Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers Can Still Win It All
We're only 19 games into the Los Angeles Lakers' season and most people are ready to write them off as championship contenders already. The media, and even some of the more loyal fans, are calling it a lost season for the team that had won two consecutive titles just a season-and-a-half ago.
While younger teams have continued to develop throughout the NBA, it's been speculated that the Lakers no longer have the energy or talent to compete. The 11-8 record has rightfully been referred to as a disappointing start, but it may not be as serious as many people are making out to be. Just a season ago the Miami Heat faced a similar problem after starting 9-8; they came within two games of winning an NBA Championship.
Here are a few reasons why the Lakers still have as good a chance as any team to add another Larry O'Brien Trophy to their collection.
The Black Mamba Is Still Lethal
Kobe Bryant's increasing age was expected to result in reduced minutes, as well as other stats. Instead, Kobe has managed to play four minutes more than last season. Consequently, his stats are up across the board.
Becoming a player who relies on skill more than athleticism has allowed for him to continue to produce at an elite level at the age of 33.
Some of Kobe's performances this season, such as the four-game stretch of 40-plus points, have earned the Lakers wins they may not have gotten if Kobe wasn't still among the league's best players.
Bryant is too competitive to allow his age to interfere with his play, and Michael Jordan has already shown that competitiveness can counteract age.
The Emergence of Andrew Bynum
Dwight Howard may be the best center in the NBA, but Andrew Bynum has entered the discussion.
Bynum has shown that he is capable of completely taking over a game with his repertoire of effective post moves.
He's averaging 16 points, 12.7 rebounds and two blocks for the season. His points per game would most likely be up if he didn't play with a volume shooter like Kobe Bryant. His rebounding numbers might increase as well if he weren't playing alongside another solid rebounder in Pau Gasol.
As Bynum has began to play the best basketball of his career he's being double-teamed on a regular basis. Once he becomes accustomed to the pressure being brought by opponents, he'll be able to help shooters along the perimeter find open shots, which the Lakers have struggled to do all season.
Lastly, Bynum has managed to remain healthy, and is showing the world what Jim Buss saw in him when he drafted him in 2005.
Role Players Are Playing Their Roles
One of the main issues for the Lakers has been the lack of production from any player not named Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.
The most recent win against the Los Angeles Clippers showed that Andrew Goudelock can contribute to the team's sometimes-stagnant offense, and may provide a spark off the bench. The game also showed that Metta World Peace may be reverting back to Ron Artest; he continuously got in the opponent's face, and did the dirty work that he was brought in to do.
Matt Barnes has also been having a nice season, apart from his three-point shooting.
Even Steve Blake has seen his stats return closer to his career averages now that the triangle offense is no longer in effect.
If players can continue to play their roles effectively, and anyone can start knocking down three-pointers, there's no reason to think the Lakers won't benefit from the increased production.
The Mike Brown Experiment Will Work
The Lakers have been doing a great job defensively, holding opponents to just 90.5 points per game. Unfortunately, they're only scoring 92.5 points per game themselves.
Mike Brown is a defense-oriented coach, and he has the Lakers playing good defense. John Kuester and Ettore Messina were brought in as assistant coaches to help the Lakers transition from the triangle offense, but that experiment hasn't seen much success.
Training camp being shortened may have affected the Lakers more than any other team in the NBA. The new offense is supposed to be run through the post according to Brown, but because of the lack of time to practice it the new offense hasn't been as effective as it should be.
All too often this season the Lakers offense has looked similar to what you would find a team doing in a pickup game—give it to the best player and let them decide what to do with the ball.
If the assistant coaches can continue to help the team get a grasp on their offense, the team's play will surely improve as a result.
If All Else Fails, Trades Can Be Made
The Lakers' current roster has enough talent to win an NBA title. However, if a player fails to live up to their potential the Lakers are in position to make at least one blockbuster trade.
Dwight Howard has already announced he wants to be traded, and reportedly listed the Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets as his preferred destinations, according to ESPN. With Brook Lopez injured, the Lakers have the most to offer the Orlando Magic by far. If they plan on trading Howard before the deadline, the Magic aren't going to receive a player better than Andrew Bynum from any of Howard's preferred suitors.
If Howard is traded during the season, Los Angeles will most likely be his destination.
Deron Williams is another superstar being linked to Los Angeles. According to ESPN, he reportedly gave to the Nets included the Lakers (Williams refused to talk about the list). The Nets would most likely ask for Pau Gasol in return for Williams so they could play him alongside a healthy Lopez. This trade may actually hurt the Lakers more than help them, because they would lose their advantage on the inside that they heavily rely on.
There's no arguing that Williams is one of the best point guards in the NBA, but a backcourt of Williams/Bryant may be less useful to the Lakers than a frontcourt of Gasol/Bynum.
Williams will most likely stay with the Nets, but if the Nets do offer him for Gasol, don't be surprised if the Lakers decline the trade.
The Lakers have made the finals three of the last four years with the same core of their current roster, excluding Lamar Odom, who was often inconsistent before last season.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.