that is coming off what was arguably their greatest year in franchise history? To put it bluntly, they don’t. Other than the loss of head coach Lionel Hollins (which I do believe is a substantial loss), Memphis will essentially have the same roster that led them to the Western Conference Finals. An aging Lakers squad with an injured Kobe Bryant simply won’t be able to overcome Memphis in the standings, and likely won’t be able to take them down in their head-to-head matchups either.
For the first time in the history of the Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t going to be a team they’re going to have to worry about. At least, that’s how it looks for now.
When and Where do they square off?
November 15th: 9:30PM at the Staples Center
December 17th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
February 26th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
April 13th: 8:30PM at the Staples Center
For more Lakers content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Forum Blue and Gold.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.