The Emmys may have invaded Los Angeles two weekends ago, but everyone in this town knows that it’s the Lakers who take home best drama every year. With that said, Forum Blue & Gold takes a look at 12 intriguing plot lines for the upcoming season—in honor of Phil Jackson’s bid for a record 12 NBA championships. Chime in below to share your own thoughts on what stories you think will fuel the press this season.
12. How much burn will the rookies get? – Second-round picks Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks showed a lot of promise this summer, but will it translate to success in the NBA? Both players will most likely only see small glimpses of the court during trash time, but Luke Walton’s ongoing injury woes could creak the window open a little. Caracter’s conditioning is also an issue, as the team only partially guaranteed his salary for the upcoming season, contingent on a weight check-up next week.
11. Does Pau take another step? – Pau Gasol’s image and stature around the league has undergone somewhat of a rapid metamorphosis in his two-plus seasons as a Laker. When he first arrived in L.A., Gasol was widely regarded as a soft, willowy big man—a strong offensive threat, adept passer, but a black hole on defense and largely incapable of serving as option 1.A. on a contending team. Nearly three years later, Gasol has improved to the point where he is considered by many to be one of the top three or four big men in the entire league. Last season, Pau upped his rebounding average to a career-high 11 per game, while also holding his own in the playoffs against the likes of Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett. With an offensive game as polished as any big man in the NBA, Pau’s ascent toward becoming an All-NBA second or first team selection will primarily depend on his growth on the defensive end.
10. Artest’s sophomore year – Ron proved his longtime naysayers wrong and was a key cog in the Lakers second consecutive championship. His irreplaceable defense and magnificent performance in Game 7 against Boston (both during and after the game) transformed the always entertaining forward into folk hero status in Tinseltown. Now that the proverbial monkey is off his back and he’s proven himself as a winner, what happens next? Does Artest come out with the same burning desire to win what would be his second title in a row? The addition of Barnes, along with the incumbent Bryant, means the Lakers have an enviable three premiere defenders at the wing spot, which should help with any fatigue issues after Ron played the longest season of his life.
9. Who backs up Bryant? – While the Lakers have all kinds of options on the wing with the addition of Barnes, the newly resigned Shannon Brown will still be relied upon to fill the lion’s share of minutes at the two behind Bryant. The Lakers need both Shannon and Sasha Vujacic—who figures to serve as a third string guard—to provide consistent support if they want to limit Kobe’s minutes during the regular season. Both players are coming off subpar regular seasons and playoff runs, but the hope is that Shannon’s second full year with the team and the confidence gained by Sasha after nailing two pivotal free throws in Game 7 will bode well for both guards.
8. Lamar Odom, post-World Championships – If you factor in the Lakers’ deep playoff runs over the past two seasons, Odom has been playing basketball for nearly two years straight. At a certain point, the 11-year forward has to start showing signs of fatigue, right? Even Lamar himself admitted that he wasn’t in tip-top shape when Team U.S.A. first took to the practice floor last month. Depending on how deep his team goes in the now single-elimination round of the FIBA World Championships, Odom could be looking at little to no time off between the end of the tournament and the start of training camp with the Lakers. The team’s improved bench should help some in this regard though, along with his experience as one of the de facto leaders of Team U.S.A.
7. Return of the bench mob? – If all goes as planned, the Lakers bench should be much-improved when the team heads to training camp in a short few weeks. With the additions of trusty veterans like Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers bolstered one of their lone weak spots from the past season—and did so with players who should fit in well with the team too. As with any new additions though, there’s no telling how seamless that integration will be until they actually step foot on the court. Steve Blake, in particular, should help shore up the Lakers’ longstanding weakness at point guard, while also spelling the aging Derek Fisher.
6. The importance of home court advantage – Conventional wisdom says that a group as seasoned as this Lakers squad is past the point of needing home court—even in a potential Game 7 situation against the likes of Boston, Orlando and Miami. Throw conventional wisdom out the door when discussing home court advantage, though; as much as players claim that it doesn’t matter, it clearly paid off in Game 7 against the Celtics. The race for home court throughout the playoffs figures to be a tough one too this year with Heat added to the fold. Where do the Lakers’ priorities lie at the end of the season if the team is banged up and it might make more sense to rest the starters?
5. Phil’s last stand? – It’s Phil’s last season. Again. There has been a lot of talk this offseason about motivation for this year’s team and near or at the top of that list has to be the quest to send Coach Jackson off into the sunset with a mindboggling fourth three-peat. For a man who practices Zen, winning a title this season would certainly represent a great deal of symmetry in what has been an amazing career. Then, there is the other camp who believes that Jackson wouldn’t turn down another chance to coach a potential four-peat team, especially considering there’s a decent chance the following season would be condensed due to a lockout.
4. Can Bynum finally stay healthy? – Is this the year when we finally get to see what Andew Bynum is made of for all 82 games…or at least something close to that figure? If you could describe the center’s career at this point with one phrase, it might be stop-and-go. How Andrew responds to yet another knee injury will go a long way in determining the Lakers three-peat fate. Even on one leg for most of the playoffs, #17 still provided a huge boost, particularly on the defensive end. If the resolve he displayed during the NBA Finals is any indication, Bynum’s head is in the right place and he could be on his way to a big season.
3. Kobe continues to build his legacy – For the first time in years, Kobe took the summer off to rest his battle-worn body—a body that many pundits claimed was beginning its steady decline last season. The All-NBA veteran had a few injuries to recuperate too, starting with a troublesome knee and mangled finger. Assuming both have healed to the point where they won’t be an issue for Bryant this season, all signs point to a monster year. With five NBA titles under his belt, Kobe is officially in “legacy mode,” only one championship away from tying His Airness and one away from his team tying the Celtics. Not that motivation has ever been an issue for him.
2. Battling the injury bug – The Lakers won their second consecutive championship last season in spite of a myriad of injuries that affected everyone in the starting lineup not named Derek Fisher. One year older, will the team be able to replicate their success if the injury bug bites once again? An improved bench should help this cause, but injuries on an aging team will again be a wild card as the team looks to cement its place in the history books.
1. Where’s the motivation? – Top to bottom, the Lakers are, by and large, a well-disciplined, focused team. After winning back-to-back NBA titles and most of the team basking in the glory from their seven-game duel with Boston, the Lakers will still have to resist the urge to take their foot off the pedal this season. Kobe Bryant will make sure they stay on course though, as he prepares to fight for his second career three-peat. Moreover, the emergence of the Heat as a new league superpower should have the Forum Blue and Gold ready to go to battle from day one of training camp.
13) Who will be the “starting” PG? Or…how will the PG minutes be divided?
14) How will Matt Barnes be affected by coming home? Will there be less drama emanating from him? More? Same?
15) Does this team finally have sufficient 3-point shooting to compliment its interior offense?
16) If Dr. Buss needs to dump salary during the season…who gets let go from the Laker family?
Jeff Skibiski says
#1 All good points looking ahead to next season…
RE: 13) I think it’s all but etched in stone at this point that Steve will backup Fish, but I expect them to each play about half of the game. I don’t think the minutes per game breakdown will be all that different from last season, but the Lakers actually have someone now in Blake that the can consistently rely on to step in for Derek.
RE: 16) If Buss goes down that route, Sasha is probably the easy choice there.
Tfe fight to solidify the lakers as the greatest franchise in NBA. Although boston is still one up on championship counts, many many people and experts still put the lakers as the best franchise over the celts. The only thing boston fans can cling on is that they have 1 more than us. To even the records means to solidify once and for all that lakers is the greatest, and I think this should go as no 1 on your list
17) Will Ron Artest’s budding career as a race car driver blossom?
Chris J says
Bynum’s health will be key, though it’s tough to say it’s “THE” question given that the team has already won two titles and contended for a third with Bynum either hobbled or off the floor altogether.
That said, I’ve been in the camp for some time of those who foresee Bynum as the Lakers future cornerstone, the guy to build around who’ll keep them in the hunt once Kobe, and later Pau, slide off into retirement.
It’ll be harder and harder to hold on to that hope, however, if yet another season goes by with him missing significant time due to another injury, be it a freak injury or not.
I can’t spend the next few years acting like a Blazers fan in the 1970s, thinking, “Once Bill Walton’s foot gets right, the trophy is ours.” It’s time to see what Drew can do over 82.
Will this be the year that Bynum learns how to “fake right and swing left?” I doubt it. He’s improved for sure, but why can’t guys shoot that little baby hook-he’s got great hands and a soft touch, drives me crazy…
yeah, josh, another great plotline.
and we were worried about ron last year.
Apropos Ron – does anybody want to buy a championship ring? It’s for a very good cause:
I just saw that headline about Matt Barnes. Great, good job Matt… way to start off the season (and my morning!) in a constructive way.
At least Ron Artest looks good by comparison now, and that really is a good cause he’s promoting. I hope he sticks with it. 🙂
Ebanks…time for you to step up. You may be the backup SF now. Bad news for Barnes. We’ll see how the rest of the allegations stack up.
Ugh, the Barnes news is unsettling. He supposedly was combative on court only and mild off it. This is not a good sign for him.
However, trying to look at the bright side, maybe this will be minor and blow over soon. But it’ll be enough to keep him inline during the season. Also it might serve as a reminder to anyone else on the team that they need to keep their head on straight.
Darius Soriano says
Phillip has the morning links up.
great plotlines… =)
one minor quibble.. Phil will be going for his record 14th championship (he has 2 as a player with the Knicks).
pretty freakin’ amazing, if you think about it. even if he’s stuck at 13, he’ll have been a champion more times than anyone in NBA history (to my knowledge).
yajeel – I think you are essentially correct, although PJ was injured during the first Knicks title run (was he still awarded a ring?).
Bill Russell won 11 rings, the last two as player/coach. It seems Russ is in second place overall as an NBA ring holder.
So even if he has “just” twelve rings, PJ owns the bragging rights.
Jeff Skibiski says
You’re right – a championship this season would mark Phil’s 14th in all, though for the sake of this article, the bid for 12 is in reference only to his titles as a coach. Hope he has a third hand we don’t know about to fit all of ’em…
John Morris says
Another plot line I’m interested is “how soon can Mitch Kupchick ship Sasha out?”
#16 Jeff, Phil is from the hippie-ish era so maybe toe rings?
Darius Soriano says
I may be alone here, but I think Sasha will have value this season. Whether it’s due to injury or him just playing better than what he has for most of the past two seasons, I think he’ll contribute. Obviously his salary will be too high for the level of contributions that he’ll offer, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an impact. Call it a hunch, but I think we’ll see more of Sasha than what most think we will and that he’ll play better than expected.
@19 Darius: You’re definitely not alone in thinking Sasha will play better this season. Isn’t it a contract year? haha
Can’t wait for the season to begin! I like our chances.. As a basketball fan, I’m also looking forward to seeing a potentially dynamite Heat team come together too. I think Laker (and Celtic) fans will have fun rooting against them.
Getting something (anything) out of Sasha this season would be a nice bonus!
Darius Soriano says
A new post is up.