Recently, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons sat down for a Los Angeles Lakers preview podcast. It’s great! Check it out here. Both these guys know hoops and have deep sources. Plus, any podcast that features a Magic Johnson Mogul doll has my attention.
The podcast cracked me up because, while at first the guys convinced themselves that the Lakers have no shot at the playoffs, by the end of the podcast, they had talked themselves into just the opposite.
No one knows what the Lakers will be this season.
Let’s take a further look, incorporating their views, mine and the prevailing media wisdom.
Assumption 1: The Lakers will tank to get higher draft picks.
No way. They have too many guys on one year or expiring deals. That translates into effort by the individual players because this is essentially their audition tape for a new contract.
Related thought: No tanking will be tolerated by the front office when Time Warner Cable just paid $3 billion for TV rights. You at least have to put something watchable out on the court.
Assumption 2: The Lakers will be entertaining.
Agreed. Whether that means fun, competitive basketball or dysfunctional organization is anybody’s guess. But they will not be boring.
I guarantee that head coach Mike D’Antoni will try to implement his run and gun offense. He’s in a better position in some ways this year because the Lakers got younger, more athletic pieces, but it is a mistake to think Steve Nash is going to be able to run the game the way he did in the mid 2000s.
Enter Jordan Farmar. In my opinion, he was the best pickup of the offseason. I’ve always been a Farmar homer.
He’s from LA, went to UCLA and contributed to the 2009 and 2010 championship teams. Best of all, he’s a good guy. No behind the scenes power shenanigans. He gets along great with Kobe Bryant and I think he is truly happy to be back home and wearing purple and gold.
Keep an eye on Jordan—he will be the glue that holds things together, especially because I don’t trust Nash to stay healthy.
Assumption 3: Kobe Bryant.
That’s it. He’s an assumption himself.
There is no telling when he will resume play—he continues to rehab his Achilles injury—but Kobe dominates everything, playing or not. (One more reason that LeBron James will never come to the Lakers. Sorry, Simmons—I totally disagree. LeBron will never be a LeLaker.)
As things look right now, I don’t think Kobe will start the season. Simmons seems to think he’ll take the court about two weeks in. Jalen says Christmas. I think Jalen’s timeline is much more likely.
It gives Kobe two more months to rehabilitate but, just as importantly, to get into shape. There is no rush. Let the first few weeks go by and see how the team looks. Can Nash hold up? How about Pau Gasol? Does any nifty chemistry develop with certain rotations?
Part of the strategic thinking for the Lakers should include other teams in the Western Conference.
How are they faring? This is an important question, because there is a lot more parity in the Western Conference than people see. Look at last year’s playoff participants: who is a lock for the post season this year?
Normally you’d say Oklahoma City, but uncertainty has been thrown into that scenario because of Russell Westbrook’s setback with his knee injury. Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant, but we saw last year what that team looks like without the one-two punch of both.
OKC might be in just-keep-it-close mode as far as the Western Conference standings, at least until Westbrook can rejoin the squad.
Denver—complete upheaval. They’re going to need a few weeks to figure out what they have.
Golden State—I love them, but they go as far as Steph Curry’s fragile ankles will take them.
San Antonio? Another year older and way too smart to hit the afterburners early in the season. They’ll pace themselves.
The Clippers, with new coach Doc Rivers, are a legit threat. I think they’ll go hard right out of the gate.
I don’t have a feel for Memphis this year.
I can see some combination of Rockets/Clippers/Spurs/Thunder dominating the rankings for the first couple of months.
Everyone below that? Complete wild-cards.
Which brings me back to Kobe and a tentative Christmas Day debut. Not only will it be more time to rehab and get in shape, but the Lakers will know a lot more about what kind of team they have and what their realistic chances are to compete in the playoffs.
If they are under .500—especially if the injury bug hits as furiously as it did last year—the front office will probably move Pau Gasol and many other pieces toward draft picks in the summer. If they are competitive and the team isn’t torn asunder behind the scenes the way it was last year, the Lakers could put together a nice second-half push and grab one of those 5-8 spots.
Assumption 4: Mike D’Antoni learned from last year and will adapt his coaching style to suit the roster.
Will he? Can he? I don’t know. I found it very interesting that the Lakers brought back de facto family member Kurt Rambis, ostensibly to handle the defensive coaching side of the ball. Sure, why not? It’s never been D’Antoni’s strong suit. My secret conspiracy theory is that it has the added benefit of turning up the heat on D’Antoni.
As much as anyone associated with this team not named Kobe Bryant, D’Antoni is on the clock.
The Lakers do not want to head into 2014 with an unsettled coaching situation.
If D’Antoni drives the team into the ground, it’s easy to fire him and install Rambis on an interim basis for the balance of the year. If Phil Jackson says he wants to come back and can make peace with Jim Buss, that’s an easy transition from Rambis to Jackson.
See what I mean about there being no shortage of drama? Are this year’s Lakers a championship squad? Probably not. But the Western Conference has a lot of question marks. Anything can happen.
That will make the Lakers compelling.