Now that we have all woken up in jubilation with finding out that the 149-day NBA lockout is over after the owners and players reached a tentative agreement, now it is time that I unveil my 2011-12 Los Angeles Lakers season preview, albeit unfortunately late.
The Lakers open up their 66-game NBA season, contingent on the owners and players ratifying the new CBA although a simple majority on both sides is needed to accomplish that, against the Chicago Bulls on the final game of a Christmas Day tripleheader. Of course, the season will begin with many questions surrounding the legendary Lakers franchise, one of which is how new head coach Mike Brown will replace a legend in Phil Jackson, after his “last stand” ended in failure when the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks swept the struggling Lakers, punctuated by a rout in Game 4.
Brown brings a winning resume to Los Angeles, as he boasts a .663 regular season winning percentage from his five-season tenure as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brown is a defensive stalwart, as he coached the Cavaliers to become one of the better defensive teams in the NBA during his stint in Cleveland before being surprisingly fired upon the Cavs being eliminated from the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
Brown’s defensive style is a good fit for the Lakers, as the team runs more of a half-court style offensive scheme and their emphasis is on the defensive end of the floor. As a result of the Lakers being an aging team, with their projected starting lineup average age being 31.4 years old, Los Angeles will probably still use the half-court in the imminent NBA season. As far as how their defensive strategy will be under Brown’s tutelage, I would not be surprised if Brown implements more zone into the Lakers defense, which would be somewhat of a change as the Lakers used man-to-man defense the majority of last season, as opposed to zone.
Before the prolonged lockout was officially put into place a long four months ago, the 2011 NBA Draft took place. Los Angeles acquired three players by the time the league’s annual selection meeting came to a close. Michigan PG Darius Morris, College of Charleston PG/SG Andrew Goudelock, and Connecticut PF Ater Majok became the newest Lakers, and Goudelock and Morris could make a decent contribution in their rookie seasons.
Goudelock comes into the league as a three point sharpshooter, bringing an element that the Lakers have not had since Robert Horry and role player Mike Penberthy in some respects. Los Angeles could use Goudelock as a three point specialist, bringing the Cougar record holder into the game during key situation when a three pointer is needed to either get back into a game or close out a matchup, similar to how the Chicago Bulls utilize Kyle Korver.
Morris will most likely be used to give 37 year old point guard Derek Fisher breaks throughout games, and although Morris is an inconsistent shooter, and seldom attempts shots throughout the course of games, he can be used as valuable floor general most likely midway through the season. As a result of the lockout, training camps as well as free agency will begin on December 9, and with a target date of December 25 to begin the now highly-anticipated season, that leaves an extremely limited 16 day period for rookies to learn the offense, which could set a point guard such as Morris, whose vast majority of his skill set is running effecient offensive schemes, back a few steps.
As for Ater Majok, he could provide some depth for Pau Gasol and occasionaly Andrew Bynum although the Lakers will probably send him down to their NBA Devolepmental League afflilate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, so Majok can refine aspects of his game, particularly his offensive skills.
As for free agency, the Lakers have three future free agents to negotiate with on December 9, those being shooting guard and fan favorite Shannon Brown, and veteran big men Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff. All three are unrestricted free agents.
Brown has made it repeatedly known that he does not want to resign with the Lakers, even saying that he could jump sides in the timeless Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry and join the Celtics in Beantown. However, Brown is a crucial role player for the Lakers, and general manager Mitch Kupchak should attempt to do everything possible to attempt to convince Brown otherwise and have him resign with the franchise, although if Brown demands a bloated contract come the abbreviated free agency period, then they should let him depart from Los Angeles. About Smith and Ratliff, they should sign at least one of the two for a bargain for depth purposes, which looks to be an easy task to accomplish.
Coming to the actual season, the Lakers would most likely need about 37-40 wins to clinch a playoff berth, something which I believe they will do. Come playoff time, assuming the playoff format is normal because of the lockout, I see Los Angeles possibly making it to the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated.
Only time will tell if the Lakers surpass my expectations, but I believe age could prevent them from reaching the 2012 NBA Finals. Ultimately, I would consider advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals a success in Mike Brown’s first season, given that major changes could possibly be on the horizon, depending on the outcome of free agency. However, I see the team advancing to the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
But the point is, I, along with the majority of Americans, are extremely happy that NBA basketball is back and here to stay as the many burning questions, including those in the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, will begin to being answered in 2011, instead of what could have been a long wait until Late 2012.