Metta World Peace isn't a stranger at all to brash preseason purple and gold predictions. Just a year ago, the former Ron Artest proclaimed that the team's goal for the 2012-2013 season should be to go 73-9, topping the 1996 Chicago Bulls' historic record. Days before his first Lakers training camp in 2009, he boldly announced that if the reigning champs did not repeat as titlists, he'd shoulder the blame.
Even when not on the roster, Metta hasn't shied away from...audacious sound bytes. This one, more than those previous two, seemed more inexplicable than Chris Brown's continuing popularity. During a book signing yesterday in Manhattan, the newly-inked New York Knickerbocker told this to ESPNNewYork.com:
"I think the Lakers are going to go to the NBA Finals," World Peace said during a signing for his children's book "Metta's Bedtime Stories" in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday.
"I think Kobe [Bryant's] gonna be healthy, they're gonna get Pau [Gasol]. The Lakers are gonna make a big trade like they always do. They're gonna get another good player, boom, boom, and they're gonna go to the Finals. I believe it. Kobe's gonna come back, he's gonna play team ball, and Pau's gonna play well."
From that prediction and all the way back to his post-2008 Finals declaration to a depressed, showering, buck naked Kobe, it seems that Ronnie has always been, and forever will be, Lakers Optimist Numero Uno. If only we could all operate in the labyrinth that is Metta's mind, then perhaps we could all believe so hard in this Lakers team.
And maybe we should.
Maybe we here at Silver Screen & Roll have been entirely too negative this summer. Maybe we're just plain wrong. Maybe this team will be alright. Maybe Kobe will come back and be elite. Maybe Pau will surprise us with a resurgent season, with Steve Nash following suit. Maybe defense doesn't matter as much as mathematics, common sense and thirty years of modern basketball dictates. That's right kids--Metta got me thinking. He got me thinking long and deep.
What would the Lakers have to do to become title contenders again? What are the circumstances in which this underrated team of veterans and scrappers would be able to compete for the franchise's 17th title?
Let's get our positivity snapback caps on, Silver Screen & Rollers. How could these Lakers become NBA Finalists?
Kobe Bryant would have to crush historical precedents and revert back to being not only an MVP candidate, but a genuine medical miracle.
At age 35, even the Black Mamba faces an extraordinarily long road to recovery. An Achilles tendon rupture is cataclysmic for any player, regardless of age or sport. Looking at some of his peers who suffered the same injury, including Elton Brand and Chauncey Billups, it's easy to see that even a surgically repaired tendon can rob a player of his speed, quickness and agility (as always, Grantland's Jonathan Abrams articulated this far better than I ever could have in his killer article from back in April). The only real success story we've seen from a torn Achilles is Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who at age 32 came back from the injury 11 months later and was once again an All-NBA caliber player. Other than that, the list of success stories is more sparse than participants in throwback Shaq-Fu video game tourney.
For Kobe, he'll be trying to return to the elite offensive form he played at last season and carrying a very similar workload to last spring even when armed with three All-Stars around him. He'll be doing this two years older than Nique was in 1992 and trying to reach back to a level that Wilkins--or almost anyone--was ever at. To even make the playoffs, Bryant would have to defy skeptics. If we're talking about a title, Kobe is going to have to defy science.
Can Kobe defeat medicine? Well, he once beat Paul Pierce. I remember one time that guy got so grievously injured that he was restricted to wheelchair just to get himself off the court. And you know what? He kicked medicine's ass in like, five minutes, got back on the floor and won a NBA title.
Kobe beat Pierce. Piece beat medicine. I know my math.
If Kobe is to miss the first month of the season and will be limited for a time even after he returns, the Lakers will have to see 25 to 48 minutes of very solid production out of Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Nick Young.
The Lakers issued a "Kobe Watch 2013" update (it's not really called that...yet), which detailed that the team won't set a target date for his return until he's resumed full weight-bearing running. It's almost October. That doesn't embolden an opening night return, does it?
That being the case, the Lakers are going to need to very, very solid production from the crew of Meeks, Farmar, Blake and Young in the interim and for weeks following Kobe's return. It's very clear that these four can meet Kobe's "defensive prowess" at this point, but to keep the team operating at a peak NBA level, they would have to essentially play the best basketball they'd ever played in their lives.
Just to reiterate: Steve Blake would have to play consistently good basketball for an extended period of time. Want to make sure that everyone is clear on this. We good? Take a minute.
At age 33, Pau Gasol would have to reverse course on what's been a two year downward slope in production and return to being an All-NBA player...after knee surgery. Sorry, surgeries. On two knees.
Hey, remember when everyone was calling for Pau to be traded at every trade deadline, every offseason and every moment for the past two years? And saying that this guy was not a worthy playoff contributor any more? And how he couldn't carry the team without Kobe?
Well, this is the same guy that I keep on hearing "will carry the Lakers while Kobe recovers" and a primary reason why "the Lakers will be okay".
Steve Nash, who will be 40 years old in February, will have to orchestrate the Lakers offense like Beethoven at the symphony, all while playing just 25-30 minutes a game.
To fulfill Metta's prediction, Nash would essentially have to be the second-best 40-year-old in NBA history, next to the Captain himself. He'd have to pull the strings of the offense like a puppeteer, destroying defenses with pick and roll partners like Jordan Hill, Gasol and someone named Elias Harris.
Let's set aside that, yes, he will be the oldest player in the NBA next season (unless Jason Kidd gets fed up with Shaun Livingston and suits up in the BK). Let's also discard the fact that he's still recovering from hip, leg and back issues from last season.
I don't know how he'll be able to affect the team in such a major way considering that a man of his age and injury history shouldn't be playing more than 25 minutes a game. It doesn't quite add up, but he'll have to make the math work to get the Lakers to be contenders.
One of these four players will have to emerge as a steady option at small forward on BOTH ends of the floor: Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Shawne Williams or Xavier Henry.
A disclaimer: I'm happy to be wrong. I'll never be so happy to be wrong in my entire life. But I won't be wrong. Because I've watched these four play.
Wesley Johnson got drafted as a 23-year-old junior. Red flag number one. He also was drafted by Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn. Red flag number two. After being the number 4 overall pick in 2010, he's on his third team in three years. Red flag number three. The rebuilding Phoenix Suns, who let Johnson walk, have Gerald Green, a fictional character named P.J. Tucker and rookie Archie Goodwin playing small forward instead. Red flag number four. That's half as many red flags as Johnson has had 20-point games. In his NBA career.
You might know Shawne Williams from his brief spurt of success with the New York Knicks in 2011, dropping 7.1 ppg and an amazing .401 3P%. You might also know him from his three arrests relating to drug charges and his recent stint with the Guangzhou Liu Sui of the Chinese Basketball League.
Xavier Henry was one of the most highly recruited high school players in the country before he decided on the University of Kansas in 2009. Since then, he's bounced from the Memphis Grizzlies to the young, talent-hungry New Orleans
Hornets Pelicans, where he failed to beat out such blue chippers as Marco Bellinelli, Lance Thomas and Roger Mason, Jr. for court time.
Nick Young, alias Swaggy P...you know what? Forget it. Just ask any Philadelphia 76ers fan how they feel about Nick Young. And prepare for seventeen tweets followed by a lot of direct messages.
Silver Screen & Rollers....your 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers small forwards!
The Lakers will have to somehow improve a squad who finished 20th in defensive efficiency last season after losing a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and replacing him with a rotation of Chris Kaman and five-time All-NBA center Robert Sacre.
That guy has gone to Houston. I can't even remember his name. Dane? Doug? Dweezil? Whatever. He had a strangely small head. I remember that part.
Regardless of the man's given name, there's no doubt that he's left a giant, nightmarish hole in the middle of this Lakers rotation. Towards the end of the season, even with a back injury that he never forgot to remind everyone about, he finally came to resemble the player we all thought LA was getting last August. In March, the Lakers ramped up their defensive efficiency to 15th in the NBA. In eight April games, they were 9th.
Now that guy who blew up pick and rolls and averaged 2.7 blocks in that span is gone to Lubbock. That's in Texas. In his stead are Chris Kaman, Ronny Turiaf's brother, Robert Sacre and at times, Gasol. For the Lakers to compete with the elite next season, these three would have to equal one Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player. Especially looking at the lack of athletes on the perimeter, this is easily the biggest key to this upcoming season. If you're seeing the world through Metta World Vision, that is.
Most of all, the Lakers will have to try and stay healthy as a unit with five key contributors that have had at least one major surgery in the past year.
This one is far out of anyone's hands. The key numbers here though? 40, 35, 33, 33 and 26. Those are the ages of the players referenced. Many people have suggested to me that the Lakers won't be as injury-ridden this year. They simply can't. If they want to come close to a title, they can't be injured. At all. Which defies time, science and medicine. But if Kobe can do it...
Obviously Metta World Peace was being, well, everything that made him one of the most beloved Lakers of all time. Unbridled optimism woven together with an unparalleled air of blissful ignorance doused with a gigantic bucket of charm. A lot would have to go right to prove that MWP is spouting a little more than his usual insanity bordering on parody. Even the biggest Lakers homer couldn't feasibly believe that the Lakers will win the title this year, let alone think that this hilariously large list of "but ifs..." could come true.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino