The Lakers are the focal point of next season to the casual basketball fan, and frankly, to this writer. "The Big Four" is an incredible experiment, replete with famous names and overlapping talents. Nobody knows quite how it will pan out, but seemingly everybody has a firm opinion on the topic.
Since this is a Laker venture, we trend towards predicting the positive. They have had much past success, which informs our guesswork at the future. Las Vegas has this team figured for a 59.5 over-under win total. Other statistical projections (via ESPN) have Los Angeles winning 54.8 games and 53 games, respectively. The wide gap between analytical model projections and what the betting public believes can be, in part, attributed to that glorious Laker history.
Those who feel excited about the big experiment have trouble focusing on what can go wrong. It is obvious that this team could mesh well, play relatively injury-free, and have an incredible season. But it should be equally obvious that much can go wrong here.
Injuries are more than a concern when we're discussing a squad that stars a 34-year-old shooting guard, 32-year-old power forward, and 38-year-old point guard. This is an old team, and there are advantages to that. Experience wins in the postseason. Age succeeds...right up until the point that it doesn't.
The late 2000's Detroit Pistons reached the point of falling off the age precipice. The post-2010 Celtics may have done the same. Eventually, injuries and skill erosion claim a team. Eventually, your team's stars are hosting NBA studio shows and pretending to laugh at Shaquille O'Neal's hideous jokes.
We don't quite know if the Lakers are there yet, but concern should be high. Steve Nash has been relatively ageless as far as point guards go, but his is still a position dominated by younger players.
Nash was good last year, but the effects of age became visible. He can get trapped by double-teams off the pick and roll more often than I've seen in the past. Given his back ailments, his status will be monitored by the more nervous of Laker fans.
Kobe Bryant also plays a position that younger guys tend to flourish in. The two-spot requires speed and shot creation. Bryant still has the second quality in bulk, but his speed dissipates little by little with each passing season. Kobe is coming off the worst shooting season (when free throws and threes are factored in) of his career. The all-time great has been nagged by his knee for much of his career. If the knee becomes especially obdurate, it could be trouble.
And then we have a younger player, but one coming off the only serious injury of his career. Dwight Howard is in his prime and looks strong enough to absorb any hurt. Back injuries (post surgery) can be quite troublesome, though.
Look, I'm not a doctor (looks down, still sees no stethoscope). I cannot tell you when Howard will be back or in what capacity. It's quite possible that he begins the season, and looks as athletic as favor. What I can tell is that few players rely more on their athleticism than Dwight. His defensive prowess is directly connected to his range. That range is connected to the aforementioned athleticism. Also, Dwight isn't exactly an offensive savant. Without the bouncy put-backs and lobs, an injury-compromised Howard would have trouble scoring points.
Of course, it could all go well. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti is fantastic at his job, and will do all he can to ensure the health of this team. It's an important task, given the roster, and given the roster's injury history.