Reality Check

Kevin Lee

It seems like we've spent an entire summer either overestimating or underestimating just who the Los Angeles Lakers will be this upcoming season. Let's eat that porridge that's juuuuust right. What's the reality?

As it stands, we could be looking at one of the worst group of small forwards in the NBA next season.

If the Mamba can't be the Mamba this season, this could very well be one of the worst group of shooting guards in the NBA.

I'd instantly rule out this team ever having a good defense, let alone a great one. If anything, the Lakers should be aiming for mere decency on that end of the floor and not much else.

Jim Buss, the basketball front office VP and team owner has no record of winning basketball games. In fact, this Lakers regime has essentially no record of winning anything.

The Lakers can't be accused of trying to intentionally lose next season, not by their current players or the fan base, seeing as they have done their best to bring in guys with tangible skills. However, with a team built on injury-prone veterans and matador defense, they also look set up to fail.

Needless to say, this has not been the most overly optimistic summer for a Lakers fan. It's been an offseason of turmoil and tumult, with cynicism soaking in deep from all angles like a dilapidated house in a rain storm--with the latter metaphor eerily reminiscent of what's been written about the Lake Show. Those quotes above are from this very website over the past three months, written as the 2013-2014 began to take shape all the way into training camp. It's exemplary of a fanbase that's become increasingly disenchanted with a franchise that's fallen from such great heights a mere three years after one of its greatest triumphs in organizational history, their first Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

I wrote every single one of those sentences.

It's been an outright miserable summer as a fan. Even as a supposedly objective writer of a respected Lakers blog, there's no doubt that my fervent reverence for this great franchise has shown through. My perspective of the team's immediate future is colored in a pessimistic hue, with the team's weaknesses shining through brighter than any glow that positive strengths could muster.

However, I'm not the only one.

For the most part, Silver Screen and Roll and the NBA world at large has been down on the Lakers. In a poll of their writers, ESPN predicted a glum 12th place finish for LA come April. If you search for "NBA Coaches on the Hot Seat", I would be downright shocked if Mike D'Antoni's mustache didn't immediately surface. There are far more articles associating the Lakers with the word "lottery" than "postseason".

Conversely, all this negativity has turned what is a usually rightfully confident and proud Lakers fanbase into a defensive bunch with their teeth bared as prominently as their keyboards will allow. With every projection of Kobe never returning to elite form, I can't help but notice dozens of comments replying that if anyone can beat modern medicine and the very principles of empirical evidence, it's the Black Mamba. I see fans rejecting the notion that this team's defense will be bad enough to offset what should be a high-powered offense filled with the type of athletes the team was lacking for the past several seasons. It's as if some fans are compensating for the abnormal amount of purple and gold negativity by overestimating just how good their squad will be.

To me, it's been a dramatic swing one way or the other--the Lakers either won't be as bad as you think, or will be worse than you can fathom.

But what's the reality? What's a realistic expectation?

And therein lies the problem. The team was constructed in a way that it's almost impossible to conduct a reality check.

This entire Lakers team is full of high upside gambles, each of varying costs. Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Xavier Henry have gone from lottery picks to lottery tickets. Steve Nash is a huge injury risk at 39 years old, but could very well run the pick and roll from his nursing home wheelchair to the tune of 40 points a night. Shawne Williams and Chris Kaman were very solid players just two seasons ago--can they come up big this year to preserve their NBA careers? Kobe Bryant could either defy conventional medicine and return as an indestructible robot MVP candidate ... or do more harm than good by trying to play like the player he was rather than a man returning from a serious injury. If those gambles work out, this Lakers team could be pretty damn good. Surprisingly excellent.

But if they don't? The defense will be as porous as it looks on paper. Steve Nash, if he's still standing, won't have anyone to help him out on offense. Kobe could have a disastrous Jeter-like return from injury at age 35.

In almost every facet of the on-court product, the Lakers find themselves sweating out a game of three-card poker with the stakes stacked taller than Tierre Brown. From the coach to the stars to the role players to the roster's fringes, LA is depending on so much to go right with a season hanging in the balance. It's the staggering number of these gambles that make predicting a reasonable outcome for this team so difficult. Even if Steve Nash stays healthy the entire season, what if Kobe doesn't? Or vice versa? Does it matter if Pau Gasol can become an elite rim protector given the opportunity if he doesn't have any help from his new teammates on the perimeter? Or perhaps the reverse, in that Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry are holding down their half of the PnR, but Gasol and Kaman cannot?

There is simply too much to account for. There isn't a single man who will be responsible for either the success of the defense or offense, nor can the coach single-handedly resurrect the collective fallen star that is his team. Oddly enough, the Lakers have become more a singular unit than they have been in almost two decades through their struggles. Now, they look to succeed despite the odds stacked against them, with even their brightest stars facing as many questions as the remainder of the roster.

There is almost no way to be rational about this Lakers team. Reason, it seems, is unreasonable when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers.

In that way, maybe this season will be the reality we've been used to.

--Mambino

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino

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