The Los Angeles Lakers lost some luster after winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, faltering twice in the past two years in the Conference Semifinals, both times against teams that would eventually go on to win the West.
That should all change in 2012-13, as the Lakers have retooled and are looking like the favorites to not only win the conference, but the NBA Finals as well.
Kobe Bryant is still the heart and soul of this team, but he’s got a handful of new teammates, and this is easily the most loaded squad L.A. has had since Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and company were threepeating from 2000 to 2002.
With such a star-studded roster, there is pressure—from fans and the organization—on the Lakers players to produce magnificent results out on the hardwood.
Will they be able to live up to these lofty expectations?
We’ll have to wait until the season tips off on Oct. 30, but until then, let's take a look at whom the Lakers acquired this summer, whom they had to let go, the projected lineup and depth chart, some strengths and weaknesses of the roster, a prediction on how L.A. will finish the season and much more.
Steve Nash (Trade with Phoenix Suns)
Chris Duhon (Trade with Orlando Magic)
Jodie Meeks (Free Agency)
Antawn Jamison (Free Agency)
No GM worked harder in the offseason than the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak.
This guy somehow managed to score two of the three best available players of the summer (with Deron Williams being the third) while having no cap room to work with and turned a decent roster into the league’s best.
It’s quite an accomplishment, especially since they were able to nab Nash—a Hall of Fame PG still on top of his game—for nothing but draft picks. All the Lakers truly had to give up for Howard was Andrew Bynum, a guy who was always an injury risk and is only two years younger than DH12—a player that has already won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and is undoubtedly the best center in the NBA.
Kupchak made some unheralded moves to improve his roster’s depth as well, including a shrewd signing of Antawn Jamison for the veteran’s minimum. Jamison should be the first player off the bench for L.A. and can back up either Pau Gasol or Metta World Peace, depending on the team’s matchups and desires.
Chris Duhon, a product of the Howard blockbuster trade, should provide some depth at the PG position—alongside of Steve Blake—as the 38-year-old Nash should have his minutes limited, especially during the regular season. Jodie Meeks is another quality depth player that signed this summer on the cheap, and he should immediately provide serviceable time behind the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.
When you combine all of those moves—both the big and small—it results in one of the best offseasons from any NBA team in the history of the league. As we’ve seen before from franchises like the Boston Celtics back in 2008 and the Miami Heat last year, scoring major star power via free agency and trades can pay dividends.
Andrew Bynum (Trade with Philadelphia 76ers)
When the Lakers made all of those moves to acquire Howard and Nash, the only player of note they lost was Bynum. He was traded to Philly as part of the four-team mega-deal, and the roster has been significantly upgraded due to Howard’s presence.
Most of the Lakers' “key” losses lie in draft picks, as they traded two first-rounders in 2013, a first-rounder in 2015 and a first-rounder in 2017, along with three second-round picks to various parties as part of the multiple moves that Kupchak made to win in the immediate future.
L.A. has mortgaged the future and wants to win right now. Kupchak must believe that a 2012-13 starting lineup comprised of Bryant, Nash, Gasol, World Peace and Howard is worth much, much more than future picks that will likely fall outside of the lottery.
It’s hard to argue with that logic, especially with the fickle L.A. fans demanding results from their team each and every year, with rebuilding out of the question.
While Bynum was a solid player and developed nicely over time with the organization, it was simply time for him to go when Howard became available. You cannot fault Kupchak for pulling the trigger on that deal and giving up all the draft picks for a legit shot to raise a banner in June 2013.
From top to bottom, the Lakers starting five is the best in the NBA. Nash is an elite PG who will be dishing dimes to Bryant at the 2, Gasol at the PF spot and Howard in the middle at C.
This team can also defend with the best, with World Peace, Bryant, Gasol and Howard making up for any deficiencies that Nash has at his advanced age.
The reserves aren’t too shabby either, with Antawn Jamison still a serviceable forward that can back up Gasol and Howard, Meeks giving Kobe a blow and Jordan Hill a more-than-capable option when Howard hits the pine. When Nash isn’t on the floor, it’s likely that Blake and Duhon split the remaining minutes at PG.
Earl Clark, Devin Ebanks, Darius Johnson-Odom and the rest of the roster will see limited time, but all are capable of playing short stretches.
This is certainly a deep and sturdy squad that should have no problem dominating the regular season with massaged minutes in order to stay fit and healthy. When they turn it on and start cranking up the starters' time on the floor come the postseason, watch out.
Metta World Peace
The Lakers' biggest strength is their ability to suffer an off night from any of their key players and still be able to win the game.
Before this summer, if Kobe wasn’t feeling it, L.A. was almost always bound to lose. Now that Howard and Nash are here, there is a good chance that the team can still pull out a victory when the Black Mamba can’t get it going.
That will help in every single game they play this year, including the postseason.
Another key strength that we will shine through with this squad in each contest is their veteran experience.
Between Bryant, Nash, Gasol, MWP and Jamison, there have been countless regular season contests, tons of postseason minutes, numerous playoff victories and even a couple of championship rings.
This is a group that knows how to win in the NBA and will be able to find a way against any opponent they face in 2012-13. That might just be the biggest strength of the new-look Lakers.
It’s honestly hard to find a weak point in the current Lakers roster, but if we are going to be picky, it is the small forward position.
Metta World Peace has seemingly started to decline now that he is in his early 30s. In 2011-12, he started just 45 of the 64 regular season contests he was active in and averaged a career low 7.7 points and just 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from deep.
He was a liability at times, especially when gunning for his numbers like he was still starring on the Indiana Pacers. However, he still brings defensive prowess and gives this team a toughness factor it would lack without his presence.
Ebanks, the third-year man out of West Virginia, isn’t much of a reserve, as he contributed a paltry 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in about 16.5 minutes per night off the bench last year. He’s going to have to step up if he’s going to be a consistent sub for the unreliable MWP.
Honestly, beyond the SF position, it is hard to find flaws with the Lakers on paper. While it may be hard for so many superstars to mesh, it has worked in the past and seems to be a winning formula in the modern NBA.
One major story to follow leading up to and in the early portions of the season is Howard’s recovery from the back surgery he underwent back in April. The big man is targeting the season opener—Oct. 30 against the Dallas Mavericks—as his return date, but some are worried he might be rushing back and risking poor play or—even worse—suffering a setback.
Since DH12 likely won’t be around for L.A.’s preseason contests, he’s going to have to learn to mesh with his new teammates on the fly. He’s not going to get any meaningless games to work on that pick-and-roll or protecting the paint with a solid PF around, so there may be some early struggles. Let’s just hope he doesn’t re-injure himself in the process.
Another intriguing aspect to keep an eye on is how the Lakers offense looks now that Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff are now part of coach Mike Brown’s star-studded assistant cast. Jordan is renowned for his knowledge of the Princeton-style offense, and incorporating that into the L.A. playbook will make the offensive attack infinitely more interesting than it was last year under Brown, and possibly years past with Phil Jackson’s triangle.
There are a few positional battles of note as well, including Duhon, Darius Morris and Blake duking it out to form a pecking order behind Nash, and rookie swingman Darius Johnson-Odom trying to impress enough to make the active roster.
Obviously, all eyes are going to be on how the new stars fit in with the old at the Staples Center, and any stumbles will be analyzed and criticized relentlessly in the press, so the Lakers had best hope they find some early success.
The best-case scenario—and only acceptable one for most Lakers fans—is winning a 17th NBA championship.
That all starts with the team surging out of the gates and dominating the regular season—much like the Celtics did after acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007—and earning the No. 1 seed.
With that out of the way, it should be able to avoid the Oklahoma City Thunder—which possesses the only roster that can match up with the Lake Show in the West—until the Western Conference Finals. It should be a blood bath once they get there, with last year’s conference champs trying to fend off a hungry squad that knows its window to raise a banner is short.
Assuming the Lakers win—likely in the seventh game of the series—they’ll have the Heat waiting for them in the championship. Fortunately, this team is built to destroy Miami, as Howard is a matchup nightmare and Nash has no equal. They have the defensive stoppers to contain Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and should be able to win in five or six games.
While it’s still a long ways away, this Lakers organization certainly seems destined to win it all in 2012-13.
While there appears to be nothing but sunshine and rainbows ahead for the Lakers, there is a chance that dark clouds—in the form of injuries and egos—roll in and spoil everyone’s fun.
Should Howard’s back not be as healthy as his camp is letting on, and he’s forced to miss more time than expected or further damages that critical area, the Lakers are going to struggle. Hill simply isn’t a proven starter and will have a difficult time if he has to play 35 minutes per night filling in for Superman.
Nash is another player to watch regarding health concerns. He’s no longer the spry young man he once was, and injuries—especially to his delicate back—are an extremely real possibility. While L.A. has ample backup at the position, it does not want to get involved in a postseason war without their HOF PG.
Kobe is also a wild card here, as he has a history of being extremely hard on his teammates when things aren’t going well. If Nash and, more specifically, Howard don’t react well to this, things could turn sour quickly.
However, it’s hard to picture a veteran roster with a single focus—winning a title—having anything more than minor tussles, and the egos should be checked at the door. The only issue that can derail the Lakers' dreams are injuries in the postseason.
66-16, first place in Pacific Division, first seed in Western Conference
This Lakers team is going to be unstoppable in the upcoming season when you factor in all of the components added in the offseason.
Howard gives the franchise a legitimate center that can score on the pick-and-roll better than anyone in the game and play world-class defense against any opposing big in the league.
Nash will dish out assists at a high rate while stretching the floor and icing games with his incredible free-throw shooting.
Couple those skills with Gasol’s low-post presence and Bryant’s all-around elite abilities, and you have a recipe for the best record in the regular season.
Come postseason time, if the Lakers are healthy, no one is going to stop them, not even the Miami Heat. The size of the Lakers and their ability to lock down swingmen make this team impossible to defeat in a seven-game series.
Don’t be surprised whatsoever when L.A. is once again hosting a championship parade in the summer of 2013.