Flashback to October of 2007 and all of the talk back then was about whether or not Kobe Bryant was going to get traded.
The midseason trade for Pau Gasol had a lot to do with their deep playoff run and the raised expectations for this season. But even before Mitch Kupchak fleeced Memphis, the Lakers had shown the potential to finish in the top half of the conference thanks to the development of young center Andrew Bynum.
Bynum's statistics last season weren't eye-popping — 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 2.1 bpg — but if you take into account that he wasn't a starter for the first 10 games, then you can get an idea of Bynum's value once he became a starter.
Despite having started only 25 games, Bynum still managed to finish with 18 double-doubles, only three fewer than Shaq had in 61 games.
What the Lakers did this offseason
This year's roster looks a lot like last year's. The one glaring name missing is Ronny Turiaf. Although Turiaf's stats were pedestrian, his energy, spirit and enthusiasm will surely be missed.
All that being said, the Lakers were wise to not match the four-year, $17-million offer sheet that Turiaf signed with the Warriors.
In his stead, the Lakers will count upon Gasol, Chris Mihm and the newly-signed Josh Powell to back up Bynum at the center position.
Otherwise, the bench should look the same as last season. The last few roster spots will be filled from a list that includes recent second-round draft picks Joe Crawford and Sun Yue, as well as non-guaranteed training camp invitees Coby Karl, Dwayne Mitchell, Brandon Heath and C.J. Giles.
What the Lakers didn't do this offseason
The Lakers failed to add veterans like Brent Barry or Kurt Thomas to a team that looked like high-school kids against a very experienced Celtics team. The Lakers only have two players on their roster over the age of 30. By comparison, last year's Celtics had nine.
Areas in need of improvement
Last year's Lakers were 19th in the NBA in fewest points allowed. They allowed their opponents to score an average of 101.3 points per game, 11 more than the Celtics.
There's no denying that the reason the Lakers were demolished in the Finals was because they couldn't adjust to the Celtics' swarming defense and they couldn't do enough to stop the Celtics from penetrating — as evidenced by Ray Allen's drive on Sasha Vujacic in the Celtics' Game 4 comeback.
Both of those areas should see improvement with the return of Bynum.
The Lakers will also need to improve the way they defend the league's best point guards. The duo of Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar were repeatedly abused. As a result, the Lakers ended up having to rely all too often on Kobe to expend his energy on guarding the opponent's best backcourt player.
Questions that need to be answered
Q: How will Gasol, Bynum and Lamar Odom coexist?
This will probably become the area where training camp serves of utmost importance. It will take some time for them to find their groove and gel. Bynum will probably control the paint because he's such a great finisher and has the most limited range. The Lakers will probably try to limit Bynum's minutes early on and having Gasol gives them the luxury of taking their sweet time in doing so.
Q: With the return of Bynum, what happens to the Lakers' 3-point shooting percentage?
The Lakers were sixth in the NBA last season in 3-point shooting percentage, shooting close to 38 percent as a team. Conventional wisdom says that the presence of another big that requires double teams should free the perimeter guys for even more open looks. But that might not be the case now with Vladimir Radmanovic coming off the bench. The Lakers go from being a team with three legitimate outside threats in their starting lineup to a team with only two.
This season's storylines
The most important storyline this season will be the option on Kobe's contract. As of right now, there are five potential scenarios that I can see happening:
1. Kobe decides to exercise his option on the remaining two years and $48 million on his contract.
2. Kobe decides to opt out of the deal and signs with the Lakers for six years and the maximum.
3. Kobe decides to opt out of the deal and signs with the Lakers for the kind of deal that allows the Lakers the financial freedom to extend both Bynum and Odom.
4. Kobe decides to opt out of the deal and entertain offers from European powerhouses who could offer him substantially more money than any NBA team could.
5. Kobe decides to opt out and sign for only three more years, allowing him to hit free agency when the league's current collective bargaining agreement expires.
Another storyline concerning the Lakers will be the pending free agency of Lamar Odom. The Lakers could decide to trade Odom by the deadline, allow him to walk or sign-and-trade him next summer.
No doubt the Lakers benefited down the stretch last year when it came to their schedule. They played 10 of their final 14 games at home. This year, the Lakers lucked out by getting 10 of their first 16 games at home. Down the stretch, they play five of their final seven at home.
Don't be surprised if the Lakers improve on last season's 55-27 record. While popular opinion considers last year's NBA Finals "a six-game sweep," the Lakers feel as if they were only two wins away from winning the NBA title and home court would have been the difference.
60-22, top seed in the Western Conference.
According to VegasInsider.com, the Lakers are currently Vegas' pick to win the NBA title at 3-to-1 with the Celtics right behind them at 7-to-2.
With the return of a healthy Bynum and the maturation of an already dangerous bench, the window for the Lakers' run at a championship is wide open, and nobody would be surprised if it happened this year.