Training camp is on the horizon, and the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to move forward from the worst season in franchise history. The past year filled with moments that fans would soon forget, from Kobe Bryant’s short-lived return, Pau Gasol horribly miscast in Mike D’Antoni’s system, to a litany of injuries that dismantled the team. It was one of the most frustrating times to be a Lakers fan.
Gasol has since departed to Chicago, and after failing to land Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this summer, not many are pinning their title hopes on the NBA’s glamor franchise.
But what the team does have is a cast of characters with something to prove.
First, head coach Byron Scott. The coaching game has seen him experience both the good and bad. He took the then-New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, and won Coach of the Year in 2008 with the then-New Orleans Hornets. On the other hand, he has been fired three times, twice in the middle of the season. Reports of players tuning him out and quitting on him have surfaced. His latest tenure in Cleveland was not something to marvel at.
In LA, he inherits a team with no real expectations. Experts do not think this team is making the playoffs. With that comes the opportunity to turn heads. His implementation of the Princeton offense may bring memories of the disaster with Mike Brown, but they are not the same kind of coach. A legend of Showtime back in the 1980s, he is well-liked among his Laker peers, has a certain rapport with the fan base, and is a mentor to Kobe. A respected voice in the locker room, Scott brings in an innovative defensive philosophy, something sorely lacking last season.
Next is Jeremy Lin. Gone are the days of Linsanity. The buzz created by his meteoric rise in New York quickly dissipated by the time his career with the Houston Rockets started. From the three-year, $25 million backloaded contract he signed, to losing his starting job, to having his jersey number used in promotional posters for Carmelo Anthony, it has been a downward trajectory for someone looking to be on his way up. Discarded, he was traded away by the Rockets along with two draft picks to the Lakers in a throwaway trade to clear cap space in the hopes of landing Chris Bosh.
With change comes a fresh start. No longer pressured to live up to the hype, Lin has an opportunity to have the best year of his career. An efficient three-point shooter, he will have more open looks with defenses focused towards Kobe. With Steve Nash still on the team, Lin has the chance to pick the brain of one of the smartest and craftiest point guards in the history of the game. He will see angles and perspectives that he probably never thought of. The best is yet to come.
Lastly, there is Kobe. While no one has doubted the success in his career, the same cannot be said about his immediate future.
Spending the rest of the season rehabilitating and strengthening his body, critics have come out to feast. Contract is too large. Zero trade value. Will not be the same player. The Lakers are not going anywhere. At 36 years of age, Bryant cannot lead the Lakers as an offensive threat any longer. Ranked outside of the top ten in ESPN’s player-by-position rankings. The rumblings just keep going on and on.
The truth is, Bryant has overcome critics his entire career. From being too young, too brash, too selfish, and too cocky, he has transformed into one of the greatest players of our generation. Who is to say he will not compete and prove he still belongs in discussion among the best players today?
The story does not end there. The team is full of misfits who have and already are being written off. Nash is in his final year, but wants to show that he can contribute one last time. Carlos Boozer was amnestied by the Bulls as a cost-cutting move after the worst season of his career, but is still a capable big man in the league. Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson, lottery pick busts, flourished with the Lakers last season and their returns injects youth and energy to this team. Nick Young, last season’s lone bright spot, is back and out to prove he is not a one trick pony but a capable Sixth Man.
2014-15 will be different. There is a different energy around this team. A fresh start for everybody from management, players, all the way down the average Lakers fan. The opportunity to watch this team grow is exciting, and it is going to be a fun ride.