TrueHoop Network 2009-10 Season Preview: The Lakers

Kurt —  October 26, 2009

Game 5: Magic vs. Lakers
This year the TrueHoop Network has put together a book of NBA team previews, which you will hear more about soon. Due to book publishing deadlines, my first version of this was written in August, well before training camp opened, and had tight word counts to fit space.

What follows is a modified version of that printed preview — my views have evolved with what we have seen in training camp and preseason, and with your comments and the discussions here. Also, this is longer. Enjoy, then check out the list of other blogger previews for their teams below.

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God, it is good to be hated again.

It’s an oddly comforting thing for Lakers fans when the entire world seems to be passionately wishing for your team to fail, hoping for an earthquake that will break off Los Angeles and dump it in the ocean so that they don’t have to hear about the Lakers again. When the Lakers are hated, you know they are good.

And they are good — very good. Not only did they win the NBA title, they brought back virtually every piece of that team, and made a move to bring in a unique talent (and personality) at another spot. On paper they should be a better team this year — Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are back to lead, with a more mature supporting cast.

But they also will be a different team.

Two things change the Lakers dynamic this year, meaning they will play at a little slower pace and likely be better on defense.

The first of those is Ron Artest, who will make the team different because he is, um, different. But forget the under/over on how many times Phil Jackson is asked a question that begins, “Ron Artest tweeted…” (the betting line is 225), he changes the Lakers on the court. He is a more physical defender, a guy who can slow down the big threes in the league like Paul Pierce or LeBron James (as much as anyone slows them). His offense within the triangle has been a pretty good fit through preseason, as Darius explains:

I’ve described Artest as a souped-up Walton and I believe that even more now. He’s barely looking to shoot and he’s focused almost entirely on making plays for his teammates whenever he touches the ball on offense. But because he’s still such an offensive threat and so strong, he’s able to occupy defenders in a way that has been effective so far and allowed him to be a playmaker from the perimeter that we don’t have outside of Kobe and Odom (who is not nearly as controlled as Ron has shown so far).

That said, Artest will shoot (and likely at some points this year more than we would like). Artest shoots the three better than Ariza and is a beast down low, a dangerous combination in the Lakers offense. But Reed adds this note about comparing Ariza and Artest:

Ariza proved that, more than perhaps anyone on last year’s team but Kobe and Fisher, he is a winner; he is not scared of the big moment; he asserts himself to change the game when everything is on the line. That’s a rare and special quality. He clearly had Horry and Cassell’s role player killer instinct…. And that’s what this team really needs after Kobe and Gasol — talented players who rise up in big moments. We’ll see if Artest has it in him. He’s never been tested like that before.

The other big change will be having a healthy Andrew Bynum. (*knocking on wood*). So far in the preseason, Bynum has moved well and he has been devastatingly good — he is running the floor, beating the other big down and getting deep position on the block. Reed adds to that point.

Bynum looks to have regained his explosiveness. I think he’s going to be a man on a mission to prove himself, resulting in big numbers and lots of ball hogging. I won’t care about the latter so long as he doesn’t pout about sitting at the end of games and can keep his selfish tendencies on hold for the playoffs (like Kobe was able to when young). But I think he’s going to give himself an Antoine Walker in Boston level green light and just fire away whenever he has the slightest opportunity.

There will be other things to watch during the regular season (besides the one time a game — at least — when Kobe just makes your jaw drop to the floor like you’re in an old Tex Avery cartoon). Point guard is going to be one thing to follow. Derek Fisher is the starter, the guy who hits the big shots, but he is almost old enough to start for the Celtics. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown will get the chance to supplant him, but the question remains if one of them can step up and do it. Brown may be the crowd favorite — he is certainly the YouTube favorite with his dunks — but Farmar may have had the better overall preseason.

That said, what Ty Lawson did to the Lakers PGs (all three of them) in the last game is a reminder that this is a lurking issue. Somehow the Lakers need to find a way to defend quick point guards, or that will come back to bite them this season.

The ultimate keys to the Lakers are: 1) Kobe; 2) A front line that is long and versatile. Reed chimes in with this

The obvious strength of this team is its frontcourt size, skill, and quickness. No other team can match up with Gasol, Bynum, and Odom up front when they are all healthy and playing well. I don’t know if we’ve seen a front line with this much potential since the 86 Celtics…. I do hope that our closing offense in tight games is much less spreading the court for Kobe the last 3 minutes, and much more throwing the ball inside and reserving the Kobe clear out until the last play or two.

With that front line, expect a lot of post-up play and a slower pace from our starting unit. Zephid talks about that:

On offense, the starters are pretty much a post-up unit. Kobe, Artest, Pau, Andrew, they’re all at their best when posting up, so we could be in for a ton of grinding first quarters. Heck, even Fisher posts up smaller guards from time to time. I really like Artest’s “post game,” even if it consists mostly of bull rushes to the hoop and no actual back-to-the-basket moves. Man, but when he gets his shoulders around his defender, he’s pretty much unstoppable, with a couple of really nice assists coming off these bull-rushes.

On defense, things will be a little different this year. With Artest as another strong wing defender to go with Kobe (when he wants to be a good one on one defender), the Lakers now have a healthy Bynum in the paint. The Lakers moved away somewhat from the strong side zone in this preseason, but worked hard to force penetration to the baseline and get the help there early. The Lakers will still trap and try to force turnovers, something else we saw with the team near the end of the preseason. Particularly with the second unit, which is more likely to run on the turnovers they create.

The unenviable challenge for other teams is to match up with the versatility of the Lakers — want to go big and the Lakers can stack three guys 6’10 or taller along the front line for you. Want to go small and the Lakers can move Kobe Bryant to the three, Ron Artest to the four (or Odom) and have one of the better running/passing true seven footers in Gasol in the middle (plus Bynum can run the floor).

No matter what you want to do, the Lakers can match up with better players. That just makes everybody hate them. Which is a good thing.

Predicted Win total: 64. One less than last year, the West is deep and the Lakers will have an adjustment period with Artest, but in the end they are still the class of the conference. (The crystal ball of the rest of the TrueHoop Network said 62 Lakers wins.)

Why they will fail (Thoughts from the rest of the network on why the Lakers will fall short):
Because one day Derek Fisher will stop saving Kobe’s teams. (Ryan Schwan)

I paid a voodoo priestess to curse them. I even let her use some of my blood and my lucky chicken’s foot. I’m sure that should do it. (Matt McHale)

Best Tweet of the Team: “Stop me if you can opponents. Then I will just pass to Kobe. Or maybe Kobe might pass to me. Or maybe Gasol might pass to Bynum. Your F*&#ed”

From Ron Artest, who is so pumped to be a Laker he is even willing to give up the rock and was a good playmaker in preseason (readers in Sacramento and Houston just involuntarily said “we’ll see about that”).

The People’s Player (besides Kobe): Lakers fans love them some DJ Mbenga. He sparked more of that love this preseason with a seven-block game. Last season one section of Staples Center all had made “Banging with Mbenga” T-shirts. When he comes in during mop up time, the elbows are out and Lakers fans will be begging him to shoot. And with this Lakers team, he should get lots of mop up chances.

The play the Lakers run if down one point with the ball and :09 left on the clock: Lamar Odom inbounds the ball to Derek Fisher, who quickly gets the ball to Pau Gasol in the high post. He has a plethora of options: There is Andrew Bynum looking for the backdoor lob, Ron Artest has set himself at the three-point line and his man is coming to double Gasol; and there is Lamar Odom making a sharp cut toward the basket. Gasol surveys the situations and…

Who are we kidding? It’s a clear out for Kobe.

Legalese (the contract stuff): The question is how you keep the team at its peak through a championship window without having an Isiah Thomas level payroll (Gasol is a free agent in 2011). If the Lakers can make a trade to save money and get a decent player this season (as they did sending Vladimir Radmanovic away), they may well take it.

Kobe Bryant has been working with Lakers brass on a five-year extension. If he wants at the end of this year he can opt out of his current deal then turn around and sign a new max five year deal with the Lakers. It will mean a short-term savings of a few dollars, but some issues near the end of that contract.

The other coming contract (and on the court) issue is the point guard situation — Derek Fisher’s contract is up after this season, Shannon Brown has a player’s option for next season (he makes $2 million if he stays) and the Lakers chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Jordan Farmar, who will become a restricted free agent at the end of the year (the Lakers could match any offer to him). With Adam Morrison’s $5.2 million coming off the books after this season, look for the Lakers to spend some money on a point guard of the future next summer. The question is who will that be?

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TEAM BLOGGERS SAY WINS*

Bret Lagree | Hoopinion

“The Hawks have not built, nor do they appear to be building, a championship
contender. … Joe Johnson is poised to be a free agent in the summer of
2010. Johnson is not a franchise player, yet he’s the Hawks’ best
player.”

45

Zach Lowe | CelticsHub

“It seems reasonable to say anything short of an 18th championship would be
a disappointment.”

58

Brett Hainline | Queen City
Hoops

“Great defense + equally bad offense = average. With an improving division
around them, that equation does not get them their first playoff berth. But
at least they won’t suck.”

36

Matt McHale | By the Horns

“During the offseason, the Bulls lost free agent Ben Gordon, whom many
people considered the team’s best or second-best player (after Derrick
Rose). Memo to Chicago fans: Don’t sweat it. Seriously. Gordon will be
replaced by John Salmons, who not only gave the Bulls almost as many points
per game (18.3 versus 20.7) but was slightly more efficient in how he scored
them.”

43

John Krolik | Cavs the Blog

“After last season’s playoff heartbreak, Danny Ferry has changed up the
equation … However, Shaq could disrupt the delicate offensive and
defensive chemistry the Cavaliers rode to 66 wins and the conference finals,
despite the fact he will be the best player LeBron has ever played with if
he continues to play like he did last season. The big question for the Cavs
this seasons whether they overreacted to two clutch 3s by Rashard Lewis, or
made the risk they needed to take to finally get LeBron a ring.”

61

Rob Mahoney | The Two Man Game

“’Rebuilding’ teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young,
productive assets. Quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost,
in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved
in both directions.”

50

Jeremy Wagner | Roundball Mining Company

“The only players still on the roster who exceeded expectations in 2008-09
were Nene and Birdman. It is reasonable to expect every member of the
Nuggets, other than thirty-something Chauncey Billups, to improve.”

53

Dan Feldman | PistonPowered

“However the minutes shake out between Chris Wilcox, Kwame Brown and Ben
Wallace, they won’t be as good as Rasheed Wallace. But Sheed wasn’t that
great last year. He looked old and disinterested, so the drop here won’t be
too steep.”

36

Rasheed Malek |Warriors World

“Under the ownership of Chris Cohan, the Warriors have made the playoffs
exactly one time and have gone through numerous coaches, players and
executives. Going into this season, Larry Riley is the man in charge taking
over for Chris Mullin.”

28

Anup Shah and Brody Rollins | Rockets Buzz

“The speed revolution has overtaken some of basketball’s peers, most notably
football … Is basketball headed in the same direction? [Aaron] Brooks
provides an excellent case study. Beginning the year as the Rockets number
one threat on offense with Ron Artest’s departure and injuries to Tracy
McGrady and Yao Ming, Brooks will have every opportunity to prove that size
really doesn’t matter.”

39

Jared Wade | Eight Points, Nine Seconds

“It’s hard to believe that anything short of the postseason will remove the
dark cloud over Conseco. … Ultimately, it will come down to one thing:
[Mike Jr.] Dunleavy’s knee.”

32

Kevin Arnovitz | ClipperBlog

“[Blake] Griffin and [Eric] Gordon may not be saviors, but they’re
something. Griffin’s skills and his tenacious work ethic (the guy runs up
sand dunes in his free time) will be a boon to a team desperate for cultural
overhaul. Gordon offers an enticing combination of spot-up shooting and
forays into the paint. He finished third in true shooting percentage among
starting off guards in his rookie campaign, something that can only help a
team that ranked dead last in offensive efficiency last season.”

32

Kurt Helin | Forum Blue and Gold

“God, is it good to be hated again.”

64

Chip Crain | 3 Shades of Blue

“The 2009-10 version of the Grizzlies have put together a starting five
where every player scored 30 points or more in a game last year. The oldest
starter is only 28 years old (Zach Randolph) and the youngest won’t turn 22
until after the start of the season (O.J. Mayo). They are young, talented
and hungry for success. So why do most people focus on the two players not
on a rookie contract this season?”

20

Matthew Bunch | Hot Hot Hoops

“38.6 minutes. 30.2 points. 49.1 percent shooting. Five rebounds. 7.5
assists. 2.2 steals. 1.3 blocks. That’s what [Dwyane] Wade averaged last
season. You’re going to keep that guy out of the playoffs? Good luck.”

44

Jeremy Schmidt | Bucksketball

“If the Bucks get anything out of their three small forwards, if they can
keep [Andrew] Bogut and [Michael] Redd healthy and if they get a season
worthy of the number ten selection out of Brandon Jennings at the point, the
playoffs will be within reach. But that’s a lot of ifs.”

29

Patrick Hodgdon | Howlin’ T-Wolf

“”Ever since his arrival, David Kahn has had seemingly one mission, other
than to look like the smartest guy in the room at every turn, and that is to
get as much cap space for next summer as he possibly can. … The obvious
question lies in whether or not the Wolves will actually be able to lure one
of the better free agent players to come to Minnesota.”

23

Mark Ginocchio and Sebastian Priuti | Nets are Scorching

“Lingering doubts about Brooklyn could spoil any change the Nets have of
landing a top free agent next summer.”

29

Niall Doherty and Ryan Schwan | Hornets247

“Enter Emeka Okafor. He’s a near match to a healthy Chandler, is more
durable, and doesn’t look like he’s having muscle spasms when making a post
move.”

47

Mike Kurylo | Knickerblogger

“2010 could be New York’s return to winning.”

31

Royce Young | Daily Thunder

“The Thunder may not win more than half their games, but with over half the
roster unable to get an alcoholic beverage still, steady improvement and
progression is the name of the game.”

34

Zach McCann | Orlando Magic Daily

“Take away either Hedo Turkoglu or Courtney Lee and the Magic aren’t getting
to face the Lakers in the Finals. No way. But does that mean the Magic were
wrong to let them go? Were the Magic foolish to allow a borderline All-Star
and a possible future All-Star leave the team when both clearly wanted to
stay in Orlando? Absolutely not. I believe the Magic are an entirely better
team than they were four months ago.”

59

Carey R. Smith | Philadunkia

“The travesty of a deal that Billy King gave to Samuel Dalembert remains
easily one of the worst contracts in NBA history. Hopefully this season
Dalembert, his inflated self-worth and his contract will be dealt for a
couple of expiring contracts and some much-needed cap space.”

39

Michael Schwartz | Valley of the Suns

“Two years ago the Suns were chic championship picks. Last year, the Suns
were (accurately) thought to be a fringe playoff team. This year there are
almost no expectations outside of their locker room. … There will be no
mistaking what the Suns are this season: a lightning-speed team that will
score points in bunches and likely give them up almost as quickly while
struggling badly on the boards. But they will once again be the most
exciting team in basketball.”

46

Max Handelman | Beyond Bowie

“The Blazers effectively bumbled their way to a 54-win season despite a
mediocre performance from Greg Oden, the loss of Martell Webster for the
season, and at times starting three rookies. This team is only getting
better, kids.”

53

Zach Harper | Cowbell Kingdom

“Enter Tyreke Evans — a bulldozer-sized menace who will test the strength
of every team’s defense at its entry point. He immediately creates matchup
problems against teams with traditional point guards and will look to have a
similar impact as fellow Memphis alum, Derrick Rose.”

22

Timothy Varner | 48 Minutes of Hell

During the Celtics heyday, Red Auerbach boasted a winning percentage of
.719. In the modern era, Pat Riley’s Showtime Lakers played to the tune of
.733. Phil Jackson’s Jordan Bulls dominated the 90s with an otherworldly
percentage of .771. Jackson’s three-peat Lakers? .735. In his 12 seasons
with San Antonio, Gregg Popovich, whose cynical disdain for the regular
season runs more than skin deep, has, nevertheless, posted a winning
percentage of .707. That’s the company the Spurs keep. What should we expect
this season? 58 wins and a run at the title. Same as every other year.”

55

RaptorsRepublic

“How is a rookie(ish) head coach going to integrate nine new players into a
new system with two new assistant coaches?”

41

Spencer Ryan Hall | Salt City Hoops

“With young Wesley Matthews providing the good luck charm, Boozer in a
contract year, Deron Williams with a chip on his shoulder, and a new
longer-haired version of Andrei Kirilenko the Jazz have no reason to be
anything other than beastly this season. And I mean that in a good way.
Every prediction from the Jazz camp, however, comes with the ominous caveat
‘If we can stay healthy.'”

46

Kyle Weidie | Truth About It

“Flip Saunders has never gotten a team ‘there.’ That worn out cliché always
runs rampant, plaguing almost every coach who hasn’t won … until they win.
Red Auerbach (647), Larry Brown (1,900), and Dick Motta (738) all took their
lumps before winning a championship (games coached before title season).
Don’t be surprised when what you think is impossible becomes a reality. …
2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger. Factor in Gilbert Arenas’ stomach
tattoo and the fact that the Wizards play their home games in D.C.’s
Chinatown, and all the cards are in place.”

42

* As predicted by a consensus of all TrueHoop Network bloggers.


Kurt

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