Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 45-37, No. 3 in Pacific Division, No. 7 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Jordan Farmar, Elias Harris, Chris Kaman, Ryan Kelly, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams, Nick Young
Roster subtractions: Earl Clark, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks, Andrew Goudelock, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, Darius Johnson-Odom, Darius Morris, Metta World Peace
From an outsider's perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers appear bit more troubled this year than they are willing to admit.
Kobe Bryant - who had an incredibly productive seventeenth season last year - tore his Achille's tendon in April right before the playoffs. At 35, can he come back from a serious injury suffered just six months ago and still remain as effective as ever? There's no way he could be in regular season game shape by the opener, and he will still have to integrate himself into an entirely different playing rotation than the one coach Mike D'Antoni utilized last year, no matter when he comes back.
The Lakers' starting point guard, Steve Nash, is also entering his eighteenth season as a pro and he's just a few months shy of his fortieth birthday. Nash just suffered through an injury-plagued season in which the majority of his stats plummeted. He did, however, knock down over 43 percent of his threes. The downside? He took fewer than three outside shots a game.
On top of age and injuries affecting the players they will rely upon most, the Lakers also have structural issues. Apparently the ownership group, led by siblings Jeanie and Jim Buss, are openly and publicly at odds with how the other is upholding their end of the organizational duties.
D'Antoni, well-known for his up-tempo and fast pace offense, is not exactly on par with how Bryant wants the offense to be run. The All-Star guard, who has been a face of the franchise for a decade and-a-half and will make over $30 million this season, told USA Today in a recent interview, "We're not an up-and-down, run-and-gun type of team by any stretch of the imagination." Uh-oh.
If you thought things couldn't get much worse, think again.
The annual Pau Gasol trade rumors are again swirling, with speculation running rampant as the 33-year-old center enters free agency following the season. Bryant also isn't signed past 2014. Coming off the Dwight Howard insanity from the last year and-a-half, the Lakers might see these contractual questions as welcome distractions, but they could still hang over the team, regardless.
Finally, here's a headline -- equal parts novel and bizarre -- that may be a harbinger of the wild ride the Lakers could be in store for this season:
Yes, you read that correctly. The Lakers backup center, and/or starting power forward (!), was smashed into at 25 miles per hour by a toboggan carrying third-string small forward Shawne Williams. All of this occurred at the Great Wall of China while the team was on a recent trip to Beijing to play the Golden State Warriors in a preseason game.
So considering all the injuries, management issues, offensive philosophy disputes, contract questions and weird sledding accidents that occur halfway across the world, how will this Lakers team actually look on the court?
No matter how you figure it, at some point D'Antoni should be able to get his star players on the court at the same time. Yes, they all have a ton of NBA mileage on them, but the combination of Nash, Bryant and Gasol could be ultra productive when all are fully healthy.
If Nash can get used to Bryant as a ball-dominating shooting guard, they could form a solid back court duo. Bryant had his best year ever in 2012 shooting from mid-range and also distributed the ball better than he ever has. If Nash can play off the ball effectively, D'Antoni can take advantage of his ability to hit from deep. The 39-year-old point also connects on his two-point shots at an elite level and converts at the line better than almost anyone. If he's back to his normal health -- far from guaranteed, given his age -- Nash may have another productive year left in him.
Bryant is a flat-out scorer from all over the court, but hasn't shot over 32.9 percent on threes since 2009. Still, he added more passing to his game last year and relied more heavily on his jumper than ever. If he is fully healed from his injury, he can transition gracefully into the last stage of his career even if he loses a few steps. If he can't create off the dribble as much, he still should find ways to score and draw some defensive attention away from his teammates.
Gasol is probably the most likely of the three stars to bounce back the furthest from a pretty bad 2012-13 campaign. He's comparatively young at 33 years old and has played out of position at power forward the last couple seasons. With Howard's free agency departure, Gasol can slide back into the starting center role and try to get back to his career form of about 18 points and nine rebounds a game on 51.8 percent shooting. He's also playing for what will likely be his final long-term contract, which seems to have a way of motivating players -- especially at his career stage.
The Lakers appear to come up a bit short in the "proven talent" department outside of their Nash-Bryant-Gasol triumvirate, though. The aforementioned Kaman can [allegedly] play both front court positions and can find ways on offense to score pretty efficiently, but at this point in his career he's basically a journeyman seven-footer with a decent touch and a propensity for missing games due to injury.
Wesley Johnson was a No. 4 overall pick just a few years ago, but he he's never realized his potential and is on his third team in as many years, proving to be pretty mediocre so far in his three seasons. Jordan Farmar is an okay scoring point guard, but he doesn't set up teammates very well. Off-guard Jodie Meeks can also score, but isn't efficient. Steve Blake can shoot from outside at a solid percentage, but he's pretty one-dimensional otherwise. Center Jordan Hill can rebound and score in limited time, but struggles to stay healthy.
The best option off the bench is probably Nick Young, a shooting guard who can light it up in high volumes. He's decent from outside, but doesn't contribute much otherwise in terms of efficiency. Young doesn't like to pass, even though he prefers to have the ball in his hands. In short, he's a capable bench scorer but shouldn't be counted on to do much else. On a Laker team sorely lacking reliable depth, he'll likely be forced into heavy minutes. He'd excel as an offensive spark-plug off the bench, capable of scoring, especially against backups. Due to injuries and a terrible bench, Young will play big minutes and will likely earn the ire of his teammates if he doesn't retool his offensive approach to the game.
Defense is where the Lakers will probably struggle the most. With Howard at center and a healthy Bryant for most of the season, Los Angeles was still pretty bad all-around on the defensive side of the ball last year. Gasol could be effective, but opposing point guards will circle the date against the Lakers, knowing that neither Nash nor Blake can stay in front of anyone.
Bryant has almost always been an elite defender, but he'll be a step slow coming off the Achille's injury and will have to put in a ton of energy offensively for this team to stay afloat, likely leaving his legs pretty tired on defense. Young, Kaman and Johnson range from "below-average" to "terrible" on defense.
Is there anyone on this roster who can play great defense? Until proven otherwise, probably not. Also consider that D'Antoni isn't exactly known for his teams' defensive acumen, and it could be a very long year for Lakers fans watching their team trying to stop the opposition from lighting them up on a nightly basis.
Yeah, it is possible that Bryant, Nash and Gasol all come back to their pre-injury, All-NBA forms, but at their ages, it's not exactly highly likely. Odds are that at least one will struggle. If not, the Lakers are almost completely devoid of starting-caliber talent on their roster, anyway. D'Antoni's bench lacks depth, and the defense will likely be suspect all season.
The bottom-half of the Western Conference is wide open enough that the Lakers could sneak into the playoffs as a low seed. Los Angeles will be fighting for that playoff spot with several other teams that have at least as much talent as they do, though. A lot would have to go right for the Lakers to make the playoffs, and they may be out of the race altogether if injuries become an issue again.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter