Welcome to the circus known as the Los Angeles Lakers.
The show you are about to experience over the course of the 2014 NBA season will be full of hope, promise and unexpected surprises. It’ll also be packed with swag, title hopes and a 268-pound man on a horse.
That pretty much sums it up.
No one expects Los Angeles to do much in 2014. ESPN had the team ranked 12th in its Summer Forecast among teams in the Western Conference.
After a squad that was supposed to win a title struggled to reach the postseason in 2013, a team with virtually no expectations will shock the league and perhaps make a run in the playoffs.
But even before that happens, a lot will take place over the course of the Lakers’ season.
And it's my job to prepare you for this sure-to-be roller-coaster ride.
Whether you love him or hate him, Mike D'Antoni is the coach of the Lakers.
Get over it.
L.A. was dreadfully disappointing last season, but to be fair, D'Antoni was thrust into a tough situation. He took over for Mike Brown after a 1-4 start and did his best dealing with Bryant and Howard on the same roster.
His biggest mistake was not tailoring his offense toward the team he was working with, but that should change in 2014. He's got a revamped roster and has had a full offseason to work with—there are no more excuses
D’Antoni will be better next season, and so will the Lakers. But it’s time to stop waiting for the second coming of Phil Jackson.
The biggest victim of the Dwight Howard saga may very well have been Pau Gasol.
Gasol attempted the lowest amount of shots that he had in his 12-year career and totaled the least amount of points in his tenure in the NBA.
But with Howard gone and the team shifting toward a more up-tempo, pick-and-roll-oriented offense, Gasol will be L.A.’s go-to post presence and will be a frequent roller with Nash running the point.
After a quiet 2013, Gasol is poised for a huge bounce-back year.
He’s one of the greatest point guards of all time and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But right now, Steve Nash is just plain old.
He’s slower and his athleticism has declined, but Nash is still an effective NBA player. He’s just simply not what he used to be.
Nash’s 2013 point and assist totals were the lowest they’ve been since 2000, and his average of 12.7 points from a season ago isn’t likely to rise in 2014.
But with Jordan Farmar and (a healthy) Steve Blake on the roster, Nash’s role will diminish. There will be flashes of the brilliance that he’s showcased throughout his career, but don’t expect too much from a point guard who will be playing into his 40s.
After the Lakers signed Wesley Johnson, a young athletic specimen who's shown scoring potential, this offseason, he called the upcoming year one of the “most important seasons of my life," via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times.
The Syracuse native has averaged about eight points and three rebounds over his three-year NBA career, but he’ll be given some prime-time minutes this season in Los Angeles.
Johnson is going to have to improve his three-point shooting percentage (32 percent in 2013) and fill the defensive void left by Metta World Peace’s departure.
Johnson is right—this season is the biggest opportunity he’s gotten throughout his career. He’ll be up for the challenge.
No one knows what the significance of the horse was, but it was an appropriate introduction of Kaman to the nation of Lakers fans all over the world.
Simply put, he's a character.
He's shed the long, blonde hair he wore earlier in his career and now rocks a bald head with a big, red beard. He's a hunter and video game lover. Chris Kaman is his own person, to say the least.
Kaman, who aptly goes by the nickname "Caveman," can play, too. He's put up about 12 points and eight rebounds per game over the course of his 10-year career.
In 2014, he'll look to bang the glass with Gasol, play solid defense and get some garbage buckets when he can. Kaman will be nothing flashy, but he's sure to be someone to pay attention to, on and off the court.
Allow me to introduce you to Nick Young (otherwise known as Swaggy P)—your new favorite Laker.
Young is the man. He plays at the Drew League, makes headlines for fashion statements that 99 percent of people would fail to pull off and is reportedly putting out a rap mixtape, per TMZ—which would make sense being that his cousin is Kendrick Lamar.
On the court, the sixth-year forward will have a chance to flourish as a spot-up three-point shooter. While Nash, Gasol and Bryant are slashing, driving and collapsing defenses, Young will find himself getting a ton of open looks from the outside.
A career 37 percent shooter from downtown, he should realistically aim to net close to 40 percent of his three's next season.
And he's going to look cool doing it, too.
The legend of Kobe Bryant is unfolding right before our very eyes, and we must make sure not to take it for granted.
Bryant is arguably one of the greatest players in the history of the game and, even at 35 years old, is still one of the best guards in the NBA.
He's coming off of an injury that could've ended his career, but—as only Kobe could—he has come back and redefined the recovery process for Achilles injuries. The Mamba could potentially be back for the start of the season.
Be sure to watch the Mamba closely next season. You're going to want to tell your kids, grandkids and great-grandkids about him when he moves on.
It hurts me to break this to you, Lakers nation, it really does hurt me. But the Clippers are the best team in L.A.
Well, right now, at least.
The Clippers will probably enter the playoffs as a top-five seed, while the Lakers could likely slip into one of the last four spots.
But make no mistake—the last place Lob City wants to be is standing in between the Black Mamba and his coveted sixth (and potentially final) championship.
That's when the battle for Los Angeles will truly be decided.
The Lakers were expected to win a championship last season. Obviously, that did not happen.
What did occur, however, was one of the most embarrassing performances in the history of the NBA. Los Angeles came into training camp as 9-4 co-favorites to win a title, via the LA Times, but wound up with a record of 45-37.
Although loaded with talent, the pieces simply didn't fit together. With Howard gone, the team added Young, Johnson, Kaman and Farmar, who will all bring depth and energy every night.
And then there's Kobe. Achilles injury and all, he's not going to let a season like 2013 happen again. Los Angeles will be more competitive, score a ton of points and put itself in a position to make a playoff run.
OKC has two of the best young players in the league, will finish near the top of the West and presumably have the chance to win a championship.
But even if the Thunder come up short again, there are loads of other contenders in the Western Conference.
With stacked teams up and down the conference, there's no way the Lakers can win a title.
But despite the fact that a championship is out of the realm of conceivable possibility, 2014 will be a step in the right direction for L.A. The team won't win it all, but it'll at least be competitive again.