With the acquisition of Steve Nash, the Los Angeles Lakers put themselves back into contention after a bitter end to the 2011-12 season.
Expectations are sky high for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and company for the 2012-13 season, and anything less than a championship will be a major disappointment.
Here, I will predict the problems, successes and the overall outcome of the Lakers' 2012-13 season.
Although the Lakers’ bench production was dreadful last season, I don’t expect this year’s supporting cast to be a dramatic upgrade.
While it seems the addition of Antawn Jamison will boost the Lakers’ offense, Jamison has proven to be inefficient.
Jamison may score a decent number of points off the bench, but it will take him numerous attempts to do so—as a result, he can become more of a liability than a key contributor.
Meanwhile, backup point guard Steve Blake is wildly inconsistent on the offensive end.
He may have a couple of games where he hits key three-point baskets, but those are overshadowed by his unproductive ones.
Jordan Hill and Josh McRoberts will be key on the defensive end, but neither possesses the offensive versatility to become scoring threats.
For a second year in a row, it will be difficult for the Lakers to find offense from their bench players, and it’s certainly possible that the team will rank in the bottom 10 in bench points per game.
This will only spell trouble for the Lakers’ old starting lineup.
Metta World Peace had another down year last season as he posted a PER of 11.03.
Nonetheless, in the month of April, World Peace improved tremendously—he averaged 14.1 PPG on 47.3 percent shooting.
I expect this kind of production, although not to the same extent, to carry over into this season.
Steve Nash is known for making players around him better, and he will find a way to make the best of World Peace’s skills on the offensive end.
Open baskets on offense may just be enough to motivate World Peace to remain threatening on the defensive end.
Kobe Bryant is known for dominating the ball on the offensive end.
Not only did a majority of Kobe Bryant’s offensive plays take place in isolation scenarios, but he also led the league in offensive usage rate at 35.66.
Now that Bryant has an elite point guard to play alongside him in Steve Nash, however, he shouldn’t feel the need to carry his team’s offense.
While that should be the case, I don’t expect Bryant to give up the ball to Nash right away.
Bryant has played with the ball in his hands for the majority of his career—it’s part of his player DNA.
In addition, as he showed last season, he is still capable of scoring at a high level.
These two factors will make it difficult for Bryant to break the habits he has developed over the length of his career.
Undoubtedly, Steve Nash will make a big difference for the Lakers this season.
Nonetheless, like any newly assembled team, it will take a while for the pieces to learn how to play well together.
Both players were so used to having the ball in their hands on offense that it took an entire season for the pair to figure out how to complement each other.
The same can happen for Bryant and Nash.
Like Wade and James, both have grown accustomed to taking charge of their team’s offense.
In order for the Lakers’ offense to run like a well-oiled machine, Kobe Bryant needs to allow Nash to work his magic. Like with Wade and James, this will take time and the team may struggle.
It may also take several games for big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to get on the same page as Nash, as neither of them has played with a true point guard before.
Mike Brown is not known for his ability to coach offense—in fact, he has been criticized by his own players for his traditional philosophy.
While the acquisition of Steve Nash should be the solution to the Lakers’ stagnant offense, there is a possibility that Brown will not utilize Nash’s strengths.
Brown’s offensive philosophy mirrors that of the former San Antonio Spurs’ twin towers offense—a major emphasis is placed on the team’s big men dominating in the post.
This system doesn’t mesh well with Nash’s abilities—Nash thrives on using pick and rolls and ball movement.
Recently, Brown stated that the main principles of the Lakers offense this season “won’t change much.”
If this turns out to be the case, the Lakers’ offense may have trouble succeeding, resulting in losses.
Expectations are high for the Lakers this season, and if they fail to win, Brown will be on the hot seat.
On the other hand, if Brown decides to implant a new offense that allows for ball movement, such as the Princeton offense, it will take time for the team to adjust to it.
Early season struggles can result in losses, catalyzing talks of removing Brown as head coach.
It’s certainly possible that it will happen for a seventh time this season.
Andrew Bynum was the West’s starting center last season, and there isn’t a center in the West that produces at the high level that he does.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are virtual locks to make the team, because they are fan-favorites that continue to play at an elite level.
Pau Gasol may be the odd man out—he didn’t make the cut last season.
However, with the help of Nash, Gasol’s production may increase, and he may end up replacing a player like LaMarcus Aldridge or Dirk Nowitzki, both players that made last year's team.
Just weeks ago, it was reported that the Lakers were engaged with discussions with the Magic and Cavaliers regarding a trade that would send Howard to the Lakers and Bynum to the Cavs.
While those talks came to an end, there will be a time when the Magic will be pushed to a breaking point.
Rob Hennigan and the Magic front office will decide to take the best deal available and agree to send Howard to the Lakers.
Although Andrew Bynum has quickly become one of the best centers in the NBA, it will be difficult for the Lakers to pass up on one of the most athletically gifted, intimidating defensive forces in the NBA.
Although offensive struggles may hurt the Lakers early in the regular season, I expect the team to be among the league leaders in points per game.
The Lakers were in the top 15 in scoring last season, even without a productive bench and a playmaking point guard.
This season, nonetheless, the Lakers have a slightly improved bench and a point guard who creates easy shots for others—most of Nash’s assists came within 10 feet of the basket last season.
The Lakers could very easily be in the top five in scoring, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they led the league in points per game.
Even though the Lakers are a much-improved team from last season, they currently lack one thing that the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs possess: chemistry.
After making the NBA Finals last season, the Thunder’s team unity should be at an all-time high.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will mesh together perfectly after playing together for more than a decade.
Certainly, the two teams’ ability to play together at a high level will translate into wins in the regular season.
The Lakers have arguably the best starting lineup in the Western Conference, but because they lack experience playing together as a single unit, it’s possible that the team will lose games against top-tier teams in addition to close games against inferior opponents.
As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new-look Lakers finish third in the Western Conference standings, a bit worse than what they are expected of achieving.
Without a doubt, the Lakers have made significant improvements over last season.
However, without a reliable bench, the team will have to rely heavily on its starters to produce night in and night out.
Big minutes and old age is not a good combination for Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
With huge minutes already logged in from the regular season, the Lakers’ starting lineup can easily break down due to fatigue in the playoffs when games get more intense.
Consequently, the Lakers can lose in the second round to teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder can use their youth and speed and the Spurs can use their versatility to outdo the Lakers, ending the team's chances at reaching ultimate glory.