It was plain last year that the Lakers would not go very deep into the playoffs . The team had glaring deficiencies at the point , Ron Artest was out of shape and living in his own private universe and Andrew Bynum was acting up. It was clear that something had to be done and, this off-season, GM Mitch Kupchak bit the bullet and did it, though at a heavy price. The Lakers have re-tooled and this years edition looks capable of making the Conference finals though I’m doubtful whether they can cool off the Heat.
Whether they do or don’t , Kupchak has done a terrific job , considering the constraints that he was operating under. In doing so , he showed that he has learned well from his predecessor , Jerry West , and that he belongs in the top echelon of basketball GMs. I still don’t know how he pulled off the Dwight Howard trade without giving up Pau Gasol. And even his seeming missteps such as last year’s trade of Lamar Odom to the Mavericks worked out well. Did he know Odom was going downhill or was he lucky ? I don’t know and I don’t care. He’s done a fabulous job .
The new look 2012-2013 Lakers differ from last year’s club as follows:
Subtractions : Andrew Bynum , Ramon Sessions , Josh McRoberts , Christian Eyenga
Additions : Steve Nash , Dwight Howard , Antawn Jameson ,Chris Duhon , Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks
Additionally , I’m not sure if Matt Barnes will be part of the roster on opening day.
The big trade was the one for Dwight Howard and, for the longest time , I was not for it because a) I thought it would also mean giving up Pau Gasol and b) I also thought that Bynum had a greater upside than Howard . Bynum is far more accomplished offensively and a better free throw shooter. Howard , on the other hand is a better rebounder and a demon on defense. What changed my mind was Bynum’s despicable behavior at the end of last season disrespecting the Nuggets and riling them up , taking ill-advised 3-pt shots , staying out of the huddle on time-outs and loafing on defense . Even though he is only 24 , he has been in the league 6 or 7 years and he should have been more mature . I don’t know if he is ever going to mature and I think it was the right time to cut him loose. Granted, Howard’s back is a bit of a worry but then so were Bynum’s knees.
The three biggest weaknesses in last year’s Lakers were : the lack of a penetrating point guard , the bench and 3 point shooting . Phil Jackson’s triangle offense does not need a true point guard and this masked the Lakers weakness at the point . However , with the move away from the triangle last season , that weakness was exposed.Briefly , I thought that Ramon Sessions might be the answer at the point but he was a dud in the playoffs. Steve Blake has not been the player he was earlier in Portland and the lack of pentration meant that the Laker offense often found itself rushing shots as the 24 second clock wound down.
The arrival of Steve Nash will change all that .He is a true distributor of the ball and that means Kobe and the other Lakers will get much easier looks at the basket. Nash is also a good three-point shooter , as is Antawn Jamison , and that should keep opposing defenses from packing the paint.
The bench is shaping up to be a strength instead of a problem. With Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill backing up Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, there is no other NBA team that can match the Lakers for size. Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon are better than any backup guards the Lakers had last year and , hopefully , Devin Ebanks will play tough defense as he backs up World Peace.
On paper , the Lakers look a match for anyone but there are several areas of concern . The team has several veterans and will be hard put to play the speedy OKC Thunder and the LeBron-led Heat.OKC in particular is a very tough match-up for the Lakers who have no one capable of guarding Durant and Westbrook.Nash and Kobe are both in the autumn of their careers and Nash was never known for his defense anyway.Kobe is a great defensive player but , at this stage of his career, he can’t be expected to guard the speedy OKC duo. On the other hand the Thunder and Heat will have to contend with the Laker bigs . Perhaps Dwight Howard in the middle will be a defensive stopper and make life difficult for opposing offenses. One only hopes that he is able to keep out of foul trouble.
Another concern is the coach. I have never been impressed with Mike Brown and last year did little to change my mind. I’m not sure how good he is at making ingame adjustments and he seems disinclined to use the bench . Last year , Jordan Hill was anchored to the bench for so long that I wondered if he was being kept out because of injuries. That , it turned out , was not the case and when Hill finally got a chance due to injuries to the starters he responded with a double-double . Despite that , he got inconsistent minutes . Brown played Kobe for 35 minutes plus during the season and I suppose that was to secure the home court advantage in the playoffs. That’s all very well but it is criminal to overplay your star that way.Why have a bench if you are not going to use it ?
With so many new players on the Lakers , it will take them some time , perhaps half a season , to gel as a team .There are bound to be many early season losses and it is highly unlikely that the Lakers will have homecourt advantage except in the first round of the playoffs . I hope that Brown realises this and gives his bench players significant minutes to build up their confidence at the same time that he rests Kobe and Nash and the other over30 starters.
For the Lakers to win, Kobe and Steve Nash will have to play at close to last year’s level , Metta World Peace will have to be a defensive whiz ( he has said that he will be an All- Star this year, but I’ll settle for the Ron Artest of three years ago ) , Dwight Howard will have to make a full recovery from his injury woes and Mike Brown will have to channel his inner Phil Jackson .
Even so , it is going tobe tough to beat the Miami Heat who strengthened themselves immeasurably with the addition of Ray Lewis . He gives them the outside threat they lacked last year and he makes them much better . LeBron James came of age in the playoffs and, with the monkey off his back, is a different player now . I’m very much afraid that his boast of a string of championships with the Heat is going to come true unless the Lakers / Thunder can stop the Heat.
As a Laker fan I’m very happy with the Dwight Howard trade and the new -look Lakers . As a basketball fan , I’m less happy . Essentially , the divide between the small market teams and the heavyweights is bigger than ever before. The Lakers proved that the threat of the luxury tax is not going to stop them from getting the marquee names .Unless there is a hard cap , we are going to see every year three or four teams with a realistic chance at the O’Brien trophy ; the rest will be also-rans with as much chance of beating the top three as the All-Stars had of beating the Harlem Globe Trotters. The NFL is the only sports league with a hard cap and a semblance of parity.Futile to expect that in the NBA or MLB.