The Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff hopes will be contingent primarily on one thing in 2014: health.
However, that same trio played in just 177 out of a possible 246 combined games in 2013. While Bryant missed only four contests, Gasol (33 games) and Nash (32 games) missed significant stretches with nagging injuries.
Los Angeles will be heading into training camp with a revamped, deeper roster—a credit to GM Mitch Kupchak—after losing Dwight Howard to free agency. New acquisitions like Nick Young, Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar will be given the chance to come in right away and make an immediate impact.
Although the new players will be an important part of the journey, the team will go as far as Bryant, Gasol and Nash can take it.
The Mamba is currently rehabbing from a torn Achilles, but hopes to be back for opening night. Bryant says that he's “shattered” the timetable for Achilles injuries, via ABS-CBN News, and is 100 percent confident about returning as the same player.
Without a healthy Bryant, though, the Lakers will be a lottery team. If that Achilles proves to be problematic once the season gets underway, forget all about the playoffs and a winning record.
Outside of Bryant, the Lakers have injury concerns with Gasol and Nash, as well.
Gasol missed time as a result of an internal tear at the bottom of his foot in 2013, and also had a procedure in May to address tendonosis in both of his knees, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA.
Nash, who will be turning 40 years old later this year, broke his leg and tore his hamstring in an injury-stricken campaign last season. Despite the fact that he should be coming into training camp with pristine health, it's hard to believe that he’ll be able to maintain it over the course of a rigorous NBA season.
Keeping their best players on the floor will be the biggest obstacle the Lakers will face next season, but that’s not the only hurdle L.A. must clear.
Depth is the team's other main problem.
If Nash is in and out of the lineup, L.A. will be relying heavily on Famar and Steve Blake as the primary ball-handlers. Blake and Farmar have combined for 20 starts in seven seasons with the Lakers.
Both are solid options off the bench, but neither are really cut out to be the team’s starting point guard.
Even with Bryant’s health on shaky ground, the team only has one other shooting guard: Jodie Meeks. Meeks is a nice player who can go off on occasional scoring outbursts, but adding another SG—or at least a scorer like Lamar Odom—would bolster L.A. heading into 2014.
In addition to backcourt depth, Gasol is the only proven power forward on the current roster.
Ryan Kelly and Elias Harris both have no professional experience and, although they have some potential, can’t be counted on for consistent production.
Mike D’Antoni would be wise to work Gasol, Kaman, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre into a rotation that will keep two of them on the floor at the same time. If Kelly or Harris emerges as a reliable player off the bench, then the coach can adjust.
But until then, D’Antoni should keep the lineup as big as possible by instituting a four-man rotation of proven NBA bigs. Gasol needs to be the offensive focal point on the block and in the pick-and-roll, a concept that D'Antoni struggled to grasp a season ago.
Because of Los Angeles’s issues in the backcourt and at power forward, the team’s core trio of stars will have to total a ton of minutes and will be more vulnerable to injury.
But with their roster as it currently stands, the Lakers can overcome a lack of depth as long as injuries don’t ravage the team like they did in 2013.
In the end, Bryant, Gasol and Nash have the capability to lead this team to the playoffs. They might even shock the league and surge through a couple of rounds.
If they can stay on the floor, that is.