This has been a busy summer for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers’ 2013 campaign was honestly one of the weirdest seasons that I’ve ever seen in my entire life of watching sports. Mike D’Antoni became the new coach following Mike Brown's firing after five games, and the team barely made the playoffs despite having a roster oozing with future Hall of Famers.
Here’s something ever weirder than that: The Lakers will be better in 2014 than they were in 2013.
I realize that Dwight Howard is gone, but several of the gaping holes that caused the team’s downfall have been filled.
Johnson and Young will provide legitimate three-point threats, Farmar will give the team another reliable ball-handler, Kaman and Jordan Hill will clog the paint and not wine about touches, and there won’t be as much tension in the locker room.
D’Antoni will have a full training camp and preseason to work with his players, and he actually has a team that can thrive in his run-and-gun, high-powered offense. If he can’t get it together this season, he won’t be back in 2015—especially when the Lakers plan on pursuing big-time free agents like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
I’m not saying that the Lakers are serious title contenders, but they’re going to be better than they were last season.
All depth chart predictions in the following slides were drawn from Rotoworld.
Rotoworld Point Guard Depth Chart
1. Steve Nash
2. Steve Blake
3. Jordan Farmar
Steve Nash is an all-time great point guard, but he’s not what he used to be. Back in his Phoenix Suns days, Nash used to run-and-gun with the best players in the league, winning two consecutive MVP awards.
Even at 39 years old, Nash’s role on the Lakers is still one of great importance. His main jobs on the team next season will be to get Kobe Bryant open shots and run an efficient pick-and-roll with Pau Gasol. He should realistically aim to put up similar numbers to last season—12.7 points and 6.7 assists per game.
Although Farmar was a quality player (and fan favorite) in his heyday with the Lakers, Blake will begin 2014 as Nash’s primary reserve. But as the season unfolds, Farmar—who left millions on the table overseas in order to return for a second run in L.A.—will play himself into a greater role on the team, perhaps even surpassing Blake in the depth chart.
Blake is a consistent three-point shooter—he shot close to 43 percent from downtown last season—but he isn’t able get past opposing guards in isolation or when he’s coming off of screens.
However, slashing is Farmar’s game. He’s the perfect up-and-down energy guy for D’Antoni to bring off the bench because he has such a different skill set than Nash.
Farmar is younger and more athletic than Blake, and for that reason he's going to climb his way up the depth chart as the season progresses.
Rotoworld Shooting Guard Depth Chart
1. Kobe Bryant
2. Jodie Meeks
Kobe Bryant is the Lakers.
He will be the featured piece of the offense whenever he is healthy enough to return from his torn Achilles, and he’s going to be the best shooting guard in the league, too.
The Mamba carried L.A. for basically the entire 2013 season—27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and six assists—and the only thing that could stop him was the freak injury that occurred with two games left before the playoffs.
Since then, he’s “shattered” the timetable for recovery (his words, used on recent trip to China, via ABS-CBNNews.com) and has his sights set on playing opening night. Jim Buss and the front office have made it clear, however, that they want Bryant to handle this situation with great caution and not rush back in order to avoid re-injury.
But Kobe is Kobe—if he says he’s going to be back, he’ll be back.
When Bryant checks out of the game, expect to see Jodie Meeks trotting in. Los Angeles picked up its option on the 25-year-old Kentucky native this offseason and will bring him back for about $1.5 million next year.
Meeks can score in bunches, but he has yet to show the consistency needed to be a solid guard in the NBA. Last season, his first with the Lakers, Meeks put up 7.9 points on about 38 percent from the field and played close to 21 minutes per game.
Bryant and Meeks aren’t going to be on the floor a whole lot together. After all, there’s only one ball—and it belongs to Kobe.
Rotoworld Small Forward Depth Chart
1. Nick Young
2. Wesley Johnson
Mitch Kupchak went out and snagged not one, but two new forwards through free agency this summer.
Nick Young (who has one of the coolest nicknames in league with “Swagy P”) and Wesley Johnson are both upgrades over Metta World Peace. Although MWP is an elite defender, his athleticism has faded and so has his offensive prowess.
Young—who really, really loves to shoot—must transform himself into a more complete player next season in order to maintain a spot in the Lakers' starting lineup. His three-point shooting will really add some flavor to the team’s inside-out attack, and he might even teach Pau Gasol a thing or two about swag.
Johnson—who described next season as "one of the most important seasons of my life," via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times—is going to be a huge part of the Lakers in 2014. He’s freakishly athletic, focused and willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win. Johnson will also look to fill the defensive void left by World Peace.
In addition to Young and Johnson, the Lakers recently agreed to a partially guaranteed deal with Marcus Landry, as per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. Although he played well in the summer league, Landry probably won't see serious minutes as a Laker this season.
However, Landry can knock down outside shots—and he's playing for a coach who needs as many assassins on the floor as possible.
Rotoworld Power Forward Depth Chart
1. Pau Gasol
2. Ryan Kelly
3. Elias Harris
He's the only power forward the Lakers can bank on getting production from next season. Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris are both unproven rookies who are either going to really boom or bust mightily.
Gasol is an established veteran and two-time champion, and he will be the centerpiece of next season’s team along with the Black Mamba. He’ll have a significantly greater role in 2014 than he did in 2013 and will be given tons of touches in the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash.
Kelly could be a diamond in the rough—he’s big and can hit jumpers, but that’s about it. He’s not going to match up athletically with most, if any, of the power forwards that he’ll be covering, but he has tons of heart and has a unique skill set that could pose matchup problems offensively.
Harris is a scrapper. He scratched and clawed his way into training camp via a gutty performance in the summer league but probably won’t be much of a factor next season. Despite his 6’7” frame, Harris is not athletic enough to square off against the league’s premier power forwards, and he doesn’t have the skills of a wing player.
Kelly deserves a shot, but L.A. is better off playing mixing Gasol, Kaman and Hill into a three-man rotation than relying on unproven rookies.
Rotoworld Center Depth Chart
1. Chris Kaman
2. Jordan Hill
3. Robert Sacre
When it comes to the center position, the Lakers are taking a steep step down from last season. More of a leap, actually.
The team lost Dwight Howard, easily the best center in the league, to free agency but promptly went out and signed Chris Kaman, a serviceable big man who has career averages of 11.8 points and eight boards.
Kaman—also known as the Caveman—will not have too many highlight dunks or physically impressive plays, but he won’t be the diva that Howard was last season, either.
In addition, Kaman won’t demand a lot of touches but will connect on most of his shot attempts—he hit over 50 percent from the field last season.
To put it simply, Kaman isn't as good as Howard but might be a better fit in L.A. than D12.
After the Caveman, Jordan Hill is in line for some minutes at the 5-spot. Hill has struggled off the court throughout his career, but when on the floor, he’s been efficient.
Over the course of his four years in the league, Hill has averaged 13.5 points and 10.9 rebounds (per 36 minutes) while connecting on 49 percent of his field-goal attempts. He totaled just 29 games in 2013 as he dealt with a hip injury throughout most of the season, but Hill should see some serious minutes in 2014.
Robert Sacre is still in the mix, too.
Sacre is no franchise player, but he can come in and bang in the paint. Although he averaged just under two points last season, his 7’0” frame can get him some minutes with the Lakers next season.
As of right now, there are 14 players on the roster. The final spot should be filled by Lamar Odom if both sides can come to terms with the idea of a return.
A two-time champion, Odom thrived on the Lakers for seven seasons, but his career has taken a nosedive since he left. Despite his recent struggles, coming back to L.A. makes sense for both the Lakers and the veteran forward.
Odom has always had the ability to make plays and would bring a lot to the team—drives off the dribble, three-point shooting and the ability to play multiple spots on the floor. Plus, L.A. could really use another scorer in the second unit to play alongside Wesley Johnson.
The former Sixth Man of the Year (2011), who put up about 15 points per game during his tenure as a Laker, would be a low-risk signing.
Making a comeback to L.A. could be just what Odom needs to get back on top of his game. And if he can regain his former-Laker form, Los Angeles will be in even better shape heading into next season.