[Author's Note: Every year, our friends over at CelticsBlog organize a massive display of NBA blogosphere unity in putting together previews for each NBA team. Silver Screen and Roll is a proud contributor to the series, so without further ado ...]
Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season.
Where do I even begin? Change is not a word often associated with two time defending champions, and with the 5 most prominent members of the Los Angeles Lakers all locked up for multiple years, one wouldn't figure the Lakers would be in for a massive roster overhaul. None of that stopped GM Mitch Kupchak from having one busy and, in the opinion of this humble blogger, spectacular summer. Kupchak completely changed the back end of the team, allowing Jordan Farmar to leave via free agency, and politely telling Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to seek other employment.
In their place come Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, and two rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. Looked at on a like for like basis, it seems like an improvement at every turn. Blake fits the Lakers need for a "point guard" much better than Farmar did, Barnes as depth at small forward (in case Luke Walton's back injuries continue to hamper his career) over Adam Morrison is a no contest, and Ratliff provides experience off the bench that neither DJ Mbenga nor Josh Powell could muster. And the rookie haul is especially impressive when you consider that the Lakers seem to have found two keepers when they had only a mid and late 2nd round pick. On top of all that, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown were re-signed for continuity, so the Lakers now have a roster that is theoretically much deeper (and more mature) than last year's version.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
The team's biggest strength, both literally and figuratively, remains the Lakers front line. Kobe Bryant is a spectacular player, but it is the trio of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom that make the Lakers nearly impossible for anybody in the league to match up with. And if all else fails, they have the best closer in the game to fall back on.
After the front line, the Lakers 2nd biggest strength is an extremely versatile roster, capable of winning in a variety of ways. Last year's offense lacked the potency of previous versions, but with Ron Artest hopefully finding a little more comfort in the offense, and what should be a much more consistent bench unit, look for the Lakers to improve somewhat in that regard. But, as last year's Finals has proven, they can also go toe to defensive toe with the best defenses in the land. Put simply, no matter how you play, the Lakers are capable of beating you at your own game.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
The team's biggest weakness is outside shooting. Last year, behind below-career-average performances from just about every perimeter player, the Lakers shot 34.1% from 3pt range, good for only 24th in the league. That poor shooting allowed teams to clog up the middle, and was a major cause of that previously mentioned lack of potency on offense. With a few bounce-back performances (specifically from Kobe) likely, and the improvement brought by Steve Blake, the Lakers should improve on last year's mark, but it still remains their biggest weakness.
Also, with Blake not being the speediest of characters, and Derek Fisher one year closer to fossilization, the Lakers remain susceptible to attack by quick lead guards. However, with as much size as the Lakers possess inside, there's only so much damage a little guard can do to them.
4. What are the goals for this team?
To have fun and do their best, and at the end of the season, to have a big pizza party. Seriously, they are the back-to-back defending champs, what do you think their goal is?
Not that they need any extra motivation, but this looks to be Coach Phil Jackson's last season, so he'll be looking to ride off heroically into the sunset. One more ring ties Kobe with Jordan, and if Ron Artest doesn't win another ring, he won't have one, since he intends to auction this year's ring off to charity.
5. How hard will the Lakers push to get the best record in the NBA?
There is no question the Lakers are the class of the Western Conference, and despite the protestations out of OKC, Portland, and the state of Texas, they are damn near a shoe-in to be the Western representative in the NBA Finals for at least one more year. However, the Lakers have not had the best record in the NBA for either of their two recent championship campaigns, luckily backing into home court advantage in the Finals both years. After last year's experience, in which home court advantage was so vital to their tital defense, and with the prospect of a Miami team which will be desperate to throw up a very high win total to turn around some of that bad publicity, will the Lakers chase after the extra 8 to 12 wins it will take to ensure a potential Finals game 7 will once again take place at Staples Center?
After all, there's no way to look at last year's 57-25 as anything other than a massive disappointment when looked at on its own. Injuries certainly played a role, but lack of focus and an unwillingness to play the right way (especially on offense) were the main killers to last year's regular season. My guess is the Lakers will play with improved focus, and have a vastly improved regular season record, but will likely fall short of the best record in the NBA. Good thing for them, a team still has to beat them 4 times in 7 games to win a championship.
Predicted Record: 64-18