Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Los Angeles Lakers with Forum Blue & Gold editor Darius Soriano. (Yesterday's preview: Chicago Bulls)
Los Angeles Lakers 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 27-55, No. 5 in Pacific Division, No. 14 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Carlos Boozer, Jabari Brown (rookie, undrafted), Jordan Clarkson (rookie, No. 46), Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price, Julius Randle (rookie, No. 7), Roscoe Smith (rookie, undrafted)
Roster subtractions: Kent Bazemore, MarShon Brooks, Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol, Elias Harris, Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks
SB Nation affiliate: Silver Screen & Roll
Blazer's Edge: What do you expect from Kobe Bryant this season in terms of health and on-court production?
Darius Soriano: Is it okay to say I've no clue what to expect? Because I really don't. So far during the preseason Kobe has looked healthy and that is a major positive. He's moved well, has shown some good lift when needed and has had some solid playmaking when working in the pick and roll as the ball handler. However, he has also shown an over-reliance on his jumper to score points and, besides a handful of plays over the team's first four games, has done little besides shoot turnaround jumpers out of the post or when coming off pin-down screens off the weakside.
So, my question is whether Kobe will start to expand his game and start to approximate some of the offensive diversity that's been a trademark of his career or if he's mostly just going to be a jump shooter who will only excel given the right match up. I really don't have good answers to these questions at this point, but it's those answers that should inform our expectations most.
BE: What is the ceiling for this 2014-15 Lakers team?
DS: If everything goes perfect for them while other teams in front of them stumble, the Lakers could win 40-44 games. In saying that, however, I don't think they come close to reaching that ceiling this year. There are simply too many variables that are likely to not break their way (including health of players they would need to avoid injury) that drop them down to near the bottom of the West.
BE: Will Carlos Boozer rejuvenate his career in Los Angeles? What are your realistic expectations for him?
DS: To answer your first question succinctly, no. Boozer's last year in Chicago showed another drop off in what has been a steady decline since leaving Utah. I don't expect that decline to stop in Los Angeles this year, but instead expect it to continue. Boozer has become a jump shooting big man who needs shots created for him to thrive. The Lakers lack shot creators on the wing and don't run an offense that will generate the spacing he will need to get the open looks inside he would need to boost his efficiency. This basically leaves me thinking that Boozer's minutes will mostly be wasted on him rather than being doled out to Julius Randle or Ed Davis -- two players who need minutes to further grow their game as players who could have key roles moving forward.
BE: What are the major holes in the Lakers' lineup? How will the playing rotation look for coach Byron Scott?
DS: The Lakers have holes on the wing at small forward and at point guard behind Jeremy Lin. Right now Wes Johnson is the starting SF and while he'll likely be pushed by Xavier Henry and Nick Young for minutes once they both get healthy, those two aren't necessarily coveted assets around the league either. As for point guard, Steve Nash is once again experiencing back issues and, ultimately, can't be relied upon this year. That only leaves Ronnie Price (who Blazers' fans are surely familiar with) and rookie Jordan Clarkson. I have high hopes (which aren't entirely rational) for Clarkson, but he's a rookie who mostly likes to score and needs a lot of work to develop into a player who can competently run an offense. In other words, there aren't very good options behind Lin and over the course of the season this will be a major issue the team will need to overcome.
As for the rotation, I imagine we'll see him rely heavily on the veteran players as that has been his m.o. over the course of his career. This will likely mean Boozer will start with Jordan Hill while Randle, Davis, and Ryan Kelly fight for the remaining front court minutes. I also think the team will be over-reliant on Kobe and that Scott will struggle to find the right balance between playing Kobe heavy minutes to try and stay competitive in games and sitting him to ensure he isn't overused. While everyone is saying the right things now about resting Kobe and keeping him fresh, once the real games start the urge to win games will take over (both with Scott and with Kobe) and they will need to sort out how his minutes will be handled.
BE: What's your outlook for rookie Julius Randle?
DS: I really like Randle's versatility and think he can become a very good offensive player as he develops his mid-range jump shot. I also like his ability to handle the ball and turn a rebound into an open court chance that can lead to an easy basket for himself or a teammate. In saying that, he is facing a big adjustment in the quality of big men he'll face in the pros and, like most rookie big men, has a steep learning curve in as a defender who will be expected to rotate from the paint to the perimeter and back to the rim as a back-line defender. This doesn't even include the nuances of playing pick and roll defense. Overall, though, I think he can be a very good player and a foundational piece for the team moving into the future. And while he must grow as player to get there, he has the work ethic and the right attitude to do just that.
Special thanks to Forum Blue & Gold editor Darius Soriano for taking the time to discuss the Los Angeles Lakers' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Darius can be found on twitter @forumbluegold. Forum Blue & Gold has you covered for Lakers news and analysis.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter