Lakers Season Preview

Kurt —  October 28, 2007

Last Years Record: 42-40
Key Additions: Derek Fisher; getting rid of Smush Parker (a clear case of addition by subtraction); Javaris Crittenton

Jean Dixon couldn’t predict what will happen to this year’s Lakers, so let’s just try to answer your questions.

Is it possible to go a few days without being bombarded with Kobe-centric headlines?
Good luck with that. Kobe sells. Kobe fills phone lines for talk shows. Kobe is an easy fallback for a columnist who doesn’t feel like being creative that day. Whether or not there is anything to report, Kobe will get headlines. Trust me, as sick as you may be of all the Kobe talk/columns, Lakers fans are more so. My advice — get used to it.

Still, we need to cover this ground, so let’s get out of the way the conversation about Kobe and the Summer Of Our Discontent. Kobe’s summer rants — in overarching theme — could have been good, prodding a very cautious front office that a needed reminder (or a kick in the ass) that his shelf-life is limited. But alas, Kobe went about this with the subtlety and class of a Dane Cook performance. He treated Andrew Bynum like Shaq used to treat him. He created his own firestorm. We don’t really need to rehash all this again, do we?

Is Kobe going to be traded this season?
Maybe. I don’t know, I doubt Mitch Kupchak or Jim Buss know, and Ric Bucher certainly doesn’t know. Nobody does, really. What we do know is Jerry Buss is not going to panic and trade Kobe for Troy Hudson and an expiring contract. He’s going to wait for the other guy to panic — a GM of a team that thought it was a contender but realizes now it isn’t; or a GM who realizes he needs to blow up his team and rebuild and will send a superstar to the Lakers.

So, the cloud of the Kobe summer thunderstorm will follow the Lakers this season like they were Joe Btfsplk. Kobe is too competitive to pull a Vince Carter in Toronto, but how he and the team deals with the constant questions and distraction will be a key to the season. Especially when the Lakers get off to a slow start (the first month schedule is brutal and the Lakers will be without Lamar Odom for much of it).

Despite all the drama, can the Lakers be any good?
Yes — if everything goes right for them. That means staying healthy (which they are not to start the season), showing a commitment to defense that was lacking last year, and the bench continuing to outplay other teams.

Defense really is at the heart of the Lakers problems. By any measure the Lakers scored plenty last season (they were fifth in points per game at 103.3 and seventh in the league in points scored per possession, 108.2 per 100 possessions). The problem was they gave up as many points as they scored (Los Angeles was 24th in points per game allowed at 103.4 and 25th in the league in points allowed up per possession, 109 per 100 possessions). It’s pretty simple — if you give up as many points as you score, you’re a .500 team. I don’t care how many points you score.

If the Lakers are to improve this season they will have to give up fewer points — meaning better defensive play at the point and in the paint, plus better defensive rotations. At the point, I think they will get that. First, Smush Parker and his matador defense are now allowing point guards free trips to the hoop in Miami. Then, due to some fortune and some generosity of spirit by the Utah Jazz, Derek Fisher fell to the Lakers. Understand, Fisher is no defensive stopper, but he has veteran savvy that gets some key steals and takes some key charges. Behind Fish (and playing as many or more minutes) will be the gym-rat Jordan Farmar, who has bulked up this year and looked good defensively in the preseason. Behind them both is the rookie Crittenton, who also has looked good on defense in the preseason.

In the paint, well, we shall see. Andrew Bynum enters his third year with a much more fit and ready physique, plus more explosiveness. But the question is can he rid himself of the mental lapses that plagued him. If he fixes them, he could be quite good. Kwame Brown comes back with even a better physique than Bynum and the attention span of a gnat. Maybe a contract year motivates him — and maybe he catches all those passes that hit him in the hands and deflect out of bounds — but I wouldn’t bet money on that. Chris Mihm is, well, Chris Mihm. And not one fully back from the injury that kept him out all of last year.

The biggest strength of the Lakers — after Kobe — is the depth this year. When healthy Lakers will roll out a second unit of Farmar, Maurice Evans, Luke Walton, Vladamir Radmanovic and Andrew Bynum. That’s a lineup that can score and will pull away from virtually every other second unit in the league (they have been the best part of the team in preseason).

The key to that second unit, however, is them being a second unit, which brings us back to the Lakers staying healthy this year. Not sure a team can learn to stay healthy, so the Lakers need to hope the breaks — or lack of them — go their way this year.

What are the goals for this team? The Laker front office will tell you 50 wins and reaching the second round. Essentially to be last year’s Utah Jazz. That could happen if everything falls their way — Odom gets healthy and has a banner year, Kobe stays healthy despite the fact every defense will key totally on him, Kobe and the team remain focused, Andrew Bynum has a breakthrough, the team plays great defense, and Jack Nicholson intimidates Greg Popovich at key points during the team’s matchups.

But, when has any team really had a perfect year like that? Well, except the 2004 Pistons.

Prediction (if Kobe isn’t traded)
: 46-36 and out in the first round of the playoffs. Honestly, things health wise for these Lakers cannot go as poorly as last season, and when healthy this not a bad team. It’s also not a contender. Which I guess means a season of drama off the court.

Prediction (if Kobe is traded): I don’t know. Ask your local psychic.