Being a talented team is not necessarily the same thing as being a deep team. A perfect case in point is the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, who went 67-15 in the regular season before winning the NBA championship. Their starting lineup included three of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish) plus a former Finals MVP who should be in the Hall of Fame (Dennis Johnson) and a three-point marksman who was a future All-Star guard (Danny Ainge). The first player off of the bench, Bill Walton, won the Sixth Man Award and was a former regular season and Finals MVP (he is also on the 50 Greatest Players list). That is obviously a talented team. However, the Celtics were not particularly deep: in the playoffs Boston essentially went with a seven man rotation and the starters averaged between 32.8 and 42.8 mpg.
This year’s L.A. Lakers may be deeper from players 1-10 than the 1986 Celtics were but it would be foolish to say that they are more talented than Boston was that year. Frankly, a lot of people overrated
both the L.A. Lakers' talent and depth last season, particularly after L.A. acquired Pau Gasol. The Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol-Lamar Odom trio was very effective but the Lakers lacked frontcourt depth, had no
solid defender at the small forward position (unless Bryant played that spot) and even though the bench players performed well at times, all of their weaknesses were exposed during the Finals by the Boston Celtics, who also did not show much concern about the starters -- other than Bryant. Bryant did a lot of heavy lifting while leading the Lakers to the Finals, averaging 31.9 ppg while shooting .509 from the field in three Western Conference playoff series, including a victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
That is an extraordinarily high level of efficient production by a shooting guard, particularly one who receives as much defensive attention as Bryant does -- and when the Celtics sent waves of defenders at Bryant in the Finals to force anyone else on the Lakers to beat them, no one else could. As Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said recently, "We know that Boston literally said, 'We've got to take Kobe out, we just have to throw our defense at them.' We have to have more guys fit into our offense if we're going to be a team that can compete with those clubs."
It should be obvious that a team that is truly blessed with either Hall of Fame talent or superior depth cannot be beaten by a team that throws its entire defense at one player -- that was the recipe to beat Michael Jordan’s early Chicago Bulls teams but it did not work once Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson and others became key contributors.
Some people believe that the Lakers are the most talented team in the league this season. In addition to the players who helped the Lakers make it to the 2008 Finals, the Lakers have added two key players to the rotation: center Andrew Bynum (who missed the second half of last season and all of the playoffs due to injury) and small forward Trevor Ariza, a midseason acquisition who never had a chance to get fully acclimated to the Lakers, in part due to injury.