There is something in the air in El Segundo. The procession of Los Angeles Lakers players and front office members voicing confidence in the team's chances of making it through the gauntlet of the Western Conference and claiming a playoff spot continues to grow. D'Angelo Russell has said the Lakers will "definitely" make the playoffs, and one could chalk this up to the exuberance of youth, but 37-year old 19-year veteran Kobe Bryant said earlier during the summer that he "absolutely" believes that the Lakers could push for a postseason spot.
A lot would have to break the right way for the Lakers to have a chance at improving enough from a franchise worst campaign to make the postseason, but the team did make a lot of changes over the offseason, drafting Russell and trading for 7-footer Roy Hibbert, among other transactions. Add the man who made those changes, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to the growing chorus of those optimistic about the Lakers' odds at the postseason, as he spoke to USA Today's Sam Amick, and outlined why he believes the Lakers have a chance at playing in their first postseason games since 2013:
"You know something?" [Kupchak] said when asked if he truly believed they could push for a playoff spot. "I don't know why we don't believe that. I think there are five or six teams in the West, without naming them, that are locks for the playoffs. We're not one of them, so that would leave one or two teams that may be able to get in.
"And like I said, if Kobe is healthy, and (newly-added veteran center) Roy (Hibbert) - if our veterans are healthy, and are productive. That's Roy, Kobe, (free agent additions) Lou Williams, (Brandon) Bass ... (Lakers forward) Ryan Kelly, believe it or not, is a third-year player now. (Guard) Jordan (Clarkson) is a second-year guy. So if the veteran guys could figure it out - and of course a lot would fall on (head coach) Byron (Scott) to help them figure it out - why wouldn't we be looking at a (playoff) spot? ... We wouldn't be the only team that's ever dealt with injuries. I'm not wishing injuries on any other team, but stuff happens. So we have to go into the season feeling that if we play our best basketball, and stay healthy, then why couldn't we be a playoff team?"
Kupchak is right that their are several teams that are basically locks for the top seeds in the Western Conference, but have the Lakers' improved enough to really compete for one of the final few slots? I wrote earlier this summer why I am not optimistic. The Lakers will undoubtedly be more entertaining this season, but the postseason seems like a stretch. At the same time, it is understandable those in the organization want to believe in themselves, because if they just gave up now it would make showing up for work that much more of a grind. Just enjoying Kobe's likely swan song and watching the young players develop should be enough for this season.