By now, you folks know the drill. Every year, my brother from another (hated rival) mother, Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog fame, organizes the NBA Blogosphere like Samuel Gompers and bands us together to
demand fair pay for our services preview the NBA season. The information provided here is meant to be general, so don't worry. We'll be covering this season much more in depth in the weeks to come.
Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year's Record: 41-25 (3rd Western Conference, 1st Pacific Division)
Key Losses: Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, Ramon Sessions
Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Significant moves ... hmm ... I think GM Mitch Kupchak might have moved into a different office over the summer (hint: it's a BIG one) ... the Lakers moved their television coverage over to a network that nobody can currently see ... other than that, nothing really comes to mind.
Of course I'm kidding, and of course I can get away with kidding about the Lakers off-season moves even in a preview that is designed for the general populace, because there isn't a single fan of the NBA who is unfamiliar with the earth shattering summer of the Los Angeles Lakers. Before consummating the trade that everyone has been assuming would happen for something like two years now, the Lakers shocked the NBA world by trading a bunch of draft picks for their division rival's best player, Steve Nash. Then, when they finally did pull the trigger on a trade of Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, they somehow did it in a shockingly unexpected way (taking back virtually nothing in bad contracts). As summers go, this one would have been unparalleled if not for Miami's free agent coup a few seasons ago.
As for the stuff others might not have paid attention to, the Lakers also solidified their bench with acquisitions of Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. This is significant because the Lakers starting lineup was pretty darn good last season too, but they weren't a very good team overall because the bench components were so poor, which caused the stars to have to play huge minutes on an already rough lockout season schedule. If Meeks can keep Kobe Bryant's minutes in the low 30s, he'll be a significant signing indeed.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Besides having, literally, an All-Star lineup as their starting five (OK, not current All-Stars, but still), we don't yet know what the team's biggest strength will be, because so much of it is reliant on how quickly the team can come together and find an identity. But we can surmise. Oh, can we ever surmise.
Close your eyes for a moment and come with me on a visualization experience. Start with one of the game's best offensive point guards, and the league's professor of the pick and roll. Now give him two options for a partner in his two man dance. On one side is the most athletic big man in the game, a man who can either steamroll through and/or speed around every single player in the league. On the other side is the most skilled big man in the league, a 7 footer who passes almost as well as the professor himself. Who's that man in the corner? The one just waiting for his defender to show the slightest interest in assisting his teammates with one of the aforementioned unstoppable combinations so that he can crash to the basket on a back cut? Oh, that's just 14 time All-Star living legend Kobe Bryant. No big deal.
Will it work that smoothly? Who the hell knows. But I don't think its a stretch to say the Lakers' four main stars is the greatest collection of offensive talent on one team in the last 20 years. If this team doesn't have the league's most efficient offense, it will be a disappointment.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
It's hard to believe on a team that features two Defensive Players of the Year, and the most dominant defender in a generation, but the answer might be defense. It all depends on how much Dwight Howard's dominance can erase Steve Nash's weakness, how hard Ron Artest can hold onto the athletic cliff that he's seemingly been falling off the last couple seasons, and how much energy Kobe will be willing to spend with the prospect of having to work less on the offensive end. The bench is also a bit weak, but looks so much better than last year's version that it doesn't really matter.
No, the team's biggest likely weakness will be chemistry. Not the bullshit "Can all these egos get along? Can Kobe and Dwight co-exist? Can Kobe share the basketball?" kind of chemistry ... the real kind. That mystical quality which makes buddies better ball players than a randomly selected bunch of dudes. Familiarity, or the lack thereof, will be the team's biggest early weakness. The only question is whether that weakness will still be one by season's end.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The answer to this question is a rote response around these parts: Championship or bust. But that was the answer last year even though we all knew a championship was unlikely. This year, the ultimatum for success looks a hell of a lot more achievable. I won't say the Lakers are the favorites, but they aren't far off.
5. What will be the Lakers' offensive identity?
I've already waxed poetic about the potential the Lakers have to be one of the great offensive units in NBA history. But there are still a ton of questions about how the Lakers will even attempt to go about their business on that end. Prior to last season, the Lakers ran the Triangle offense almost exclusively for over a decade. Last year, they were supposed to run a version of the Spurs 'Twin Towers' offense, but that didn't come through nearly as much as it should have, and we were left with a lot more isolation (for Kobe, for the big men) than should have happened. Now, the Lakers have one of the best creating point guards in the league, and his weapon of choice, the pick and roll, is an offense the Lakers have relied on less than any other NBA team over the years. That's all about to change, right? Remember that awesome visual I gave you earlier? Well, maybe not.
One off-season development that would have been significant in any normal off-season was the hire of assistant coach Eddie Jordan, along with the promise to go with it that the Lakers would be turning to the Princeton offense for which Jordan is an expert practitioner. The Princeton offense, similar to the Triangle, eschews positions on the court in favor of a team of above average passers and ball handlers who all do much of the same thing: Move around a lot, set screens for other players, and then accept the screens they set for you.
How will Steve Nash, one of the best pure point guards ever, operate in an offense that is designed without a true point guard in mind? And, more importantly, on a team with many newcomers and a whole new offense, what will the team fall back on if the Princeton isn't working. Will a Steve Nash pick and roll be the primary backup, or are we heading for more isolations when the going gets rough?
If Howard is healthy, the defense will be what it is, an above average unit that takes advantage of his ability to cover the whole court. What happens on offense, where the team lands between prolific and historic, will define the team and determine how far they can go.