I’d like for everyone to take a step back and look at the team that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have currently constructed, and, with a bit of introspection, ask yourself if this Lakers team will be raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June.
This isn’t a question to bait an avalanche of pitchfork-wielding Lakers fans to leave a slew of hateful comments. The roster itself, particularly the starting five, is one of the greatest teams ever assembled in terms of accolades. Rather, it’s an honest question that, judging from the build of our roster, should be considered when viewing this Lakers team as a title contender: When you sit down and look through the names on this Lakers roster, has there ever been an NBA team with more psychological baggage or intriguing question marks at every starting position?
The starting point guard, having never won a title during his 16 years in the league, is joining the team of his longtime Pacific Division rival. At 38 years of age, can Steve Nash stay healthy without the much-revered presence of the Phoenix Suns training staff? Further, will Nash be able to lead a Lakers offense, one where the ball has been run through the shooting guard since the late 1990s?
The starting shooting guard, also in the league for 16 years, is one title shy of tying the GOAT. While his point totals have been consistent, his shooting percentage has dropped to levels he hasn’t seen since he sported an afro and goatee. Since he came into the league, everyone expected Kobe Bryant to be the next Michael Jordan. While he has publicly spurned the comparisons, Bryant has said that he uses Jordan’s six titles as a barometer. Will he reach the plateau this year, and with a sixth title become the greatest Laker ever? Having already mentioned the possibility of retirement in two years, will Bryant be able to maintain the high level of play we have all come to expect throughout his career?
If there is a Baggage Hall of Fame, the starting small forward is a first-ballot submission. Is there any need to go into detail about
Ron Artest Metta World Peace? The Malice at the Palace? Recent frustrations and suspensions? Setting the bar for 73-9 bulletin board material? Let’s move on.
The starting power forward was one “basketball reason” away from being shipped off to Houston last year and has repeatedly been referred to as soft, too nice, and even a “white swan“. Where other players involved in the trade demanded to leave the team, Pau Gasol has been consummately loyal throughout continual doubts that any game in Los Angeles may be his last. For Gasol, being one of the greatest international players of all time might not be good enough. In becoming the current team’s fourth option, how much can one player be marginalized before it takes a permanent toll?
The starting center, acquired just a little over a month ago, may be out until December or later following back surgery. For Dwight Howard, though, the physical issues are only a small piece of the overall question mark. Will he return to the same defensive form? When he returns, how long will it take before he begins to settle in on the court with teammates? Following the “Dwightmare”, is the player who “wanted everybody to love him” going to be able to handle the pressure of playing in a Laker uniform?
The head coach is in a less-than-enviable position – if Mike Brown fails to win a title this year with the current roster…let’s just say it may be difficult for him to go grocery shopping in Los Angeles. Brown’s goal in the offseason was to install the new Princeton offense with the Lakers, a goal buttressed by the hirings of Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff as assistant coaches for the team. While Kobe Bryant has already expressed approval of the new offense, it is somewhat disconcerting that the combined head-coaching winning percentage for Jordan and Bickerstaff is .439; their combined postseason record is 20-39. Was talent all that Brown, Jordan and Bickerstaff were missing in their previous seasons? How will the team and coaching staff adapt to a new offense that, while similar to Phil Jackson’s triangle, is now playing with a true point guard for the first time in more than a decade?
So, after all of that, let’s take a second to breathe.
It’s going to be okay.
All of these factors will play a sizable role in the upcoming season, and nowhere in all of this was the core of the bench – Blake, Jameson, Meeks, Hill, Clark, Duhon – even mentioned. There are so many moving parts in this equation that the concept of this Lakers team winning a title in nine months is astounding. That said, the current Lakers team has all of the right pieces to make World Peace’s “73-9″ goal a reality. But, as most puzzles go, all of those pieces have to placed perfectly before the picture – or in this case, the Larry O’Brien Trophy – can come into view.