With Steve Nash set to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers officially on July 11th, let’s ask Prince to bless us with some of his lyrics:
“[…] but tonight we’re going to party like it’s 2003!!”
Avid Prince fans would point out that the year mentioned in the actual song is 1999 and not 2003; but in this case the year 2003 has some historical significance for the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, in the summer of ’03, the purple and gold pulled off the seemingly unthinkable when they brought in Karl Malone and Gary Payton via free agency to play with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Needless to say, that was a blockbuster summer for the Lakers given that they had added two players destined for the Hall of Fame to a team that already featured arguably two of the five best players in the NBA.
The Hall of Fame foursome may have actually prepared us for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Miami Heat given the incredible amount of attention that it garnered, especially after losses. In addition, the team was under the microscope for most of the season and also faced a lot of media backlash given that Kobe Bryant had been accused of sexual assault and had to occasionally miss team functions or even show up late for games due to mandatory court appearances.
But when that team got on the court, they were a joy to watch.
It took some time for them to get accustomed to playing with each other within the triple-post offense; but once they started to figure things out, they often looked unbeatable.
Their ball movement as well as their interior passing made them tough to defend and put defenses in huge bind given the plethora of options available to the Lakers.
Fast-forward to the present, and it’s almost as if history is repeating itself, with Kobe Bryant finding himself at the center of it all.
The 2012-13 Lakers will probably face the pressure to win it all, much like the previous installment from the 2003-04 season, but bringing Nash on board may actually change the sentiment towards the Lakers in some respects. The franchise has often been viewed as having an unfair advantage because of their ability to pick up star players and thus fans have often wanted to see them fail; but things may be subject to change now that the player that every one apparently wants to see get a ring has joined the purple and gold.
Public sentiment may be fun to sway, but the real kicker will actually come on the hardwood.
In Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers will have four potential All-Stars — all four have played in at least one All-Star game — sharing the court together. Not one, not two, not three; four!
More importantly, the collective basketball IQ of three of those four athletes — sorry Drew — is high enough that the expectation will be that not only will they figure things out quickly, but they will play basketball with great synergy.
The identity of the team in years past has been to allow Kobe Bryant to figure out when and where to switch from facilitator to scorer, and although his role should be about the same, he will probably be asked to be more of a scorer with Nash on the roster.
Nash will obviously have to adapt to dumping the ball inside the post and then drifting to open areas of the court, but the Lakers will also adjust and probably play a little more pick-and-roll basketball with Nash and Gasol; with Kobe Bryant waiting on the weak side of the court for either an open jump shot, or a pump fake and drive.
Consider that little tidbit, how often do defenses actually rotate off the Black Mamba? And yet, this may in fact become a reality for this new Lakers team.
Notwithstanding injuries, the purple and gold will probably always have two All-Stars that complement each other on the court at the same time, which is probably terrifying news for the rest of the league.
With that said, there are still some minor concerns about this team.
Although yours truly has already previously made the bold statement that Steve Nash is probably the best shooter in the league’s history, the Lakers struggled to connect from 3-point range at key times last season and thus could use a wing player capable of converting shots from deep. It’s still worth noting that Metta World Peace was a decent option towards the end of the season from long-range, but it’s tough to predict whether that will translate into 82 games in 2012-13 as well as possibly another 20 or so playoff games.
In addition, many will state that the Lakers need an influx of athleticism, which wouldn’t hurt but isn’t an absolute necessity. Instead, Mike Brown’s unit might want to take a look at a destructive perimeter defender — Tony Allen anyone — to help the defend the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker as well as wing players.
While many still believe that Oklahoma City is still the team to beat in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers just narrowed the margin. Obviously, there are other moves to be made by the rest of the Western Conference but if the players come together and play well in concert, they may end up celebrating like it’s not 2004.
Remember, that team lost in the Finals…