Los Angeles Lakers: Why Lakers Aren't Title Contenders in 2012

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 14:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass the ball around Trevor Ariza #1 and Marco Belinelli #8 of the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on March 14, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Lakers defeated the Hornets 107-101.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers may be in third place in the Western Conference, but calling them NBA title contenders may be premature.

The Lakers surprised some people when they decided to hold onto Pau Gasol at the trade deadline. Instead, the Lakers made two other interesting moves. First, they traded Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and their first-rounder in 2012 for Ramon Sessions and forward Christian Eyenga. Then the Lakers traded one of their team leaders, Derek Fisher, and the first-round pick acquired from Dallas in the Lamar Odom trade to Houston for center Jordan Hill.

It was a nice roster shake up, but not the one the Lakers needed to make them title contenders.

The Lakers needed to make a move in order to put them in a position to make noise in the playoffs. The problem was, there wasn't any moves out there that would have necessarily made the Lakers better. 

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made the best moves possible. He kept their big three intact, while addressing their weaknesses. The Lakers' biggest strength is their size. Where most NBA teams lack a single big guy who can walk and chew gum at the same time, the Lakers have the luxury of having two skilled seven footers. Skill-wise, no other playoff team can match up with Andrew Bynum and Gasol in the low post. Trading away Gasol would have taken away the Lakers biggest strength.

Now that the Lakers have made their moves and are set for their playoff run, many fans believe they are ready to make a title run.

But it isn't that simple.

Adding Sessions doesn't make the Lakers title contenders. It makes them better, without a doubt, but the addition of Sessions doesn't make the Lakers better than the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls.

The Lakers will make it past the first round in the playoffs with ease. But after that, who knows how far the Lakers will go. It's hard envisioning them beating either the Spurs or the Thunder in a 7-game series.

The Spurs, who the Lakers have yet to play this season, have a deeper roster and have the best coach in the NBA. The Lakers would have a tough time beating them in a series.

The Thunder might have the best one-two duo in the entire NBA. Their backcourt (Durant, Westbrook and Harden) is much better than the Lakers' backcourt as a unit (Bryant, Sessions and World Peace). The Lakers low post advantage isn't that detrimental to the Thunder either. They have a bundle of quality bigs in Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed. The Thunder also have the better player in Durant. Kobe Bryant has been a superstar his whole career, but Durant is a better player at this moment in their careers. Durant has been playing at an MVP-level all season.

Even if the Lakers make it through the Spurs or the Thunder, either the Heat or the Bulls will be awaiting them in the NBA Finals. 

The Heat may be a fake contender—they beat up on the little guys in the regular season but lose to the contenders. The Heat are disappointing because they repeatedly fail to bring it in big regular season games. In the past two weeks, they have lost to Thunder, Bulls and the Lakers. Despite the Heat's shortcomings, they still create a huge mismatch against the Lakers in a seven game series. The Heat are the most athletic team in the NBA, and even with the addition of Hill and Sessions, the Lakers still lack athleticism to stop the Heat. 

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 14:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass the ball around Jarrett Jack #2 of the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on March 14, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
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The Bulls have the best record in the NBA. Even without superstar Derrick Rose, the Bulls have been playing like the best team in the NBA. The only thing that could get in their way of a NBA championship is injuries. If the Bulls can't get healthy, they'll have a hard time getting past the Heat in the eastern conference.

The Lakers can beat any one of these four teams in a regular season game. But in a playoff series, when talent always wins out, the Lakers will have an extremely tough time getting past any of them. They lack the depth and the coaching. The

The trades GM Mitch Kupchak made were for the better. They made the Lakers a better team because they addressed the team's weaknesses. They are a better team now than they were a month ago.

Just not better a team than the Spurs, Thunder, Bulls or Heat.

Sessions and Hill will give the Lakers a better chance at making it to the Western Conference finals. They just don't make them title contenders.