This seasonâ€™s Laker team has more â€œifsâ€ than a Rudyard Kipling poem.
As training camp starts today, no team in the NBA is harder to forecast than these Lakers. That is due to so many â€œifsâ€, so many unanswered questions. They could be a solid playoff team, they could make us fondly remember last season.
So, for the first day of practice, hereâ€™s a list of the on-the-court ifs â€” how good the Lakers will be this season will depend largely on how many of these the Lakers can turn into positives:
If Phil Jacksonâ€™s focus and coaching can get this team to play average â€” not great, just NBA average â€” team defense (improving from last seasonâ€™s 29th in the league in defensive efficiency, when they gave up 108 points per 100 possessions);
If Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown can combine into a solid defensive front line;
If the drop off along the front line isnâ€™t too big when Slava, Brain Cook and Corie Blount enter the game;
If Aaron McKie can defensively stay in front of anyone at the point (or will the parade to the basket we saw last year return for an encore?);
If the Lakers can create some turnovers on defense (they were last in the league last season with just 12.5% of opponent possessions ending in turnovers);
If Kwameâ€™s reputation as a poor help defender was not accurate or is something he can overcome;
If Kwameâ€™s reputation as a â€œsometimesâ€ player is something he can overcome;
If Kwame can pass out of the post;
If Sasha can play any effective backup point guard;
If anyone can play quality backup minutes at the point, or starting point for that matter;
If more time in the triangle will help Lamar Odom and Kobe play more comfortably with each other;
If Scottie Pippen can help Lamar understand how to work within the offense as the second option;
If Odomâ€™s shoulder is close to 100% and does not limit him dramatically;
If the Lakers can find a three-point specialist for crunch time (Jermaine Jones?);
If Phil can manage the backlog of small forwards coming off the bench (does Luke Walton play the two? How about Devean George, putting him and Lamar on the court at the same time?);
And maybe the biggest if out there: If the Lakers can stay healthy.
If they can do most of these, then theirs will be the playoffs and everything that’s in it. And – which is more – theyâ€™ll be a real team, my son!