My what a difference a year can make. At this time last season the Los Angeles Lakers had just brought in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and all anyone could talk about was the potential of a Finals matchup with the Miami Heat. One train wreck of a season later, Howard is gone, Bryant is hurt and there are all kinds of question surrounding this team.
The Lakers are in a transition year, and Nash is the only player on the roster whose contract extends past this season. With Bryant out for an unknown period of time, Nash and Gasol will have to carry the team. The Lakers are trying to stay respectable while they transition to the next phase of their franchise, but that will be very difficult this season.
Here is my projection for the Lakers’ final 15 man roster:
Point Guard: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Darius Johnson-Odom
Small Forward: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Elias Harris
Power Forward: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly
Center: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre, Dan Gadzuric
Nash was in and out of the lineup with injuries last season, and the Lakers desperately need him on the floor this year. With Bryant out, Nash will be the primary ball handler, which is a much better fit for his playmaking abilities. The team has decent backups in Blake and Farmar, but they don’t want to use them as much as they did last year.
At shooting guard, the questions about Bryant’s health are the dominant story line. Bryant was magnificent last season, averaging 27.3 PPG and 6.0 APG while willing the Lakers to the playoffs. However, no one knows if he can return from his torn Achilles and be the same player, especially at 35 years old.
Meeks will combine with Johnson to fill the 2-guard spot while Bryant is out, but needless to say, that is a massive drop off in production on both ends of the court. Johnson-Odom and former lottery pick Xavier Henry will battle for a roster spot in camp, and I don’t see a scenario in which both make the team.
At small forward, Young comes back to Los Angeles hoping to earn himself a long term deal. Young is little more than a black hole gunner, and it will not take long for Laker fans to grow weary of his poor shot selection and porous defense. Unfortunately, Johnson is no better, and the rookie Harris is unlikely to ever be more than an energy guy off the bench.
In the post, starting Hill and Gasol together makes the most sense because of Hill’s defensive abilities. Gasol and Kaman make for a very weak defensive pairing, but Hill’s shot blocking and rebounding balance things out. Also, this allows Gasol to be the focal point of the post offense, which he wasn’t last year when Howard was around. Maximizing Gasol’s abilities is crucial, especially while Bryant is out.
I am projecting the Lakers to carry four centers for two reasons. First, Gasol and Kaman are aging and have health questions, so the smart thing to do is have depth. Second, calling Kelly a big man is a bit of a reach, as he is going to be a Ryan Anderson esque stretch 4 in the NBA. That means the Lakers will only be carrying 5 true post players.
This is going to be a rough season for the Lakers, and there is little reason for optimism. All Laker fans can do is hope that Kobe returns soon, or this will be a lottery team.