The Los Angeles Lakers are entering this season prepared to fight for their basketball lives in attempt to try and make it back to the playoffs.
While conventional wisdom suggests that the Lakers tank the season in order to garner a high draft pick, the franchise's championship pedigree and the presence of the "Black Mamba," Kobe Bryant, makes it impossible for them to lose with the same indifference a team like the Charlotte Bobcats can.
In order for the Lakers to be competitive, they have to address their weaknesses and take advantage of their strengths, despite losing their two best defenders. Staying competitive without Dwight Howard manning the interior and Metta World Peace protecting the perimeter won't be easy.
Despite the offense being a perceived problem last season, the Lakers actually ranked sixth in the league in points per game.
With a retooled roster that boasts more shooters and athletic wing players, it wouldn't be unexpected for Mike D'Antoni to have an easier time implementing his offensive system.
Players like Nick Young and Jordan Farmar will thrive with their ability to stretch the floor and run in transition.
If the Lakers can take advantage of their young shooters, they'll be able to ensure that there isn't much of an offensive drop-off from last season, despite losing Howard, World Peace, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison.
While they only ranked 12th in points in the paint per game last season, the Lakers may need to utilize an inside-out game when the pace slows down.
Capable interior scorers like Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol will give the Lakers options when the pace slows down. Without Howard to compete with, Gasol should be able to use his versatility and basketball IQ to create for himself and others in the half court.
Whether it's via the pick-and-roll or the post-up, Gasol needs to be the emphasis of the half-court offense in order for the Lakers to have any offensive success.
Of course, this emphasis on Gasol is a supplement to Kobe Bryant, who will always be the primary offensive option as long as he is a Laker.
On the defensive end, the Lakers are definitely going to take a hit. While they were in the top 10 in rebounding last season, they may have some trouble reproducing those numbers without Howard in the middle.
The problem here is that D'Antoni is not a defensive-minded coach. Without establishing a solid defensive philosophy, the best thing the Lakers can do is to focus on rebounding.
With their ability to close out possessions or generate second-chance opportunities mitigated, the Lakers will need help from every position.
Are the Lakers going to make the playoffs this season?
Kaman and Gasol are capable rebounders, but the Lakers are going to need players like Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill to focus on closing out defensive possessions as well.
Offensively, the Lakers have the potential to be more fluid and cohesive than they were last season.
In order for the Lakers to return to the playoffs, they'll have to defy the odds and shore up their defense without the best defensive center in the league.
*Stats courtesy of Team Rankings, unless noted otherwise.