Last season was a disaster for the Los Angeles Lakers. After being named as 9-4 co-favorites to win a championship, via the Los Angeles Times, a team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol barely made the playoffs.
Injuries were a problem, especially for those four core players. And so was coaching.
D'Antoni is a good coach, but his run-and-gun offense simply didn't fit Los Angeles' 2013 roster. Howard and Gasol, two elite big men in the prime of their careers, took a combined 1,486 shots last season. Bryant alone took 1,580.
And that's not the Mamba's fault.
Because of L.A.'s lack of chemistry and inconsistent game plan under D'Antoni, Bryant simply did what he knew how to do, which was carry the team. There were times when he was the point guard, and there were games where he was launching 30 shots.
He dragged his team into the playoffs but fell victim to a torn Achilles with two games left in the regular season. Needless to say, the San Antonio Spurs ran right over Los Angeles in the first round with a clean sweep.
With D12 gone—he supposedly didn't want to play for D'Antoni and alongside Bryant anymore, per Ric Bucher of Comcast SportsNet—the 2014 Lakers are going to look a lot different.
Although the team will sorely miss Howard, Chris Kaman—who was signed after D12 decided he wanted to be a member of the Houston Rockets—is actually a better fit for the roster. The Caveman is projected by Basketball-Reference to put up 17 points and nine boards per 36 minutes next season.
Kaman isn't going to cause any trouble in the locker room, and he won't demand the ball as much as Howard, either. He'll hit the boards hard and play tough defense, but he likely won't have a problem with Gasol playing as the primary post player.
With fresh-legged shooters like Young, Johnson and Farmar surrounding Nash and Gasol, D'Antoni will finally have a chance to use his pick-and-roll-oriented offense.
The Lakers made some moves this offseason that genuinely make sense, turning themselves into a younger and more athletic team.
But none of that will matter without the Black Mamba.
Bryant claims he'll be ready for opening night, which would cap off an unhuman recovery time from his Achilles injury. Jim Buss and the rest of the front office are wisely proceeding with caution, but Kobe is Kobe and he wants to come back.
If Bryant can return to the hardwood at full strength, the Lakers are going to have a great shot at making the playoffs.
Last season there were far too many jumpers being launched—Nash, World Peace and Jamison fired a combined 28.1 shots a night. The major change the Lakers must make next season is feeding Gasol in the post and letting him thrive.
As per TeamRankings.com, Los Angeles only scored 10 fast-break points per game last season. With horses like Young, Johnson and Farmar running the floor in 2014, that's a number that must be improved upon, as well.
The Lakers are going to be pretty solid offensively. But the team's greatest deficiency lies on the other side of the floor.
Howard, although he played through a back injury for much of last season, covered up the Lakers' defensive weakness on the perimeter. World Peace and Bryant were the only guys who could consistently keep their man in front of them.
Nash's assist total (10,249) ranks fourth in NBA history, and he's far and away the league's career assist leader among active players. He's headed for the Hall of Fame and will go down as one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game.
But at 39 years old, he's horrendous on defense.
Howard finished fifth in blocks per game (2.4) a season ago, while Kaman, Nash's new anchor down low, didn't even average one swat per contest (0.8).
Bryant has always been a tremendous defender, but he'll be 35 years old in 2014 and coming off of an extremely serious injury.
Johnson, Young and Farmar are really going to have to step up as the leaders of the defense. Although not elite, all three of them are athletic and must turn it up a notch this year in order for the Lakers to have a chance at postseason play.
D'Antoni's never been a defensive coach, and he's also never really made it a point to improve upon that flaw in his coaching style. In 2014, a potential make-or-break season for his position on the L.A. sidelines, he's going to have to figure it out.
Implementing a zone-based defensive scheme, a strategy rarely found in the modern NBA, could be a viable option. Regardless of how he chooses to attack the problem, D'Antoni's team can't allow 101 points per game like it did last season, via ESPN.com.
There's no doubt about it—changes need to be made and things need to be improved upon.
Last season, the daunting expectations and championship predictions turned out to be far too much for the Lakers. There was no essence of "Showtime," no chemistry and no accomplishments to show for it. The team was dysfunctional and came up worlds short of expectations.
But in 2014—with a nice offseason, tweaks to D'Antoni's game plan to better fit the roster and much less pressure weighing down on the team—the Lakers are going to be the Lakers again.