The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers will be entering the new season with more expectations than any Lakers team since 2003-04. That season, the Lakers boasted a lineup featuring four future Hall of Famers (Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone) and were expected to easily win the championship but came up short against the Pistons in the NBA Finals.
This current edition of the Lakers may be even more talented with Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol as the NBA's new "Fantastic Four." Throw in Metta World Peace in great shape and Antawn Jamison and company off the bench, and you have a roster that the sky is the limit for.
Although the Lakers may have the best lineup on paper, fans should approach the season with realistic expectations. For example, expecting the Lakers to post a 96-0 record in the regular season and playoffs is more than a bit far-fetched, to say the least.
Here is a list of 10 realistic expectations for the Lakers for the 2012-13 season, progressing from the least bold to most bold.
This prediction is the easiest to make when it comes to the Lakers expectations this season. The Lakers made the playoffs each of the last two seasons with a much less-talented roster, although they suffered second round exits each of those seasons.
This current Lakers team has far more talent than their predecessors, most notably at the point guard position. Steve Nash is head and shoulders ahead of former Lakers starters Derek Fisher and Ramon Sessions. Going back even further, Nash qualifies as the Lakers best starting point guard since Magic Johnson.
If the Lakers can manage to stay healthy for at least two-thirds of the season, they have the talent on the roster to win enough games to make the playoffs in any capacity. A top-2 seed would be ideal but even in a worst-case scenario, there is no way the 2012-13 Lakers don't rank among the top-8 teams in the West.
Steve Nash is one of the best passers in the NBA. Him reaching double digits in assists has basically become routine, as Nash has averaged ten or more assists per game in seven of the last eight seasons, averaging 10.9 apg during that stretch.
Nash was able to rack up that many assists while playing with far less talent in Phoenix. Playing with the Lakers, Nash has a scoring option in virtually every position, making his job that much easier.
Even if Nash's minutes are reduced to around 30 per game, he should still be able to pile up assists at a high rate as the lead guard for the Lakers. His scoring may decline as he will shoot less, but Nash will challenge to set a new career high in assists per game, which was set in 2006-07, when he averaged 11.6 dimes a night.
Dwight Howard has established himself as the best defensive player in the NBA over the years. Howard had won the Defensive Player of the Year award for three consecutive seasons from 2008-2011 before his back injury caused him to miss time last season, opening the door for Tyson Chandler to take the honor.
Everyone is well aware of Howard's ability to block shots, but Howard is also the top defensive rebounder in the league. Howard has lead the NBA is total defensive boards for five straight years, including a league-high 585 last season.
Howard also reached a career high in defensive rebounding percentage with 33.1% grabbed in 2011-2012 per basketball-reference.com. Defensive rebounding in some ways may be more relevant than the blocked shot as it gives the player's team possession of the basketball and limits the opponent's scoring opportunities.
Howard still managed to finish second in the voting last season, despite missing 12 games.
A healthy and motivated Howard anchoring the middle of the Lakers defense should return the award to it's rightful owner after the 2012-13 season.
The Lakers typically have a couple All-Stars a year, thanks to the perennial high level of play from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol over the years. Gasol had a down season by his standards last season, but he was replaced by Andrew Bynum as the Lakers' second representative for 2011-12.
When you combine Bryant and Gasol with 5-time All-Star Dwight Howard and 8-time honoree Steve Nash, the stage is set for the Lakers send four players to the annual event. The high profile Lakers will also be a hot topic throughout the season, which will benefit them when it comes to voting for All-Star selections.
If the Lakers core stays healthy and performs up to their usual standards, there is little reason to doubt that the Lakers will have four players on the West's All-Star game roster in February 2013, joining the 2011 Boston Celtics and 2006 Pistons as the last teams to accomplish the feat.
Much has been made over Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage after he shot .430 from the field last season, his lowest percentage since the 1997-98, his second season in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant finished second on the NBA in scoring at 27.9 ppg last season but his efficiency suffered as he was forced to take a high number of difficult shots over the course of the season. Add to the equation that Bryant led the NBA in usage rate in his 16th season in the NBA, and the result was a drop in his shooting percentage.
Playing without having to be the Lakers primary ball-handler will benefit Bryant next season. Instead of having to constantly initiate his own offense, Bryant can rely of Steve Nash to set him up for easier looks, thus increasing Bryant's efficiency as a shooter.
Kobe is a career .453 shooter from the field, and he has converted better than 45% of his shot attempts for six consecutive seasons prior to 2011-12. With Nash setting him up and all the options the Lakers have on offense, Bryant's shooting percentage should return back to his usual standards, maybe even challenge for a career-high this season.
Winning 60+ games is a sign of a great team in the NBA, with only a couple teams being able to accomplish this feat a season. Lakers head coach Mike Brown has accomplished this feat twice in his career to date, in 2008-09 (66 wins) and 2009-10 (61 wins), both with the Cavaliers.
Brown was able to coach the a far less talented Lakers squad to a 41-25 record through 66 games last season, which would equate to 51 wins over a full 82-game season. Actually, this current Lakers team is better on paper than Brown's 66-win Cavalier team from 08-09.
If they can remain healthy, the Lakers have the talent to eclipse the 60-win plateau in 2012-13. And it may be a long shot, but this Lakers team may even challenge the 1995-96 Bulls team that won 72 games for the best record in NBA history.
In his prime, Metta World Peace owned the reputation as the best perimeter defender in the NBA. His combination of strength, footwork and hand-eye coordination earned World Peace four All-Defensive team honors (2002-03, 2003-04, 2005-06, and 2008-09) and a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2003-04.
MWP came into camp overweight prior last season due to injuries limiting his off-season conditioning, resulting in the lowest defensive win share rate in his three years as a Laker (1.7 in 2011-2012 compared to 3.5 in 2009-10 and 3.2 in 2010-11).
Once MWP got into shape, he began to resemble the World Peace of old, which was encouraging enough for the Lakers to bring him back as the starter for 2012-13.
Now that World Peace is in shape in training camp he is motivated to re-establish himself as one of the top wing defenders in the league. A spot on one of the three All-Defensive teams would not be out of the question for MWP.
After suffering consecutive second round playoff exits, Lakers management knew changes needed to be made to the roster. Kobe Bryant is nearing the end of his brilliant career, and the talent around him needed to be upgraded for the Lakers to remain competitive in the NBA.
The necessary talent has been brought in and the Lakers are, on paper, again back among the elite teams in the league. But all the revisions will mean little if the Lakers aren't representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals come June.
No team in the West can match the Lakers roster top to bottom. If the Lakers can gel early in the season and maintain enough depth to keep the starters workload manageable, a return to the Finals is theirs for the taking.
This prediction is a bit bolder than others, but Dwight Howard will have a realistic opportunity to be the Most Valuable Player if the Lakers make it to the Finals.
Only a couple teams in the Eastern Conference have centers that can match up with Dwight Howard; the Sixers with Andrew Bynum and the Indiana Pacers with Roy Hibbert, to a lesser extent. The Celtics and Heat, both favored to come out of the East, are thin at the center position, leaving the door wide open for Howard to dominate a potential match up.
Howard has career averages of 19.9 ppg, 14.4 rpg and 2.8 bpg in 57 playoff games. In his lone NBA Finals appearance in 2009 against the Lakers, Howard put up respectable numbers of 20.3 ppg and 15.3 rpg.
In his last playoff appearance in 2010-11, Howard shined with 27 ppg and 15.5 rpg, although the Magic were ousted in the first round by the Hawks.
Howard clearly has the ability to dominate on the big stage when given the opportunity. The Lakers may still be Kobe Bryant's team, but even he understands the value a dominant big man offers in the playoffs from his past experiences with Shaq and later with Pau Gasol.
Reaching the Finals as the center for the storied Los Angeles Lakers may give Howard extra motivation to play at a high enough level to take home a Finals MVP, leading us to the final prediction...
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers have made all of the moves necessary to compile the most impressive roster in the NBA. The Lakers have size, perimeter and post scoring, an All-Star point guard and a defensive presence in the middle.
There may still be questions regarding Mike Brown's ability to coach a team to the promised land, but he has done well with lesser rosters in the past. Even still, the Lakers may have enough talent to overcome any coaching deficiencies that Brown may possess.
If Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and company can gel as a team and share the load and the spotlight, their isn't much the other 29 teams in the NBA can do to stop them from being victorious over whomever they face in the Finals come June.