NBA Los Angeles Lakers

2013-14 NBA Season: Top 5 Players to Watch for in Los Angeles Lakers

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Top 5 Players to Watch

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Let's just be honest; this could be an ugly season for the Los Angeles Lakers. With the departure of Dwight Howard and the uncertainty surrounding the Kobe Bryant injury, I simply do not see a contending team here.

The Lakers gambled by not trading Howard and lost. They assumed that he would return and he instead signed a contract to join James Harden with the Houston Rockets.

Plan B for Los Angeles appears to be clear as much cap space as possible for next offseason. They lost Howard, let Antwan Jamison, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon go and used their amnesty clause on Metta World Peace. They brought in a cast of unimpressive role players in Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Nick Young on one year deals. The only player under contract for the 2014-15 season is Steve Nash. With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony possibly hitting free-agency next offseason, the Lakers will have plenty of cap space to try to bring in another star.

Bryant suffered a torn left Achilles tendon last season, and is currently trying to make his way back. Bryant appears to be ahead of schedule with his rehab, but this is an extremely serious injury and nobody knows when he will return. He will certainly miss some games at the beginning of the season.

With the injury to Bryant and the departure of Howard, who steps up for this team? With Nash and Pau Gasol still around, there is some talent on the Lakers, but I struggle to find enough here to think that they will compete for a championship. Here are the top five players to watch for the Lakers this season, as they try to make something out of this unimpressive and aging roster.

Daniel is a writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @D_Schmelzer, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Jordan Hill

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It will be very interesting to see how Jordan Hill comes back from a tough hip injury he suffered last season. Kaman and Gasol will start down low for the Lakers but Hill will be an essential piece for them coming off of the bench. Hill brought down 5.7 rebounds per game averaging only 15.8 in 29 games with the Lakers last season before his injury. Hill is a relentless rebounder that does an incredible job attacking the glass. Of those 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 were of the offensive variety. It is always nice to get another chance at a possession with an offensive rebound, and Hill seems to have a knack for them. Offensively, Hill is fairly limited, but he has basic post moves and has an improving jumper. He is not going to hurt you on that end of the court. Hill simply needs to be on the floor for the Lakers more this season.

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4. Nick Young

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Young returns to his hometown as a six-year NBA veteran who has played for three other teams. Young can be an explosive and versatile scorer at times, he is just inconsistent. Simply put, Young is a gun slinger. He is not afraid to pull up from anywhere on the court and is able to create his own shot. Until Bryant returns from injury, Young will probably play Kobe's role in the offense. You will not mistake Young for the future sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he uses many different creative ways to put the ball in the hole.

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3. Steve Nash

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Nash is a huge key to the Lakers success this season. The 39-year-old two-time MVP may not be able to move quite like he used to, but he is still one of the best distributors in the game. Nash never seemed to gel with the Lakers last season. I can only assume that had something to do with the amount of touches that Bryant needs in the offense. Nash is still a fantastic distributor, runs the pick and roll as well as anybody in the game and is a good outside shooter. With Kobe sidelined, Nash should have full control of this offense. If he has success it would be very interesting to see how things shake out when Kobe returns. Regardless, the Lakers need Nash to play a huge role, with or without Bryant, if they expect to be competitive.

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2. Pau Gasol

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If they fall out of contention, I could see the Lakers looking to deal Gasol as he is in the last year of his deal and is unlikely to return. If the Lakers are going to compete this season, the 33-year-old will be essential. Gasol seems to be the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Nash as he can both finish inside and step out and hit a mid-ranger jumper. Gasol is an obvious offensive threat and I am sure will put up solid scoring numbers throughout the season. Defensively, the Lakers lost a ton when Howard left. Gasol must help fill that void inside with solid post defense and rebounding.

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1. Kobe Bryant

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When he returns from injury, Bryant must be able to gel in this offense. Last season, the Lakers struggled at times because Kobe was not willing to let Nash take over. Everybody knows that Bryant is one of the best players in the league, but he simply needs to work his way in to the offense when he returns. Torn Achilles are not easy injuries to come back from, Bryant needs to prove that he is ready to go before coming back and taking over the offense. Do not get me wrong, I think Kobe is one of the best players of all-time. That being said, old age catches up to everyone. If he does not have it on a given night, he should not hesitate to give the ball up, unlike he has done in the past. As always, Bryant will be the most important player for the Lakers this season.