With the NBA’s regular season rapidly approaching, many teams have new faces on their rosters. This is especially true for the 2013-2014 version of the Los Angeles Lakers.
After the debacle that was last season, the Lakers are seeking to move past the Dwight Howard era and turn a new leaf with a rejuvenated roster.
For the first time since the Kwame Brown and Smush Parker days, the majority of fans expect next to nothing from this Laker team. Yes, you heard correctly, nothing. This season, the record winning streaks, breezing through the playoffs and dethroning the back-to-back NBA Champion Miami Heat, are not even realistic thoughts. Of course, this should not be a news flash, but let’s face it, this is a rebuilding season.
Last year, the Lakers were old and slow; it seemed as if even a Space Jam halftime speech could not motivate this team to come together. It was clear, the Lakers’ personnel could not run an efficient Mike D’Antoni coached team. Between learning a new system, a plethora of injuries, the perennial “star” carrying stat sheets around the locker room, the Lakers were dead in the water before they could even try and swim.
Rinse that bad taste in your mouth because this is a new year, a new season, and a much needed fresh start.
The Lakers are looking to use this season to gauge and develop their youthful talent. In doing so, they will be poised and prepared to fill the voids when the huge 2014 free agency period comes around. The Lakers will have plenty of cap space and can dance with the superstar of their choice. With names such as Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James on the market, the Lakers have strategically positioned themselves to make the moves that will get this team back to the promise lands.
Now, as bright as next summer sounds, Laker Nation can still look forward to this season. To some fans, a study guide may be necessary for the Lakers’ roster, since the team has become one big game of “guess who.” Players like Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Nick “Swaggy P” Young are some of the new faces in town. These guys have bounced around the league and are eager to make a name for themselves.
What better opportunity and motivation for these players to put their names on the NBA’s map than with this prestigious franchise?
Thus far, the team as a whole has looked good in preseason. But again, it’s just preseason. The real test will come when the regular season kicks off Tuesday night against the rival Clippers.
Just prepare yourself. The Lakers will not be playing the same basketball as last year. The headaches of trying to get the ball to Dwight Howard in the paint or forcing Pau Gasol to shoot 15-footers every night are over. The Lakers can especially look forward to not being run off the floor every night by younger, more athletic teams. D’Antoni’s system screams “run and gun,” which has been crystal clear in the preseason.
It’s sad to say, but it appears as if more fast break buckets have been scored this preseason than all of last season. This style of play is going to lead to easy baskets, transition-scoring opportunities and forcing opposing defenses to guard the Lakers’ athleticism for once.
Although a D’Antoni run team is all about the offense, Kurt Rambis is now a member of the coaching staff and has addressed fixing the Lakers’ horrendous defense from last season. Luckily, the Lakers have upgrades in speed and youth to help with the transition and perimeter defense.
On the other side, the Lakers have downgraded their interior defense with Howard’s departure. With Kaman, Gasol, Hill and Sacre holding down the fort, it will be interesting to see how the Lakers can adjust to not dominating the paint, as they have in past seasons. The Lakers also need to factor in a little time to adjust the team chemistry once Vino returns to a normal playing rotation.
So let’s break it down:
With players now capable of keeping up with the speedy and athletic model most NBA teams are molding into, the Lakers should be set this season, right?
In a perfect world, yes, the Lakers would return to their elite status. But that is not this team. Are they the worst team in the Western Conference? No. But are they the best? Definitely not.
That leaves the Lakers in the same position as last season. What is the point of clawing away for an 8th seed in the playoffs? No one wants to see the Lakers dismantled in the first round by San Antonio again.
Why don’t the Lakers develop players all year, while putting themselves in a position to help the near future? Excellence is defined as purple and gold, but wouldn’t the Lakers be better off bringing in a top 10 draft pick next season? This would help prepare the passing of the torch for the post-Kobe era, all while helping the franchise’s cause for next summer.
You could put a little more thought into that scenario if you didn’t have one of the greatest competitors ever in Bryant, making his return tied in with an ingenious General Manager. Every Laker fan knows Bryant is looking to make the world pay for ever doubting his return to greatness. Tanking games is never acceptable, but it is still an interesting topic to ponder.
The season will be an intriguing one, almost as interesting as last year. For once though, aside from having a team that could potentially contend for a NBA title, it is kind of nice not having such high expectations coming into a season. The Lakers are accustomed to winning and they have problems smaller market teams wish they had.
Give it a little bit of time, Laker Nation. Breathe and be patient for once. The future is bright in Los Angeles and after this rebuilding season, the Lakers will have the pieces to make a lot of noise in the league for many years to come.