Mitch Kupchak had this... look of disdain... or look of being ready to assassinate someone...
So you know, we thought it was pretty much the end after May of 2012. The Lakers looked completely inferior against the Thunder. Kobe Bryant has continued to decline even though he has admirably continued to produce great numbers. But it seemed like he was saddled by a team that was also on the decline. The only one that was possibly on the rise was Andrew Bynum, but he pretty much turned into a jerk as the season went on. Doomsday was coming to Lakerland.
And Mitch Kupchak knew that it would be if he didn't do anything about it.
BOOM. He got Steve Nash (the trade exception out of that Lamar Odom panic trade).
BOOM. He got Dwight Howard (traded Bynum among others).
Followed by a couple more quality pick-ups in Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, the Lakers were right back in the hunt.
Oh, and they kept Pau Gasol. They just keep reloading, don't they?
Let's take a look at the current roster, shall we?
Kobe is still one of the most discussed players in the NBA in terms of how good he really is. But let's put to bed on who he's better at or whether he should be in the Top 10 in the NBA. Let's just say he's still really, really, really damn good. And his job should be easier now that 2-time MVP Nash is on board.
Now he doesn't have to handle the ball as much. Now he doesn't have as much of a workload. Yes, he'll still probably take more shots than he should. But if he's got a set-up man like Nash, he CAN score all day. Kobe is a very good cutter. And he'll probably never have as many spot-up shots as he will this season with Nash and Howard on board. Plus, as much as we make fun of Kobe not passing the ball, he's an excellent passer. When they double him, he can kick it to the open man. With Nash as an additional option, the game gets easier for Kobe.
He may not produce as much as last year but he doesn't have to anymore. Kobe hasn't had a dynamic point guard like this since... well... ever. And Dwight is easily the best center he's had since Shaq. Oh, and Pau Gasol is still on the team.
This is an embarrassment of riches for Kobe.
LET'S JUST CALL HIM DWIGHT
I hate all these nicknames that he's been given. It's like some center that played here in L.A. about a decade ago. Anyway, we all know him as Dwight Howard.
Howard changes the game on the defensive side. He's one of the best rebounders in the game and he will make everybody on the opposing think twice about going inside. Plus, while it's not pretty and graceful, he can get it done in the post.
You know what you're going to get with Howard. Andrew Bynum may arguably have a better offensive game but with his thought process, you didn't know which Bynum would appear that day.
And the Lakers should get consistency in that spot. Assuming his back doesn't break into 958 pieces.
THIS was out of nowhere. He was rumored to go to Toronto or New York. But what a coup by Kupchak. The Suns were that determined to get rid of him.
Nash brings a lot to the table. Obviously, he's the best point guard they've had since Magic Johnson (Nick Van Exel, you were good, too, but you were never MVP). But his playmaking, court vision, overall feel of the game... and his outstanding shooting are all sorely needed in this Laker group. Nash's shooting can spread the floor if needed. And he can get the ball to the right spots and the right players. At 38, it's amazing how he's still one of the best point guards in the league.
Of course, his advanced age will make us all worry about his health. And now that he's outside of Phoenix, who had an incredible training staff, it's a bit of a concern. But as long as Mike Brown limits his minutes to around 30, he should be fine. Right, Coach? RIGHT?
THERE'S STILL PAU
Amazing that the Lakers were able to keep Gasol after all the trade rumors. Now he doesn't have to stress about it. I feel like it took a toll on him throughout the past year.
Pau is 32 but he should have some sort of resurgence with Nash around. Again, Nash can find him on the right spots. When Dwight's not occupying the box, Gasol is still a fantastic post player with his array of nifty moves inside. And, of course, he can still hit the midrange and run a little pick-and-roll/pop with Nash. There are times where he'll have to play center, of course, but he won't take as much pounding with Dwight there.
The Lakers could possibly have four players going to the All-Star game in Houston if all the cards fell in the right place. Scary.
PEACE OUT? NOT REALLY.
Metta World Peace is in phenomenal shape. As the fifth guy on this star-studded line-up, he won't have to do as much on the offense but he can certainly do damage on the defensive end. His movement has looked really good and we all hope he can sustain it throughout the season.
As far as the offense goes? He'll have many spot-up 3s with all the others doing their thing inside whether it's Nash running in and out of the key, Gasol and Howard taking care of the post, and Kobe with his one-on-one play. If he can hit the perimeter shot and get inside once in a while with his bullish frame, that's all they'll need from him.
If he's in Ron Artest from Indiana 2004 (NOT Malice In The Palace Ron but as the Defensive Player of the Year), every other opposing team might as well call the WAAAAA-ambulance.
Steve Blake is back as the main back-up point guard for the Lakers. While I feel he's still unfairly railed by the Laker fans, he hasn't lived up to what was expected of him so far. He did have some fine moments in the playoffs last season and mainly finished playoff games at the point guard spot when Ramon Sessions acted like how most virgins would on their very first date.
So it would be nice if he can give 20 solid minutes for the Lakers. Maybe the third Laker season will be the charm for Steve.
Jordan Hill (she sounds hot!) returns after an abbreviated season with the Lakers (after the Derek Fisher trade). He'll beat the opposing big men with his hustle and rebounding. So, at least, the Lakers have a nice bruiser inside. Unfortunately, he seems to have fallen too much in love with the outside shot when he should be inside making bunnies instead of trying to play Duck Hunt. The dog will not stop laughing if he insists on being a perimeter threat.
As long as Hill isn't awful out on the court, the Lakers should be fine.
Darius Morris returns as the... fourth point guard for the Lakers. He was erratic throughout Summer League and preseason. Hopefully, he can learn from all the guys ahead of him.
Unfortunately, Andrew Goudelock is no longer with the squad.
THE NEW GUYS
I remember being very iffy about Antawn Jamison. Unfortunately, I was proven right. He's had a terrible preseason.
Antawn's strength is his scoring (I wish it was mine, too). He should get plenty of chances in a Laker bench that REALLY SORELY needs it. Hopefully, he can recover in the regular season.
As far as defensively? If I asked him to watch my car, the car would get stolen (and, no, not by him). Let's just hope Dwight can make up for it. Maybe.
Jodie Meeks (she sounds okay, I guess) brings a reputation of being a 3-pt shooter. Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono, and Blake were the designated shooters but none of them have worked out (though Blake did shoot well in last year's postseason). Hopefully, Meeks can provide that. He's also not a bad defender. Hopefully, he can improve on that.
Chris Duhon is the third point guard. He's a good defender but he didn't exactly play well last year. If anything, he was known for this...
The hilarious Robert Sacre played well in preseason. He is a nice emergency big man. Darius Johnson-Odom is also a nice defensive guard but we'll see if he survives this season. And Earl Clark is just happy to be there, it seems.
The new squad is very top-heavy but not so much on the bottom. Basically, it's your typical Playboy Playmate.
Mike Brown needed help so he got Eddie Jordan to teach the Lakers the Princeton offense. Lots of passing, reading, and cutting. With skilled passers in the Lakers, this SHOULD benefit them.
Bernie Bickerstaff has been around the league for QUITE a long time. His first head coaching job was in Seattle in 1985. He's also coached at Denver, Washington, and Charlotte. Bickerstaff also gave Mike Brown an internship when Brown was breaking into the NBA so they do have a previous relationship.
Steve Clifford comes over from Orlando to the Lakers. He once again works with Dwight Howard so, at least, there will be familiarity there.
Chuck Person is, of course, still there assisting on Brown's defensive sets.
As far as Brown goes? His seat is suddenly in boiling temperatures. It's championship or bust.
On paper, they look like the best in the West. ESPECIALLY after the shocking trade of James Harden by Oklahoma City. Harden gave the Lakers fits in the postseason. And now, the Lakers got better and Harden is in Houston. This moves the Lakers to the forefront.
The other L.A. team, the Clippers, have a DEEP, DEEP team. They're definitely going to give the Lakers fits throughout the season. Heck, some people are even saying they could be going against each other in the Western Conference finals with OKC "taking a step back." I'm not so sure about that but expect a war every time they face each other. It's going to be real fun.
San Antonio gave the Lakers a lot of trouble but I don't see them beating the Lakers in a playoff series. Memphis looks like a wild card once again with their physical brand of basketball. Denver gave the Lakers fits with their flying offense (and they got better defensively with Andre Iguodala). But overall, I still have to give the edge to the Lakers despite the tough competition in the West.
Miami and Boston are the two top dogs in the East. But the Heat are the defending champs and if the Lakers were to get to the Finals, I expect them to see LeBron James and company.
About damn time, huh?
If one of them goes down, it could be trouble. Kobe is already battling foot problems and is a gametime decision tonight. Dwight is, of course, just coming off back surgery. And Nash is always on watch since he's old enough to qualify for a senior meal in IHOP.
Let's just hope this doesn't become 2004 when Mexican girl-hunter Karl Malone went down, which ultimately did them in.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Here we go!
Oct. 30, 2012 (vs Dallas Mavericks): Season opener! See the new guys! But, again, Kobe's a gametime decision.
Oct. 31, 2012 (at Portland TrailBlazers): Why is this a must-see? They don't do well in the Rose Garden and it should be one hell of a challenge. Also, we have to see Damian Lillard play.
Nov. 2, 2012 (vs Los Angeles Clippers): Yes, the first three are must-see to me. Start of the hallway series!
Nov. 30, 2012 (vs Denver Nuggets): Their first meeting since their seven-game series last year. We gotta check that. Also, Andre Iguodala is there. Let's see how he changes Denver.
Dec. 7, 2012 (at Oklahoma City Thunder): This is a good test for the Lakers. We can also gauge on how good the Thunder are WITHOUT the bearded man.
Dec. 18, 2012 (vs Charlotte Bobcats): Well... you know...
Dec. 25, 2012 (vs New York Knicks): The Lakers haven't won a Christmas game since 2008. I'll go on a limb and say the losing streak stops here.
Jan. 17, 2013 (vs Miami Heat): They're only the defending champions.
Jan. 30, 2013 (at Phoenix Suns): This would be Steve Nash's first game at Phoenix since he became a Laker.
Feb. 7, 2013 (at Boston Celtics): A no-brainer.
Mar. 12, 2013 (at Orlando Magic): And this would be Dwight Howard's first game at Orlando since he went to Hollywood. I expect tons of boos. Like John Cena-level in Chicago.
Apr. 7, 2013 (at Los Angeles Clippers): A lot could potentially be on the line here. And it's their final battle of the season. Or IS IT?
Mitch Kupchak, you did fantastic.
This is why a lot of Laker fans talk about irrational trades. Because they have incredible faith that Kupchak will get the job done. And he has. He's come through over and over and over. Yes, it's helped that L.A. is pretty much the entertainment capital of the world and it's helped that L.A. has fantastic weather. But Kupchak is still shrewd. I mean, look how New York's front office is doing, right?
So we know the starting line-up is outstanding. But once again, the question mark falls on the bench. On paper, it's better than last year's. Of course, that paper could rip right in front of us and a lot of Laker fans would come away disappointed once again. If the bench is serviceable enough, the Lakers should be fine.
I've talked about injuries. But that really goes for every team. Still, one of the guys from the starting line-up goes down, and it could be curtains. This isn't really a deep team.
But they ARE the favorites of the West to me. And if they face, say, the defending champions in the finals? Yes, they have LeBron James. But L.A. has a Ron Artest that can pound him and make him work. Also, Miami's known to have problems in the middle. The Lakers have Dwight Howard. Yes, the game has evolved but I still feel that the battle can be won in the trenches. And the Lakers have trees. Miami can try to outrun the Lakers, of course, but if the Lakers methodically run their offense inside, the other team wouldn't be able to run back as much.
I'm not saying I'll be surprised if Miami beats the Lakers. But I believe the Lakers have an edge over Miami with this rejuvenated squad. Tough to go against guys that are just basically excellent in every position.
So I'm going to write the Lakers down at 59-23.
And the Lakers are raising Banner #17.
VIDEO CREDIT: JayDiddy2423.
PHOTO CREDITS: 1) @cjzero screencap. 2) Chris Graythen/Getty Images. 3) Brian van der Brug and Anne Cusack/L.A. Times. 4, 5) Harry How/Getty Images. 6) Jared Wickerham/Getty Images. 7) Mark J. Terrill/Getty Images.We're always up late. How about buying us a coffee? Or an energy drink!?