The 2012-13 campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers is going to be a critical season for the veteran team. The Lakers are going into the season with a "win now" mentality, as some of the core members of the Lakers roster are aging and expect to bring home the NBA title sooner rather than later.
Not only are the Lakers aging, but they also have a handful of players only under contract for the short term. Kobe Bryant is approaching the final two seasons of his deal and has mentioned retiring when it expires. Dwight Howard is in the final year of his deal and will be looking for an extension following the season. Offseason acquisitions Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks were brought in for one-year deals as well.
Simply put, the current edition of the Lakers has a very small window to win and win now. For that to happen, a number of key steps must be executed throughout training camp and into the regular season.
With that said, let's examine and address the steps that will lead the Lakers to becoming the top team in the NBA in the following slides, in chronological order.
Chemistry is essential for any team looking to seriously contend for an NBA title. Talent alone can only take a team so far before familiarity, on and off the court, is needed to overcome moments of adversity.
The 2003-04 Lakers are a prime example of this, as the team was stacked with four future Hall of Famers but fell short to a less-talented but more in-sync Pistons squad.
Point guard Steve Nash and the Lakers must use training camp and the preseason to gel together as a team. All of the Lakers may not play together much in the preseason with Dwight Howard expected to be out, but L.A. can use the practices in the weeks leading up to the season to get an idea of how they fit in together.
Building true chemistry will take time—most likely a couple of months—but with so many veterans focused on the same goal and Nash running the show, the Lakers should be able to pull it together quickly.
By looking at the Lakes roster on paper, you can speculate what each player's role will be for 2012-13.
Nash is the starting PG responsible for getting everyone in proper position to score. Kobe is, well, Kobe. Metta World Peace is the lock-down defender, Pau Gasol the versatile offensive post player and Dwight Howard the defensive and offensive anchor in the middle.
Even with the roles so clearly established on the depth chart, those roles can differ once the games officially are underway. How much will Kobe need to score on a nightly basis? How many touches will Pau get with Dwight manning the paint opposite him? Where will MWP fit on the offensive end of the court?
Nash's masterful understanding of the pick-and-roll offense and his high basketball IQ will help the Lakers adjust to the Princeton-style offense L.A. will be installing this season. Also, Kobe Bryant says that he doesn't like always having the basketball so that should leave Nash to distribute the ball to the right player at the ideal time to score.
If this happens in the first month of the season, the Lakers will be exceptional on offense in a hurry, which spells trouble for the rest of the NBA. If egos and personal agendas can be put aside—and there's no reason to believe they won't—the Lakers will be tough to slow down offensively.
The Lakers will have little trouble scoring next season, with a two-time scoring champion, a five-time assist per game leader and former All-Stars at virtually every position. However, as Nash-led teams in Phoenix learned over the years, you can't win big in the NBA without a strong defense.
The Lakers will need to establish a defensive mentality from the jump to remain successful this season.
Nash has never been known as a great defender, but if he can at least bother opposing PGs, then he will be fine. Even at 34, Kobe is still a capable defender. World Peace is in great shape and a lock-down wing defender. Gasol is 7' with long arms and Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, so his defense won't be an issue.
All L.A. players will all need to take responsibility for attempting to stop their individual assignments in order for the team to be great. Yes, Dwight Howard is a great shot-blocker but in the NBA, players make adjustments. The Lakers can't slack off on defense and expect Dwight to cover up their lapses. That could result in Howard getting in foul trouble, thus weakening the Lakers lineup.
If every Laker buys into a tough defensive mindset, then they will well be on their way to dominating the NBA next season.
The Lakers are talented but let's face it: their stars are no spring chickens. Nash (38) and Bryant (34) are both entering their 17th seasons in the NBA after being drafted together in 1996. Gasol and World Peace are 32, the latter will be 33 in November. Sixth man Antawn Jamison is 36. This isn't exactly a young group of core players.
Luckily, the Lakers have a deep and talented bench that should be able to play enough minutes to keep the star players fresh for the playoffs. Steve Blake and Chris Duhon are both backups capable of running the show in Nash's times of rest. Jodie Meeks will spell Kobe and provide enough outside shooting to be a threat.
At the forward positions, Chris Douglas-Roberts and young forward, Devin Ebanks, provide depth at the wing behind MWP. Jordan Hill will be in a rotation with Jamison, Gasol and Howard to help keep the starters' minutes in check.
No Lakers starter should be required to play more than 34-35 minutes a game this season. If coach Mike Brown can keep the starters' minutes around this range, the Lakers will be fresh come playoff time and able to compete with the younger teams in the Western Conference without burning out from fatigue.
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers are the talk of the NBA offseason and for good reason.
On paper, the Lakers, from top to bottom, have the most talented roster in the league. They have three MVP awards, four Defensive Player of the Year awards and countless All-Star appearances and All-NBA honors. No other team boasts the combined resume of the Lakers.
The Lakers need to serve notice early to the rest of the league that they aren't just hype but the real deal. The only way to accomplish this is to play with intensity from the opening tip until the final whistle.
The Lakers have all the pieces in place to dominate their schedule and win 60-plus games, maybe even challenge for one of the best records in history. They will need to follow the steps in the previous slides to ensure that it happens and that they bring the O'Brien Trophy home to Staples Center in June 2013.