If there are any major concerns we should have about this season's Lakers (as presently constructed), they should be focused squarely on the backcourt. Sure, there's Kobe, but take a look at the rest of the guards: Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Jason Kapono, Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Gerald Green, and Elijah Millsap. In other words the Lakers have an All-World legend, a 37 year old defensive liability, a current free agent bust, a one-dimensional shooter whose never clocked meaningful minutes for a good team, a 2nd-Round rookie, and three guys who'll get cut. Ouch!
You could also say Kobe Bryant and nothing else. So weak are the Lakers at guard, Mike Brown is toying with the idea of giving Devin Ebanks (whose yet to show his chops at small forward) some time at back-up shooting guard. Sans Mamba, the situation at guard has the potential to get very ugly. Which is why Kobe has to play better than ever.
For a man who has accomplished what Kobe has, this just might be the year that Kobe Bryant has to do his finest work.
I don't know how he manages to do it, but Kobe seems to start every season with a new point to prove. He's accomplished everything there is to attain in the NBA, but once again, he comes into this season with watchful eyes on him. Is he getting older? That's obvious. I'm sure Chuck is somewhere telling people that "Father Time is undefeated," but is he getting worse because of age? He doesn't think so. Last year wasn't any real indication that a steep drop-off should be expected. Still, not even Kobe was able stop the Lakers from getting rolled in the playoffs. So the question was put on the table: Can Kobe still carry the Lakers?
Such is the life for a 33-year-old player that will cost over $25 million this season. This is why he gets paid the big bucks, and barring another trade, the main reason why the Lakers are currently stuck with such less-than-spectacular options. This season is an important one for Kobe. Believe it or not, a line has been drawn in the sand and the next generation is gunning to knock Kobe off the stoop for good. Can he slow the rising tide?
Projected Starter: Derek Fisher
So far, Mike Brown has stated that Fish will start the season with the first five.
Brown said last week that he plans to start Fisher at point guard when the season starts on Christmas Day against the Chicago Bulls, but he is not rushing Fisher to get ready during the final week of training camp.
Whether that actually happens or how long it does remains to be seen. I would imagine that making sure the point guard of your team (learning a completely new system) gets as much time possible in real-time game time is imperative. Especially given that this is a condensed season. Is making sure the 37-year-old Presidente rests instead of playing one of only two pre-season games really worth sacrificing the important chance to build team cohesion? I don't know. It's not like Fish has been so good that the Lakers can afford for him to just step right in and "do what he do."
How much can we possibly expect from Fish? The very fact that he still starts for this team is the biggest sign of how weak the Lakers are at PG. Aside from moments of clutchness, Fish has done nothing else to keep the starter's gig. With the championship window getting smaller, the Lakers cannot afford for no one to step up and take this job from Fish. Not when the likes of Aaron Brooks is earning contracts based on being matched-up against the Lakers captain. At this point in Fisher's career, it's an awfully huge bet to make hoping a new coach and system would change anything. His defense is terrible, he isn't a great passer, and he's one the the worst fast-break players in the NBA. Never mind that he can't create his own shot.
I don't mean to bag on Fish. I appreciate all of his accomplishments in Purple and Gold, but if the Lakers are going to keep this ship moving forward, someone is going to have to remove Fish from the starting gig.
Projected Primary Backup: Steve Blake
Simply put, Steve Blake has to earn his money this year. He was an absolute bust last season. He was hesitant, shot poorly, didn't make plays, and didn't defend any better than D-Fish did. All of this in the first year of a 4-year/$16 million deal. Check his stats:
20.0 minutes, 35.9% FG, 37.8% 3P, 86.7% FT, 2.2 assists, 1.9 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 0.9 turnovers in 79 games, 0 started
Not good. He had plenty of time and opportunities to take a role Fish was begging to have taken from him. Seems like one huge whiff by Mitch. Fortunately, if there's any player besides Andrew Bynum who has the most to gain from a new coach and system, it's Blake. It's easy to use the Triangle as an excuse for neutering Steve Blake's otherwise decent play-making capabilities. Could it be that he was just uncomfortable playing under Phil Jackson? An uneasiness that caused his shooting to suffer as well? He seemed to never know when he should shoot, as if he was too worried about drawing the ire of Phil Jackson, trying hard not to screw up an offense that has dominated the NBA in the past twenty seasons.
This job might start out as Fisher's, but really it's Steve Blake's to lose. If he can't supplant Fisher as starter, start ticking the clock on his departure from L.A.
Other Notables: Darius Morris
I know some of you are excited about Darius. He looked good yesterday, and under Mike Brown, should get the chance to contribute this season. But let's be realistic. Morris is a rookie drafted in the second round. A rookie drafted in the second round playing point guard for the championship contender Los Angeles Lakers, with its superstar reeling and salivating over the chance to tie Michael Jordan in rings. That's a ton of pressure.
If you're pinning your championship hopes on this kid, then either Derek Fisher and Steve Blake will be playing absolutely, mind-boggingly terribly or Morris will be playing absolutely out of his mind. Which one do you think is a more likely situation? We pray it's the latter, but the chances of that are slim. The Lakers' best bet is for Morris to earn his stripes and become a nice surprise who can contribute in the playoffs.
Projected Starter: Kobe Bryant
As I stated earlier, all eyes are going to be on Kobe. With such a weak crew of help at guard around him, he's going to have to play quite efficiently. More than likely, he's going to be asked to handle a heavy load of distribution, and what should be a re-emphasis on the post, how Kobe handles his role as play-maker and decoy will determine how well this offense plays.
The defense's ability to slouch back and help in the post will largely depend on Kobe's shooting, driving, and play-making. Unless whomever is playing PG and SF are shooting the lights out (which they failed to do last season), the only extra attention that will be paid, besides Drew and Pau, will be to Kobe. He'll be expected to make the defense pay if they sag, or find his bigs if the defense is forced to pay too much attention to him.
The reason he's going to have to play ultra-efficient on offense is because Kobe's defensive intensity is going to have to be consistent all year. Let's face it, Kobe isn't young enough to give the same intensity on both ends of the floor night in and night out. I'm not being biased in my approval of his 1st Team All-NBA nod, but his First team All-Defense was questionable. Even for the hardest core of Kobe fanatics. Of course Kobe can still play elite defense, but he didn't always try to last season. Under a coach who preaches defense above all else, Captain Kobe will be expected to lead by example.
I look forward to the shame of getting swept, plus a new coach and teammates, multiplied by his doubters, giving Kobe a new focus on this season, and a change of mindset. I don't expect the "big dog eats first," Shaq-esque attitude he had immediately following the Lakers Game 4 loss, to continue. The ideal situation would be for Kobe to increase his defense and play-making while dialing back a bit on offense, but increasing his efficiency. Might be a tall order for any player to make in his 16th season, but this is why Kobe gets paid the big bucks.
Other Notables: Jason Kapono, Devin Ebanks (?)
Jason. Kapono. Is. Our. Backup. Two. Guard. Did I mention we have Kobe Bryant?
Seriously, I get it. They brought in Jason Kapono because of his marksmanship from long range, but he's never faced meaningful minutes for a team that has championship aspirations. Really, all he can do is shoot. Will it be enough to make us forget the defensive sieve, highlight show, jacker that was Shannon Brown?