Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve surely noticed that Forum Blue & Gold has been participating in season previews that were organized by the fine folks at Celtics Blog. Today, we offer our entry for the Lakers and answer five questions about the team going into next year. We’ll have other season previews in future weeks, so sit tight on those and enjoy this one today.
Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year’s Record: 57-25
Key Losses: Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell (and his iPod playlist), DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison
Key Additions: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Derrick Caracter (rookie), Devin Ebanks (rookie)
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The Lakers came into this past off-season as the two time defending champions but not without holes that needed to be filled. Last year, the team played with a patch work bench for most of the year where talented, but unreliable back ups at guard and injuries at small forward meant that the starters got pushed for longer and harder than preferred. So, the number one goal for this team was to improve its back up situation in the back court and find a reliable back up at small forward as a contingency to the oft injured Luke Walton and to ensure that Kobe does not have to be the primary back up to Ron Artest.
With filling in those two holes in mind, the Lakers made out like bandits by acquiring both Steve Blake and Matt Barnes and did so by only using their mid-level exception. How Mitch Kupchak pulled this off is beyond me, but he effectively used the only real salary resource he had (the MLE) and signed two players that are both ideal role players for this particular Lakers team. In Blake the Lakers got a steady player in the mold of Derek Fisher that will knock down open jumpers, take care of the ball, organize the Lakers offense, and try on defense. And in Barnes the Lakers got a rugged defensive wing who has proven capable of knocking down the three point shot, is an excellent positional rebounder, and plays well off the ball. Neither player is a flashy, impact player but when incorporated into the structure of an all ready top-notch roster, these players should provide an excellent boost to a bench unit that will have the potential to extend leads rather than lose them or cut into deficits rather than have them get larger while the starters get their rest.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Lets see…Size, length, coaching, confidence, experience, top end talent, depth…I think I can go on and on when it comes to the strengths of this Lakers group.
But, I will say that the biggest strength that this team has is its ability to adapt to any style of play due to the combination of size, length, and versatility in the front court while also having Kobe Bryant on the wing. By having the ability to play Kobe in a line up that features both Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers can put size on the floor that few other teams can match. And because both Bynum and Gasol show the ability to control the paint on offense and defense, the Lakers have a nightly advantage where they make other teams take inefficient perimeter shots while getting high percentage shots of their own against the opposition. When you throw Lamar Odom into the mix, the dynamic then changes again where pace is increased, spacing improves, and both Kobe and Gasol (or Bynum) have more room to work on the floor on the offensive side of the ball. This makes double teaming more difficult and opens up lanes for slashing and offensive rebounding by players on the weak side. On defense, Odom also allows the Lakers to play more of switching defense without being hurt by as much by quicker guards penetrating or on the offensive glass because of Odom’s ability to stay with guards on the perimeter while still recovering to the paint to rebound with Gasol (or Bynum).
So, again, the Lakers’ talented versatility allows them to adapt to any style of play while also having the ability to attack the weakness of any given team. There’s a reason that they’re the defending champions twice over.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The Lakers biggest weakness continues to be its three point shooting. Last year, Derek Fisher regressed to a below average outside shooter and Kobe also had a down year in his attempts from distance. When you throw in the inconsistencies from Artest and the general up and down play of Sasha, you have a group of players that just can’t be relied upon to hit the outside jumper with any consistency. There’s always the hope that the addition of Blake – who is a career 40% shooter from three point territory – will help in this, but that’s not a guarantee.
This lack of consistent shooting means that the Lakers can at times struggle to generate the proper spacing to give their post players room to operate on the low block and then fail to make opposing defenses pay by making shots when perimeter defenders help down in the post or shade to the middle of the floor to cut off passing and driving lanes. Last year, the Lakers were able to overcome this by making timely shots and/or getting hot at the right times but this lack of consistent shooting remains a concern coming into this season.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The end goal of winning a championship is what this team will seek to accomplish by the time that June rolls around. However, throughout the season, other mini-goals will be set in order to keep this team on task. Last year, the Lakers coaches expressed disappointment in the fact that the team did not win 60 games, so I think hitting that benchmark will also be a goal this team tries to reach. I also think that the past two seasons this team has seen the significance of home court advantage in the Finals, so staying in the race for the best record in the league is also a goal that, if not outright stated, is something that this group will have its eye on. But even more simple than any of the goals that I’ve listed above, I think this team will really want to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season. Phil Jackson led teams have always wanted to peak at the right time and with this group I expect that the same mindset will be put in place. With the talent and experience that this team has, this group must know that if they continue to improve as the season progresses and play their best basketball in the playoffs that all other goals should take care of themselves.
5. Will this team show a greater sense of urgency during the regular season than last year?
Predicting how this Lakers team will actually play on any given night is pretty close to a fool’s errand. Last season, many would have thought that the drive to repeat and the want to earn home court would have been enough to push this team to play its best basketball every night. However, injuries, contract situations, and general complacency conspired to keep the Lakers’ win total lower than many expected.
That being said, I do think this team will take the regular season a bit more seriously. First and foremost, I think this team will play with a bit of a chip on its shoulder and display a hunger that was somewhat absent during last year’s regular season. Many pundits (and Vegas, too) are already labeling the newly formed Heat as the team to beat for this years championship and considering the prideful players that are on the Lakers roster, that can’t sit well with the defending champs. And when you add the newly acquired Blake and Barnes, the infusion of new blood will also help bring that nightly hunger that was sometimes lacking last year. Second, there’s a real possibility that this upcoming campaign will be Phil Jackson’s last on the bench. Sending Phil out on a high note could also serve as a motivating factor for the team and drive them to achieve at higher levels during the regular season than they’ve shown in past years. Mind you, none of this is a guarantee but with these factors in play, I do think the Lakers will show more consistency in the regular season.
Predicted Record: 62-20