It seems like the nation may be underestimating the Los Angeles Lakers the same way they overestimated them last summer.
ESPN released its annual Summer Forecast for the Western Conference this week and the Lakers are projected to finish with 36 wins — 12th in the conference, and out of the playoffs. The projected standings were determined by a panel of 215 members – four of which are our very own and write for Forum Blue and Gold (Emile Avanessian, Philip Barnett, Rey Moralde, J.M. Poulard)
After the standings were released, Kobe Bryant took to Twitter and voiced his opinion.
12th I see..
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) August 14, 2013
Kobe’s obviously not pleased with the rest of the country thinking that his team is not playoff material. He will probably use this as fuel to ignite a fire we will see burning on the court when the season commences. He has every reason to disagree with the rankings.
The Western Conference has improved tremendously throughout the summer and the Lakers lost a major piece in Dwight Howard. However, the Lakers still have three sure fire hall of famers on their team in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. Not many teams can say that.
It’s easy to forgot all the problems the Lakers experienced that they most likely WON’T have to go through this year. Here are a few of them:
- High expectations: I think the fact that they’re projected to finish 12th means that a simple two-game losing streak won’t be talked about constantly on Mason and Ireland for four hours like it usually does. Low expectations can be a good thing sometimes. The last time people were this down on the Lakers was in 2007-08 and they went to the Finals that year.
- Lack of chemistry: A class with Breaking Bad’s Walter White wouldn’t even have improved the Lakers chemistry last year. They were a new bunch who never really found a way to play together. Transitioning from the Princeton Offense in training camp to D’Antoni’s fast pace system wasn’t helpful in ameliorating the situation either.
- Dwight’s baggage: As awful as it is losing Dwight’s on-court production, it’s not necessarily bad that the Lakers won’t have to deal with the outside distractions that come with Howard. Having an upward bump in their free throw percentage will not hurt either.
- New coach five games into the season: Surely Jim Buss can’t make the same mistake twice, right? Right??? Firing Mike Brown after a 1-4 start was simply wrong. First off, Brown never got a fair shake. Five games is equivalent to one NFL game. No one fires a head coach after just one full training camp after such a small sample size. D’Antoni was Buss’ handpicked guy and he needs to stick with him until the final game no matter what. A full training camp for D’Antoni and roster guys that fit his system like Chris Kaman and Nick Young doesn’t hurt either.
- Pau at the 4: As Darius Soriano highlighted earlier this week, Gasol is best at the center position. Hopefully he will return there with Howard gone and his numbers will bounce back to where they should be. Also, since the Lakers are thin roster wise, Pau won’t be getting benched this year. There’s no doubt that his benching hurt his psyche last season.
- Obscene amount of injuries: Injuries happen to every team and the Lakers core is one of the oldest in the league. There’s no doubt that Kobe, Pau, and Nash will miss parts of the season. That said, last year was not normal. Everyone was literally hurt or playing hurt. When Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are starting in the playoffs, that tells you everything you need to know.
Despite all of this, the Lakers still won 45 games. This season, they will likely be able to get rid of all of those problems (including the injuries with some luck). Let’s not forget, every single Laker (other than Steve Nash and rookies) is playing for a contract. Whether or not moral hazard exists in sports, one has to surmise that if a championship isn’t a motivating factor this year, then hopefully money will be. Bottom line is that if the Lakers were able to win 45 games last year with all that tumult and turmoil, they should be able to win that many games again if they stay healthy and avoid distractions.
With Howard gone and D’Antoni coaching, the team’s biggest weakness will obviously be its defense. They’re not going to fool anyone — they’re going to try to score their way to victory every single night. That has its positives, though. Because of this, they already have an identity. One can make the argument that they never found one last year because of all the injuries and the lack of chemistry.
While teams like the Pelicans, Mavs, Wolves, and Blazers (who are all listed ahead of the Lakers in the projected standings) will be competing for a playoff spot, the Lakers have the talent to be a playoff team, and if they’re not, they’re going to be closer to the 8th seed than the 15th. Currently, Bet Online gives the Lakers the 9th best odds to win the Western Conference. This is still on the outside looking in, but it’s a lot better than being buried in 12th place.
Those odds also may be underrating the Lakers because of the public’s overreaction regarding Howard’s departure. Most people are probably staying away from the Lakers bet, so the bookmakers are giving great odds.
Again, this isn’t a championship caliber team, but let’s not make too much from these predictions. After all, these are the same soothsayers that said that the Lakers were going to be playing the Heat in the NBA Finals last summer.
The games still need to be played and heading into the season, one has to be pretty confident that a squad with three future Hall of Famers, no distractions, limited injuries, an identity, and a bunch of hungry players fighting for a contract will at least land the 7th seed or better.