Reasons to Believe LA Lakers Will Surpass Expectations Next Season

Bryant Knox@@BryantKnoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

Reasons to Believe LA Lakers Will Surpass Expectations Next Season

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    Ever since the Los Angeles Lakers’ season came crashing to an end, the consensus has been that 2013-14 will be just as disastrous. Kobe Bryant is hurt, Dwight Howard is gone and Mike D’Antoni’s system has yet to live up to the hype.

    But while people love to hate the Lake Show, lowered expectations have given this squad a chance to prove every critic wrong.

    Defining success is tough at this point in the process. While players will surely aim for a championship, cynics will automatically count them out of the postseason.

    The truth is, we don’t know exactly what to expect, but we do know what must happen to turn things around. This group is talented, and if the stars align, making the playoffs will prove they’re still a team no one wants to see late in the year.

How Low Are Expectations?

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    When asking yourself how the Los Angeles Lakers can surpass expectations, you first have to ask yourself, what is expected of them?

    ESPN recently predicted that L.A. will finish 12th out West in 2013-14. The team has been pegged to go 36-46, which puts it ahead of only the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.

    Needless to say, those around Laker Nation didn’t take too kindly to these projections.

    Kobe Bryant made his thoughts clear on Twitter by saying, “12th I see..” Jordan Hill followed suit with, “Ranked 12th?!? In the west?!?”

    Expectations are at an all-time low, which is a 180-degree turn from the year prior.

    Entering 2012-13, it was championship or bust. That lofty goal was laughed at by the end of the year, which is why one of the most storied franchises is now looked at as a struggling underdog.

    Turning things around won’t be easy, but if there’s any team in the league looking for vengeance, it’s this one right here.

Kobe Bryant's Recovery

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    Let’s get one thing straight: Kobe Bryant’s injury is catastrophic for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Say what you want about his absence enhancing the growth of others; this team goes nowhere with the superstar in street clothes.

    But while Bryant’s health is clearly a concern entering the year, recent headlines have made it clear that the near-35-year-old is beyond driven to return as soon as possible.

    Bryant’s timetable for a comeback has been “shattered,” according to NBA.com’s Jonathan Hartzell. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin also reported in June that the veteran hoped to start his season at the same time as everyone else—opening night.

    It would be smart for Bryant and the Lakers to remain cautious, as rushing back too soon could be disastrous. That said, Bryant isn’t oblivious to the grind of the NBA, and the hope is that he knows his body and trusts his doctors enough to make the right choice.

    Bryant will return sooner than most anticipated when his diagnosis was announced, and when that happens, the team will ready to make a push toward the playoffs.

Fewer Injuries

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    Speaking of health concerns, let’s take the time to realize one thing: There’s no way the Los Angeles Lakers suffer the same kind of injury-filled season they did in 2012-13.

    It just can’t happen.

    At least that’s what the most optimistic fans must convince themselves entering 2013-14. The past year was beyond brutal, which was the No. 1 reason things never clicked.

    Although Kobe Bryant played a solid 78 games, we all know how his season abruptly ended. Dwight Howard played 76 games, but he just wasn’t the same guy we’re used to seeing—especially early, when establishing chemistry was so important.

    Pau Gasol and Steve Nash were supposed to create a mean pick-and-pop combo, but the two of them played 49 and 50 games, respectively.

    Only six players saw minutes in more than 50 games, and if that theme turns around, we’re going to see a more unified group hit the floor once the playoffs arrive.

Improved Chemistry

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    It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers failed to click in 2012-13. The All-Stars never jelled the way fans hoped they would, and as a result, the playoffs were in question most of the season.

    Part of establishing chemistry comes with health, and as we’ve already discussed, karma will (hopefully) work in their favor. But even with age and injuries lingering, a whole year together should do Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash good—especially when it comes to playing alongside Pau Gasol.

    With Dwight Howard out and Chris Kaman in, finding touches for the center position will be a mere afterthought. Kaman has averaged just 12 points per game over the past three seasons, and he wouldn’t have come to L.A. if he had hopes of being a primary scorer.

    Gasol, Nash and Bryant will now dominate the ball without a fourth star commanding attention. This will give the team more offensive consistency, which is a crucial part of any dangerous attack.

    Chemistry is built both on and off the floor, and while Howard is an all-world center, he’s on a different planet when it comes to his personality. Bryant and the Lakers will be happy to move on to the next chapter, so long as it includes players working together on a more consistent basis.

Players Buy into Mike D’Antoni’s System

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    We all know that Mike D’Antoni wasn’t the first choice in the eyes of many. Phil Jackson was a realistic option, yet the team went with a guy who has 11 fewer championships as a coach.

    As much as fans still think about what it would be like to have Jackson on the sidelines, there’s a few important things to keep in mind, starting with the availability of Steve Nash.

    In 2012-13, Nash missed an incredible amount of time to injuries. His style perfectly fits the up-tempo nature of D’Antoni's offense, yet he never got the opportunity to put it on full display.

    The other thing to consider is that D’Antoni was not the Lakers’ coach for the whole season. He took over for Mike Brown at the beginning of the year, giving the players no time to adapt before they were asked to turn things around.

    Entering 2013-14, the Lakers have had a full season—as well as a full offseason—to prepare. They also have Nash, who ideally will be healthier following a long summer.

    Nobody is going to claim that this system is perfect, but the Lakers should be better equipped with a whole year of experience under their belts.

Talent, Talent, Talent

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    When Dwight Howard spurned the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rocketsthe jokes began to fly that L.A. would be a better team without the big man.

    The truth, however, is that losing the center hurts when it comes to talent, and most reasonable fans know that.

    But while Howard’s departure leaves the team without a superstar center, there’s still plenty of talent to go around.

    The Big Three of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash is one of the most offensively potent threesomes in the game. The fact that they play for the Lakers means their blemishes are constantly in the spotlight, but their assorted skill sets create for a diverse approach unmatched by most.

    Don’t forget, either, that Chris Kaman is only a few years removed from an All-Star appearance. He’s not going to make fans forget Howard, but he will do the little things necessary to succeed while the core group puts on a show.

    This isn’t your typical L.A. roster filled with stars across the board, but there’s still cause for hope when looking at the rotation. Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks have yet to reach their potential, Steve Blake is an intense guard with a good stroke and Nick Young can be a decent scorer anytime Bryant is absent.

    Critics will point out the flaws on a nightly basis, but remove the city from the equation, and you’ve got a basketball team that is both capable of winning and hungry to do so.