The Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2013-14 season far from the NBA title that contenders, fans and detractors have come accustomed to. Of course, the success of their season will depend on what they can get out of Kobe Bryant.
The Achilles’ tendon tear is one of the sports world’s most unpredictable injuries, and it is tough to predict the level of production we can expect from Bryant, if and when he returns. However, the reports are promising, as he has claimed that he could play now if it was the playoffs. And, as we have all learned before, it would be wise to bet against the Mamba, so for now, it is expected that he will be back and play at a high level for at least 65 games this season. But what about the rest of the roster?
After Dwight Howard mercifully packed his bags in favor of the Houston Rockets, the Lakers were left with room to play around with the rest of the roster. Out went Howard, and in came the likes of Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson. Without Howard, Gasol will again be the clear No. 1 option in the post. That, combined with a full season growing accustomed to the Mike D’Antoni offense, could provide a real comeback year for the big Spaniard.
In Kaman, the Lakers have a better complement to Gasol, and neither the ego nor the drama of Howard. This move could easily be looked at as addition by subtraction, as Kaman is an underrated presence down low, provided he can keep his own injury issues in check. Kaman is a big body, a solid defender, and will do the dirty work that Gasol prefers to steer clear from.
In Johnson, the team has its best perimeter defender since Trevor Ariza left town in 2009. Offensively, Johnson provides nothing but dunks and the occasional corner three, but he has the type of length and athleticism that could provide a real boost to a team that has been devoid of both for years.
As a starter, Young is there to be a poor man’s Bryant. He will take a lot of shots and hopefully hit more than his share, but his defense will never be near Bryant’s level, even at this stage. When Bryant comes back, expect Young to bolster the scoring off the bench. Personally, I do not see a world where Young and Bryant co-exist with one basketball.
Bench scoring is nothing to scoff at, as it is a problem that has plagued the Lakers for years. Young can still provide a service by leading the second unit, a role Jodie Meeks was supposed to provide last year before he was plagued with a season-long shooting drought.
Hopefully the team can get more out of Steve Nash than they did in his debut season, but the days of him competing for an NBA MVP trophy are far gone. At this stage in his career, the Lakers merely need Nash to provide more offensive punch than he does defensive liability. Healthy legs and a full offseason reunited with D’Antoni should provide that, and we will likely see a spike in his assist numbers with the ball back in his hands.
As long as this team can get the majority of a season out of Bryant, they will remain competitive in the Western Conference. Depending on how much Bryant they get, they could even be better than last year, now that the reality show known as Dwight Howard has finally moved on.
Final Record: 48-34