Los Angeles Lakers' Sleepers and Storylines to Watch This Preseason

Thomas DuffyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2013

March 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash (10) rests during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Lakers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a busy summer, the Los Angeles Lakers are coming into the 2014 season as a new team. Dwight Howard is gone, but the roster is younger and more equipped for Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

Los Angeles will play eight preseason games, all in the month of October—three against the Golden State Warriors, a pair each against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and a lone meeting with the Sacramento Kings.

This fall, as is usually the case, the Lakers will be a show. Big stories are never scarce in L.A., and there will be a couple definitely worth following once the preseason gets under way.


The Return of the Black Mamba

At a summer league game this summer, Jim Buss said that Kobe Bryant, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon with two games left in the 2013 regular season, could be back as early as the preseason, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Well, we're in Vegas, and I would bet a lot of money that this guy comes back probably in preseason. He's real sharp in taking care of himself, and he's not going to rush anything just to get back and prove a point. He's going to come back when he's right. He's a machine. He's inhuman. I see him coming back at the beginning of this season. I can't believe how much he's progressed so far.

But as of right now, that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Bryant is going to be 35 years old and entering his 18th season in the NBA. Nothing could be gained by throwing him out there in a live game if his Achilles is not fully healed yet. He’s one of the most driven basketball players of all time, but without him L.A. will flop worse than it did last season.

The Mamba must not come back until he’s 100 percent healthy. It doesn’t matter if that time comes during the preseason or regular season—he can’t let his ego get in the way of a fully successful recovery.


Position Battles

Steve Nash is going to begin the season as the Lakers’ starting point guard. But if the 39-year-old faces injury trouble—which is likely—his job could be won by either Steve Blake or Jordan Farmar.

Rotoworld has Blake pegged as the current second-stringer, but Farmar’s athleticism and knack for the pick-and-roll could shoot him up in the depth chart.

Blake and Farmar’s competition will not be the only position battle this preseason.

Nick Young is currently listed as the starting small forward, but Wesley Johnson will put up a serious fight for that spot.

Young and Johnson, both new faces in Los Angeles, will have similar roles in 2014. They’re going to have to knock down open three-pointers, play solid defense and run the floor in transition.

Young is a better long-range shooter, which is the most important thing that Los Angeles will need out of its small forward, so he’ll likely get the nod.

Nonetheless, Johnson will be in the rotation and may see some opportunities to start as the season unwinds. His preseason performance will likely help D'Antoni gauge where and how to use him.


Players to Watch

Robert Sacre’s NBA highlight reel consists primarily of his cheerleading antics on the sidelines. But that will change this season.

Sacre is a giant, standing at 7’0” and weighing 263 pounds, but he needs to learn how to use his huge frame as a weapon.

In his rookie campaign last season, the former Gonzaga Bulldog put up just over one point and one rebound a game. But per 36 minutes, he posted 7.6 points and six boards (via Basketball-Reference.com).

With D12 gone, Sacre will have to earn minutes over Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill, both of whom are ahead of him on the depth chart. Sacre has made the most of every opportunity he’s been given thus far in his young career, including posting averages of 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in the 2013 summer league (via RealGM.com), so he'll be up for the challenge.

Jodie Meeks is another young player to keep an eye on.

Meeks can fill it up in a hurry, but far too often he has shown an inability to contribute on a nightly basis. He can either win the game or shoot his team out of it with his inconsistent, yet occasionally red-hot, shooting.

With Bryant’s health up in the air, Meeks—the only other shooting guard on the roster—is in line for some serious minutes.

Assuming the Mamba sits the preseason out, Meeks will have a chance to prove that he’s ready for a bigger role (21.3 minutes per game a season ago) with L.A. in 2014. If he can turn himself into a viable backcourt option, pressure to return prematurely will be removed from Bryant’s shoulders.

Wins and losses won’t matter this preseason. Bryant’s health (and when he'll be able to return), the backcourt position battles and the emergence of a pair of young players are the stories that will be under the strongest microscopes this preseason for the Lakers.