Expectations are high for the 2012-2013 edition of the Los Angeles Lakers, and rightfully so. All the Lakers did in the offseason was assemble arguably the most complete starting lineup in the NBA, while also addressing some major issues that have been key to their second-round playoff eliminations each of the last two seasons.
But with great expectations also come a bit of cautious concern. Although the Lakers lineup looks impressive on paper, the players first still have to gel put it all together on the court on a consistent basis. Their success is far from guaranteed with so many new pieces in key positions.
The NBA season can play out a number of ways due to many circumstances, some that can be managed (play calling, substitution patterns, chemistry) and others that are uncontrollable (injuries being the most common obstacle).
With these circumstances in mind, let's examine both the best and worst case scenarios for the 2012-2013 Lakers season, starting with the least and progressing to the most significant scenarios.
The Lakers are clearly going all-in to win a championship next season. Anything less than a title will be viewed as a disappointment, and for good reason.
Let's say the Lakers have a solid regular season and win somewhere around 55-65 games and land a top-3 seed in the West. The Lakers will need to put up a grand performance in next season's playoffs to erase the taste of the ugly eliminations they suffered in 2011 and 2012.
But, if the Lakers somehow manage to suffer another early playoff exit in 2012-2013, fans will begin to doubt management's direction and will be calling for head coach Mike Brown's job more loudly than ever.
Making the playoffs would be considered a great accomplishment for most teams, but not in Los Angeles and not for the Lakers. This franchise has a history of greatness, and anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would be considered a disappointment.
Over the last two seasons, the Lakers have been ousted from the playoffs in the second round in a total of nine games. They were swept by the Mavericks in 2011, then lost to the Thunder in five games last season.
This after the Lakers appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals from 2008-2010, winning two titles in the process.
Even though some fans welcomed a changing on the guard representing the Western Conference in the Finals, there's no way the Lakers front office would sit dormant and not upgrade the roster quickly. Changes were necessary to return one of the NBA's most recognizable franchises back among the league's elite.
Of course, an NBA title would be ideal, but after suffering two embarrassing second-round exits, a return to the Finals will be a great improvement.
Many fans and analysts alike questioned the hiring of Mike Brown as the Lakers head coach after Phil Jackson exited once his contract was up.
Brown was coming off a season out of the NBA after the Cavs fired him in 2010, shortly after the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the Celtics, despite having the NBA's best record.
To his credit, Mike Brown is an excellent defensive coach. Where Brown has struggled is with offensive adjustments, rotations and late-game management. As mentioned in the opening slide, the Lakers have a number of new pieces in key positions, specifically center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash.
Brown will need to find a way to manage the aging Lakers roster well enough to both keep their veterans fresh late in the season as well as put them in the proper sets to maximize their formidable offensive talent.
The Lakers have too much money invested in their star players over the next couple seasons for them not to work well together. If the Lakers don't gel next season, Mike Brown would most likely be gone before any of the Lakers star players.
In the previous slide, I mentioned that Mike Brown is a great defensive coach. His Cavaliers teams never ranked lower than 10th in the NBA is opponent's ppg and even led the NBA in defense in 2008-2009.
Now that the Lakers have the NBA's best defensive center on their roster to go along with 7-footer Pau Gasol, a better conditioned Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant, Brown should be able to devise a number of defensive schemes and rotations that will improve the Lakers 15th-ranked defense from 2011-2012.
Offensively, Steve Nash is virtually a head coach on the floor with his ability to set up teammates for open looks all over the court. The Lakers have also brought in Eddie Jordan to help install a new Princeton-style offense that utilizes cuts, pick-and-rolls and off-the-ball screens to create easy scoring opportunities.
The Lakers also added shooter Jodie Meeks and versatile veteran Antawn Jamison to offer some firepower off the bench. With all of these additions and the proper coaching in place, the Lakers definitely have the potential to finish among the top five in the NBA is both offense and defense.
Although Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers brought a lot of excitement to fans, the fact that Howard is coming off of back surgery in April cannot be ignored. Back injuries are serious business and as unpredictable as any injury in sports.
There are doubts that Howard will be healthy enough to start the season, leaving the Lakers short-handed in their front court and delaying time for the roster to fully gel together. Even once Howard returns, it remains to be seen if his surgically repaired back doesn't suffer a setback.
Besides Howard, there are other Lakers whose injury history is cause for concern. Kobe Bryant has dealt with knee injuries in the past and (although he plays through most of them) Bryant suffers nagging ailments almost every season.
Steve Nash also has a back condition that requires him to lay on his back when he is not in the game to keep his back muscles from tightening up.
Combine these injury concerns to the Lakers' age, keeping the Lakers healthy is more of a concern than most initially realize. The Lakers do have a top training staff, so hopefully they are able to keep the players on the floor together as much as possible.
The 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers were not built to just compete. They were assembled to win an NBA championship immediately. In a perfect Lakers world, they would win 70+ games, breeze their way through the Western Conference playoffs and win the Finals 4-1 over whoever makes it out of the East.
That would be ideal, but let's be realistic. Kobe Bryant will be entering his 17th season and is nearing the end of his career. Bryant has a couple of highly productive seasons left, and on paper, the Lakers appear to have the components necessary to return to the top of the NBA.
But it won't be easy.
The Lakers brokered their future draft picks for a 38-year old Steve Nash and traded a rising star in Andrew Bynum for a recovering Dwight Howard. The Lakers need to win now to validate the moves the front office has made and maintain the trust of one of the most demanding fan bases in professional sports.
Winning a title this season will be no cakewalk. The Eastern Conference is loaded with top teams, including the defending champs Miami Heat, the revamped Boston Celtics and up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers. Not to mention the Lakers competition in the West: the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Nuggets, just to name a few.
The absolute best case scenario for the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers is a championship. And with their retooled roster, expectations for the franchise's 18th NBA title are as realistic as any team's in the league.