The Lakers hopes rely on these three; Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Coast to Coast: Realistic expectations for the Lakers

Coast to Coast is my bi-weekly column here at Fansided. Each week I’ll be taking a look at an interesting topic in the NBA, and giving my own spin on it. Feel free to disagree, because you most likely will anyways.

In my first Coast to Coast column, I broke down the crowded Western Conference playoff race. There are 12 teams that have a legitimate shot at one of the 6 playoff spots. Of the 12 teams, there are 6 locks:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Houston Rockets
  • Golden State Warriors

After that, there are 6 teams that will be battling it out for the final two spots. That’s a different article that’s already been written, so let’s focus one the one team everyone’s talking about–the Lakers. The Lakers have had an interesting off-season. They lost Dwight Howard, and have had to fill in their roster with minimum contract guys. They ended up signing Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Shawne Williams, and Marcus Landry. That isn’t going to win you championships anytime soon, but for minimum deals, it is admirable. Essentially, if the Lakers miss the playoffs, they will be in the lottery for one of the deepest, most talented drafts since 2003.  If they make the playoffs, they will grab a 7th or 8th seed and their fans won’t be in an uproar. Also, they head into the summer of 2014 with the most cap space in the league (there are some stipulations in there, such as Kobe’s cap hold, etc). Although Lakers fans are clamoring for Lebron or Carmelo to suit up in purple and gold–or black–there’s a better chance Steve Nash dunks on Roy Hibbert (now on Shawn Bradley, there’s a chance). So, without looking too far in the future, what happens this year?

Now, most people are counting out this team of rag tag outcasts, and they will probably use that as motivation. If you remember, picking playoff teams isn’t the easiest thing to do. After signing Steve Nash and trading for Dwight Howard, ESPN’s team predicted this would happen. Well, after a 45-37 record, the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs in the first round, proving that anything can happen in an NBA season. Now, what are the experts saying about the Lakers this season? From ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin in an interview with me:

I think if health is on their side, I believe they can be a playoff team, now I understand the Western Conference is really top heavy, kind of the first 5 seeds, unless something catastrophic injury wise to the Clippers, the Thunder, the Spurs, the Grizzlies, and the Warriors, I think that’s pretty much set. After that, there’s a door that can be open. I think what they have going for them this year is they have people who to be in Los Angeles, guys like Farmar who are taking a major paycut to come here, Chris Kaman could have got more money on the open market, he wants to be in Los Angeles, Nick Young could have got more money. I think you have guys like Kobe, Nash and Pau who all are prideful winners who want to make up for what went wrong last year, and kind of give it a better go of things. Essentially I picked them at 44 wins, I think will right squeeze them into the 8th seed perhaps. I think there’s gonna be a more refreshing tone to the season then there was even in the last several seasons, ever since that Celtics championship.

From Alex Kennedy of Hoops World:

Last season, the Lakers had arguably the most talented team in basketball. Now, they find themselves closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. It has been a rough offseason for the Lakers. Dwight Howard is gone, Kobe Bryant is injured, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are continuing to decline and the Lakers seem poised to have one of the worst defenses in the league this season. Nearly all of Los Angeles’ additions this summer are offensive-oriented players (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman, etc.) and Mike D’Antoni is still coaching the team, which doesn’t bode well for the team’s defense. If Bryant, Nash and Gasol can stay healthy and get on the same page, the Lakers may be able to sneak into the playoffs, but that’s hard to imagine given how competitive the Western Conference will be during this upcoming season. The more likely scenario is L.A. heading to the lottery and then blowing up the roster next offseason, when they’ll have a ton of cap room to play with.

3rd place  – Pacific Division

From Brett Pollakof of NBC Sports:

I’ll go ahead and use this opportunity to remind everybody that the Lakers aren’t going to be as bad as many have projected. While the health of Kobe Bryant is a huge concern, the reality is that there’s still talent on that roster. By all accounts, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will both be fully healthy by the start of the season, and the team managed to sign some veteran talent at bargain basement prices in Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and Jordan Farmar. Jordan Hill is healthy as well, and if Wes Johnson is ever going to make even a small leap in production given his talent, the time is now in Mike D’Antoni’s system. As long as Kobe plays even 60 regular season games for the Lakers, I like them to make the playoffs. And I agree on Minnesota for the remaining slot in the West — there’s too much talent there if they stay injury-free not to succeed.

ESPN has them ranked 12th in their summer forecast, but what about former Laker Metta World Peace?

“I think the Lakers are going to go to the NBA Finals,” World Peace said during a signing for his children’s book “Metta’s Bedtime Stories” in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday.

“I think Kobe [Bryant's] gonna be healthy, they’re gonna get Pau [Gasol]. The Lakers are gonna make a big trade like they always do. They’re gonna get another good player, boom, boom, and they’re gonna go to the Finals. I believe it. Kobe’s gonna come back, he’s gonna play team ball, and Pau’s gonna play well.”

So Metta World Peace is a big fan, but I think he may be over-exaggerating just a bit. So there seems to be some mixed feeling as to what the Lakers can be this season. Lets look at the facts: Kobe Bryant’s original prognosis had him back between 6 and 9 months. If he were to return on the season opener on October 29th against the Clippers, that would put him at a little over 6 months. No one is doubting Bryant though, as he is an absolute animal, and he continually shows us that he can do the impossible. I have Kobe returning on opening night, but it is still very much up in the air. If he does return, it is uncertain as to whether he will be able to return to a shell of what he was last year or not. I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt, as he has earned that right. So let’s say Kobe returns on October 29th, and averages 25 points a game, that will help this offense immensely. When you team that up with a healthy Steve Nash, a healthy Pau Gasol, and a set of minimum guys with a lot to prove, there’s certainly some potential there. If they run pick and roll with Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, that can provide a deadly attack. If Mike D’Antoni uses his first Los Angeles Lakers training camp to find a hybrid offense that features a combination of his Phoenix teams, and uses Gasol at the high post, they will be better than most expected. They will also need guys like Wesley Johnson to fulfill their potential. Johnson is a “3 and D” guy who isn’t a great shooter, and isn’t necessarily a lock down defender. Under D’Antoni, the offense is free flowing, and requires a lot of hard cuts and movement, so if he can get Wes to actually cut, he could be a nice piece as well. They also will be able to use the high-low game with Gasol and Kaman, as Kaman is a decently skilled offensive player.

This team has the potential to have a top offense, but on the other end, not so much. This team was a decent defensive team according to numbers last season, but anyone who watched them knows they weren’t good at all. They didn’t rotate, allowed perimeter shooting, and alienated their teammates often. Dwight Howard’s rim protection was the only thing going for them last season. Kobe had that 5 game stretch where he guarded the opponent’s best on ball player, but he was caught playing center field and taking bad angles too often. Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Steve Nash and the others aren’t exactly known for their defense. According to the guys over at Lake Show Life, Jordan Hill will have the chance to be the team’s best defender:

These numbers all came from his shortened campaign in 2012-13, so lets take a look at his 2011-12 numbers to see if these numbers are similar.  In 119 plays with the Rockets, he averaged .75 PPP on defense. In 59 plays with the Lakers he averaged .71 PPP on defense. Both of these numbers were excellent, with the .75 placing him as the 49th ranked defender and the .71 as the 24th ranked. Now these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Hill isn’t a top 50 defensive player, as most of his numbers came against bench players as opposed to starters. But it does give hope that Hill has the potential to be the anchor the Lakers need. With the Rockets he allowed .74 PPP in post up situations, which accounted for 54.6% of his defensive plays. With the Lakers, he allowed .92 PPP, which is a significant drop off, but still a very solid mark.

Either way, the Lakers aren’t looking to be forcing teams into a lot of low scoring games. So what about the rotation? D’Antoni was blasted for playing only 6 or 7 guys a game last season, and he was blamed for some of the injury issues. This season, coach D’Antoni has promised to play a 10 or 11 man rotation–which isn’t likely– but his willingness to extend his bench could be beneficial. So, who should start? If Kobe comes back, a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Wesley Johnson, Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill would be the best option. That means you could have a bench of Steve Blake, Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, and Jordan Farmar. The bench could come in and spark the offense with shooting, and each of those players are serviceable backups. Although they aren’t good defenders, having young legs and athleticism can help on the defensive end. Going 10 deep wouldn’t be a bad idea, but whether D’Antoni does so or not is yet to be seen.

Ultimately, you have a team who could very likely make the playoffs in Los Angeles. Signing these guys to a 1 year deal means they are looking ahead to the 2014 free agency class. This year should be fun, as they have 29 nationally televised games, and there are no expectations. This team could squeak in as the 8th seed, or go horribly wrong and win 28 games. There is nothing to lose in LA, and there should be no reason not to think they can match their 45 wins of last season. About the 2014 class–don’t expect them to grab anybody better than Luol Deng, but the 2015 class could mean Kevin Love could go west. Also, in 2018, Russell Westbrook will probably be running the point. There are some nice pieces out there next year, but don’t expect Lebron James or Carmelo Anthony to play for the Lakers anytime soon. What a fun season it should be for the Lakers.

Check out the last two Coast to Coast pieces here and here.

Tags: Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mike D'Antoni Nick Young Pau Gasol Steve Nash

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