After a tumultuous 2012-13 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers' prospects for the upcoming season look rather bleak.
Kobe Bryant is recovering from a brutal Achilles tear, Dwight Howard bolted for Houston and the Lakers had no cap space to sign the depth necessary to be considered a Western Conference contender. However, despite all of their apparent shortcomings, L.A. still has a solid core comprised of Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers face a steep uphill battle this season, but if their big guns remain healthy they'll have an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs.
Lakers 2012-13 results:
• 45-37 record (.549)
• 3rd in Pacific Division
• 7th in Western Conference
• Swept in Western Conference quarterfinals by San Antonio Spurs
Key Stats: The Good and the Bad
The Good: Mike D'Antoni's squads are notorious for pushing the pace in his patented "seven seconds or less" offense. Simply put, the more possessions you create, the more opportunities there are going to be for your team to score.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers had success from an offensive standpoint last season when it came to maximizing possessions. According to Basketball-Reference, the Lakers finished fifth in pace, generating an average of 94.4 possessions per 48 minutes. Thanks to their offensive scheme, the Lakers averaged 102.2 points per game, the sixth-best mark in the league. D'Antoni's teams are going to score buckets aplenty, but the real key will be defense. Speaking of which...
The Bad: For all of the positive offensive numbers the Lakers produced last season, there were an equal number that showed just how putrid their defense was.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Lakers allowed 106.6 points per 100 possessions last season, which ranked 20th overall. An up-tempo offense is fun to watch, but not when it tires out players who then lack the energy and drive necessary to get back on defense, especially in transition. It also hurts when your players are prone to turnovers, as the Lakers were last season. In 2012-13, L.A. turned the ball over 14.6 times per game, which ranked 23rd overall. As you watch the Lakers this season, keep an eye on how much they push the ball and if it affects their defensive capabilities.
Storylines to Watch
Part I: How will the Lakers, one year removed from a failed super team experiment, fare in Year 2 under D'Antoni?
The odds are stacked against L.A., and this may be the first time in history that the Los Angeles Clippers have actually been unanimously favored to finish with a better record than their rivals. It's easy to write the Lakers off after last season and their inability to make bold moves this summer, but perhaps fewer injuries and more comfort in D'Antoni's system will aid the purple-and-gold's cause.
Part II: Kobe Bryant's return from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
We know Kobe Bryant is ahead of schedule in his rehab, but will he be ready for opening day? And once he returns, will the Black Mamba be the same player he was prior to the injury? It's well-established that Bryant is capable of defying the odds and playing through immense pain, but at 35 years old, could this be the last straw? Bryant's recovery will be one of the featured storylines throughout the 2013-14 campaign, with each of his performances set to be analyzed intensely under the microscope.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: Nick Young, SF (one-year, $1.1 million deal); Wesley Johnson, SF (one-year, $916,099 deal); Jordan Farmar, PG (one-year, $1 million deal); Chris Kaman, C (one-year, $3.2 million deal).
Key Losses: Dwight Howard, C (four-year, $88 million deal with Houston); Metta World Peace, SF (two-year, $1.6 million deal with New York; owed $7.7 million via amnesty provision); Antawn Jamison, PF (one-year, $1.4 million deal with Clippers); Earl Clark, PF (two-year $9 million deal with Cleveland).
Assistant coaching hires: Kurt Rambis, Johnny Davis, Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis
Assistant coaching departures: Darvin Ham (Charlotte), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Bernie Bickerstaff (Cleveland) and Phil Handy (Cleveland).
* Salary information courtesy of HoopsHype.
Biggest Addition: Chris Kaman
It's slim pickings in terms of the Lakers' biggest or most exciting addition, but Kaman is a fitting choice based on the role he'll presumably be asked to fill. Taking Howard's place in the middle, Kaman faces the impossible task of matching the production that the league's leading rebounder did last season.
Asking Kaman to produce double-double averages like Howard would be unfair, but the Lakers will be able to count on more offensive stability (and made free throws!) from their center this season, if he does in fact start. For his career, Kaman is a 74.4-percent shooter from the line and hit on a career-best 78.8 percent of his attempts at the stripe last season. Defense will be a bigger problem for Kaman, but if expectations remain tempered he could wind up being a pleasant surprise.
Biggest Loss: Dwight Howard
No matter who they signed, it was a sure bet that the Lakers were getting a center who wouldn't be able to post 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a night. Howard's biggest impact last season for the Lakers came on defense, and his absence will be crippling for a team that was already sorely lacking game-changers on that end of the floor. Expect the Lakers to be shredded on the interior without Howard present to alter shots or deter dribble-drives to the cup.
Depth Chart and Training Camp Breakdowns
* Depth chart includes players with non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Chris Kaman vs. Jordan Hill
With the Dwight Howard experiment officially over, the Lakers scrambled this summer to find a solution at center. They ultimately landed on Kaman, who started 52 games last season and averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds. His primary competition will come from Jordan Hill, the scrappy, energetic player entering his fifth season.
The two are rather dissimilar, with Kaman possessing a versatile package of offensive skills while Hill is more of a prototypical low-post banger. According to Basketball-Reference, Kaman shot 50.7 percent from the field last season and converted on an impressive 52.1 percent of his shots between 16 and 23 feet. Hill, meanwhile, hit on 34.8 percent of his looks from that same distance (46 attempts total).
One positive to making Kaman the starting center is that his skill set should be diverse enough to provide Gasol with more room to operate down on the blocks. We saw how uncomfortable Gasol was last season when pushed out of his comfort zone (37.9-percent shooting between 16 and 23 feet), so Kaman's range could prove to be an X-factor for the Lakers moving forward.
In the end, Kaman would seem to have the advantage. With two inches and nearly 35 pounds on Hill, the new arrival is better suited to start, while Hill can thrive as a role player off the bench.
Battling For a Roster Spot: Elias Harris vs. Shawne Williams vs. Marcus Landry vs. Xavier Henry vs. Ryan Kelly
Filling out a roster is tough when your salary cap situation is unthinkably tight, a fact the Lakers learned the hard way this summer. There are five players of note to whom the Lakers made partial or no guarantees, and each will be battling for a roster spot in training camp.
Before breaking down each player's chances, here's a rundown of their contractual situations:
Shawne Williams and Elias Harris each have partial guarantees of $100,000, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, while neither Henry nor Landry have any guaranteed money in their deals. Rookie Ryan Kelly was selected in the second round and therefore has no guarantees in his contract entering camp.
Of the five, Harris and Williams are ahead of the pack, considering the monetary commitments the Lakers front office made to them.
Signed to a two-year deal in August, Harris went undrafted out of Gonzaga. However, he made an impression in July, averaging 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals in five Las Vegas Summer League games. Aside from the partially guaranteed deal, Harris is aided by the Lakers' lack of depth at power forward and his ability to play multiple positions.
Williams is five-year vet who landed in L.A. after stints with Indiana, Dallas, New York and New Jersey, but enters camp after sitting last season out. For his career, Williams averages 5.7 points on 40.7-percent shooting. In 25 appearances with the Nets in 2011-12, Williams shot a career-worst 28.6 percent from the field.
Elsewhere, Henry is the most intriguing name of the non-guaranteed bunch, primarily because he's a former (and somewhat recent) lottery pick. In three seasons with Memphis and New Orleans, Henry failed to flash the offensive chops that made him such an intriguing prospect out of Kansas. He played in a career-high 50 games last season and averaged 3.9 points on 41-percent shooting.
Landry, whose older brother Carl plays forward for the Sacramento Kings, is hoping to capture the final spot on the Lakers' roster after bouncing around in the D-League with Maine and Reno. In 97 career D-League appearances, Landry averaged 16.2 points per game and shot 40.5 percent from three. If Landry can flex similar perimeter muscle in camp, he could make the decision a difficult one for the team's coaching staff.
And then there's Kelly, the former Duke Blue Devil who was selected 48th overall this past June and just recently signed with the Lakers. Selected for his offensive versatility, Kelly is a 6'11'' forward who has the ability to stretch opposing defenses and create matchup problems with his three-point stroke. During his senior season, Kelly knocked down 42.2 percent of his looks from beyond the arc. The good news is that Kelly has deemed himself "ready to go," according to Steve Wiseman of The Herald-Sun, after undergoing offseason foot surgery.
Biggest X-Factor: Nick Young
After amnestying Metta World Peace, L.A. was in the market for a new starting 3. And while Nick Young is hardly an adequate defensive replacement for MWP, he is the sort of boom-or-bust offensive contributor who could win the Lakers a few games with his streaky shooting.
Last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Young shot 41.3 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three en route to a 10.6 point-per-game average.
Young will take over the perimeter shooting responsibilities, while fellow free-agent signing Wes Johnson will man the defensive controls. Each is a liability on one end of the floor, so D'Antoni is going to need to cross his fingers and hope that the platoon at small forward isn't a major deterrent to his team's overall success.
If Young can miraculously regain 2010-11 form (he started 40 games that year, the most of his career) and shoot 44.1 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three while scoring somewhere between 12 and 15 points per game, the front office will be patting themselves on the back.
Best-Case Scenario: Kobe Bryant returns from his ruptured Achilles and produces much the way he did during the 2012-13 season. Upon Bryant's miraculous recovery, the Lakers start to mesh under D'Antoni, with Nash and Gasol building a nice rapport centered around the pick-and-roll. The Lakers qualify for the playoffs as a No. 8 seed, but are bounced in the first round for the second straight season.
Worst-Case Scenario: Kobe's recovery takes longer than expected and he never regains his footing. The Lakers stumble in Bryant's absence, both offensively and defensively, particularly because they lack reliable perimeter depth. The postseason becomes an afterthought, and the Lakers enter the summer of 2014 with more questions than answers. Bryant and Gasol become free agents while fans cross their fingers for a high lottery selection.
Prediction: 39-43, No. 11 seed in West.
Come playoff time, the Lakers will be on the outside looking in.
With extremely limited depth and an aging core in an improved Western Conference, L.A. will have a hard time edging out up-and-comers like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans down the stretch.
Even if Bryant does return at 100-percent and contribute much the way he did last season, the Lakers have too many glaring defensive deficiencies to qualify for the postseason. A record just below .500 should have the Lakers slotted in at No. 10 or No. 11 in the West at season's end.