The Los Angeles Lakers come into this season with the most hype of any team in the NBA. If had a meter to measure all the hype surrounding this team, it would need to go all the way up to 11—Spinal Tap style.
This team is definitely a title contender, but that doesn't mean that they are a perfect mix of characters, players and personalities, there are quite a few things left to be determined about this rashly thrown together group of extremely talented basketball players.
Questions surround the roles of each player in the offense, Dwight Howard's health, the increasing age of two of their four superstars, the merit of their bench, whether or not this team can play up to its expected potential, how quickly they can come together and play at a high level and even whether or not Howard is going to stay with the team past this season (that one seems all but a done deal at this point, however).
With that in mind, it's time to really take a look at what the biggest concern is surrounding each player. Whether it be something that will affect their play or just something that could and should be on a player's mind as the season rolls along. A successful season most likely means nothing but a title, but there's a lot to be done before that actually comes to fruition.
Nobody believes in Steve Nash, even as a 38-year-old point guard, more than I do. He's so incredibly healthy at this point that it seems like he could play at his current level until he's 45.
Even still, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Nash has been in the league for 16 seasons. If his career were a child, it would be in the backseat of a used Accord fumbling to take a bra off some teenage girl right about now.
What does that mean in the grand scheme? Nothing really, except for the fact that history shows us that guards don't exactly stick around well into their 40s. In fact, with the exception of Nat Hickey, Bob Cousy, John Stockton, John Long and Michael Jordan, all of the other NBA players who played in their 40s were big men that were able to hang around simply because they were tall (of course, Kareem stuck around because of that hook shot).
I've got faith in Nash's workout program, in his ability to play the game for 34 minutes every other day and to do so with relative efficiency. The biggest thing that concerns me, however, is whether or not he can stay healthy. An aged body is easier to come up lame, especially after logging 40,000 minutes on it's knees.
For the most part, Kobe Bryant's only concern is whether or not he can blend in well with the new players surrounding him. However, this isn't Kobe circa 2005, this is a 34-year-old who knows what it takes to win a title.
While he's not going to be turning the team over to anyone else, he's going to be willing to take fewer shots once he realizes how good his new teammates are, and how good they make everyone else.
Instead, the biggest thing on Kobe's mind this season will undoubtedly be what story he leaves behind him once he retires.
Retirement is still another contract away for Kobe, but it's something that continues to loom and is rapidly approaching compared to how long he's been in the league. Whether or not he makes a run at the all-time scoring number is a while away, but we can learn whether or not he grabs as many titles as Michael Jordan as soon as this season.
Kobe has spent his career being compared to people that came before him, whether it be former Lakers and whether or not he's better or worse than them historically and, of course, Jordan himself. A sixth title would at least be his way of showing everyone that on a basic level he and Jordan are at least similar in some way.
A seventh, however? Well, maybe he could talk to Robert Horry about that.
Metta World Peace is basically left in the starting lineup for the Lakers at this point because he plays great defense, or at least he once did. He's still a very good defender, but I wouldn't put him as one of the top five defensive small forwards as he once was.
Age seems to be slowing him down a bit, although World Peace seems to be the epitome of hard work. You never see him come into camp out of shape and he always seems to work his way into the best shape of his life every offseason. Next season he's going to come back looking like an extra from 300.
The Lakers need exactly three things from Metta this season. First, they need him to hit some open threes. He's going to end up getting a handful of them as the season goes along, so if he can put a few down they'd probably be keen to keep him in the starting lineup.
Second, he's got to keep from doing anything too crazy. A little bit of crazy is terrific, it creates a story and gives us something to laugh at, but too much crazy leads to fines and suspensions.
Finally, he's got to play great defense. They've got Dwight Howard to be the lockdown post defender, but they need him to be the fierce perimeter defender he's always been.
There's a lot of excitement surrounding the Lakers now that they have a team that exhibits one of the most skilled low-post players in the NBA as the team's fourth option.
Pau Gasol struggled last season, barely breaking 50 percent shooting from the field and falling below 80 percent from the free throw line after a stellar outing the previous season.
The popular opinion after the trade for Steve Nash was that Gasol would be the biggest beneficiary of the trade, evidenced by the way that trade rumors that were previously swirling around every day or two about Gasol potentially getting dealt.
Los Angeles put Gasol in the best possible position to succeed this season, but it's all going to come down to whether or not he's able to sit back and allow himself to be the fourth most important offensive option on the team. It might not seem like a huge concern for a guy like Gasol, but fewer shots and a struggling team could mean an upset Pau.
There is a lot for Dwight Howard to worry about moving forward. Whether or not his back is going to allow him to play to his previous level, how quickly he'll be in the lineup, rejuvenating his image nationwide, or learning to become the next big thing in Los Angeles. All that is going to be weighing on his psyche as he transitions into Los Angeles lifestyle.
However, the biggest thing coming into L.A. is how well Howard is going to be able to fill the shoes of those that came before him, and the one he's trying to replace.
Realistically, he's only coming in to replace Andrew Bynum, but that's not what he's got to do to make his first season successful. In order for Howard to have a successful inaugural season with the Lakers, there has to be some kind of sign that he's going to be able to be the next player in a long line of historic Lakers.
I guess that would mean that the biggest concern for Howard moving forward really doesn't have to do with how well he plays the game, how well he recovers from an injury or how well he adjusts to the L.A. lifestyle. His first season is going to be wrought with mental pressure, constant doubt and a difficult realization that he's supposed to be the guy who is next in line after Kobe Bryant.
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