As I sat down to watch the Lakers' opening game on Christmas afternoon, my expectations could not have been lower.
The season may not have started, but the Lakers were in the midst of a miserable stretch. The announced trade of Chris Paul was shut down by David Stern, they had been unable to lure Dwight Howard to L.A. and Lamar Odom was sent to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks for virtually nothing in return.
Their consolation prizes were Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kopono—decent role players, but nothing on the level of D12 or CP3. The season, already shortened by the lockout, seemed over before it even started.
My mind has changed. After watching the Lakers in the early part of the season, there are a lot of things to be excited about. Will the Lakers win the title?
Too soon to tell, but here are five reasons why the Lakers are actually better than they were last year.
Both Ron Artest (I just can't get used to Metta World Peace) and Steve Blake have looked a lot better this year. Matt Barnes has played well and Devin Ebanks shows some promise.
The addition of Kapono and Murphy has brought some much-needed three-point shooting, and with Murphy, another big body.
While the Lakers may have less star power than last year, they have more niche players who know their role.
While this has less to do with the Lakers and more to do with their competition, it is a factor.
The Thunder is the team to beat and the early favorite to represent the West in the finals.
The Spurs have proven that you can never write them off, but they are another year older. Can Duncan still control the paint and can Ginobili stay healthy?
The Mavericks have regressed. The addition of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom does not compensate for the loss of J.J. Barea and, more importantly, Tyson Chandler—the anchor to their defense. It is hard for me to use “Vince Carter” and “contender” in the same sentence unless we are talking about him contending for the “how to quit on your team” title.
The Trailblazers' season ended before it even started when Brandon Roy retired and Greg Oden was lost for what might be the entire season.
The Grizzlies will be competitive, but with the loss of Shane Battier and Darrell Arthur, they won’t be much better than last year.
The season is young, but the L.A. Clippers (LOB CITY!) look like more hype than substance. It’s tough to view a team coached by Vinny Del Negro as a contender. They are still a year away.
How many of these teams are better than the Lakers?
Kobe looks a lot better this year. I don’t know exactly what happened in Germany, but A-Rod should go check it out.
Kobe’s best days are behind him, but he is still one of the best in the league.
Lamar Odom was never my favorite Laker. So when the Lakers shipped him to Dallas, my disappointment had more to do with L.A. getting nothing in return than with the loss of Odom.
Maybe it is his aloof attitude or his strange obsession with candy. Maybe it’s the fact that he spent the lockout sending tweets about Rob Kardashian and Dancing with the Stars.
Now in Dallas, Odom reported to camp out of shape and has yet to make a contribution. Rick Carlisle has even gone as far as to put him on a training regimen. Embarrassing. Professional athletes get paid millions of dollars to do one thing—stay in shape.
Rick Carlisle has said that they can’t unconditionally play him. Lamar’s response to all of this? "Once I get right, I’ll be all right. I’m one of the best players to ever play."
Odom may be one of the most talented players in the game, but he certainly isn’t one of the best. When watching him, I always feel like he is leaving something on the table. Like he is playing below his abilities.
When I watch McRoberts, I see the exact opposite. McRoberts may not be the most talented, but he brings toughness, tenacity and a basketball IQ that I never saw in Odom.
When the Lakers selected Mike Brown to replace Phil Jackson, I was livid.
Call me a flip-flopper, but I have changed my mind. I really like Mike Brown.
I can’t entirely explain why, but after watching the body language of the team as a whole, I feel that the Lakers are responding in a positive way.
While Kobe may not have been thrilled with the decision to hire Brown, either, he has expressed his respect for Brown’s work ethic and appears to be saying all the right things.
Brown has brought a lot of energy and effort to this team. He has already won over his players. He may have what it takes to bring the title back to L.A.