Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
Much like their historical rival the Boston Celtics, the traditionally competitive Los Angeles Lakers will likely find themselves completing the slide that they began last season.
Despite a resurgence by Kobe Bryant that saw him have what was probably his best individual season since 2008-09, the Lakers stumbled to a 45-37 record and a first round sweep at the hands of San Antonio. “Stumbled” may seem harsh for a 45-win team, but all this after adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a starting lineup that already included Bryant and Pau Gasol. Coach Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start and Mike D’Antoni took over, but didn’t exactly lead the Lake Show to the promised land.
Injuries were absolutely an issue for last year’s edition of the Lakers, but part of that can absolutely be blamed on the construction of the team. Five of the top seven in minutes played for the Lakers in 2012-13 were over the age of 32. They also only had four players play more than 70 games, and nobody played 80+. Not exactly a recipe for consistency, much less playoff success.
So what have they done to fix the roster for 2013-14? Well…not a whole lot. They’ve lost Howard, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, and Metta World Peace, who were all part of the top eight in minutes played last season. The players that have replaced them? Retreads Wes Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Chris Kaman. Not exactly an upgrade.
Yes, the season essentially rests on the recovery of a 35-year old Bryant. Not ideal, by any stretch of the imagination. While Kobe’s resurgence was remarkable to watch last season, it would be foolish to expect a repeat of that incredible performance. Will he be as willing and ready to pass to the inefficient likes of Young, Johnson, and Kaman as he was to players like Jamison, Howard, and World Peace?
That’s the elephant in the room, as part of the reason for Kobe’s great season last year was his career-best assist rate of 29.7%. Sure, it helps immensely to have a center like Howard standing underneath the basket, but it’s not like the Lakers were a great team last year, and Bryant still managed to have his best season passing the ball. Unfortunately, Kaman is not Howard, and Young isn’t exactly a sharpshooter, either, although he apparently fancies himself one.
Best Case Scenario
Bryant returns in decent form earlier than expected, and Nash and Gasol also avoid injury as they age together. Wes Johnson finally becomes an effective spot shooter and defender, and Nick Young stops shooting so much. If Kobe can indeed play like he did in 2012-13 and the team stays relatively healthy, this is still a 39-42 win team.
Worst Case Scenario
At the same time, things could go south awfully quickly for D’Antoni’s bunch. A nicked up Kobe may not be enough when he returns, and if Nash is a shell of himself as he was last year, there isn’t much surrounding Gasol. Offensive options would be scant, and the defense would likely be horrendous. At the other end of the spectrum, we could be looking at 27-30 wins.
Most Likely Outcome
Truthfully, I don’t think there’s really any way that the supporting cast for 33-year old Gasol and 39-year old Nash will be strong enough for this team to squeak into the playoffs in 2013-14. It was already a shock that they were able to do it last year, and swapping out the players that they have, plus a serious injury that Kobe is still recovering from…it could get ugly.
I think Bryant will recover well (read: as well as any 35-year old can) from Achilles’ surgery, given how he’s come back from injuries in the past. I also think that if he doesn’t return until sometime near New Year’s, he may press to get the Lakers back into playoff contention, hurting the team in the process. Especially while getting his legs back underneath him, it could end up being a serious detriment to the squad. I’ll peg them at 31-34 wins in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
|Boston Celtics (24)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Orlando Magic (27)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Sacramento Kings (25)|