Bryant has helped the Lakers win five NBA titles. Metta World Peace has witnessed Bryant's will firsthand as a former teammate and believes he can get it done again.
"He told me he's going to come back and carry the team. I believe him," said World Peace, per InsideSoCal.com's Mark Medina. "If he wants to, he can get it. If he wants something that bad, he can get it."
An interesting point guard situation looms in L.A., too, with veteran Steve Nash trying to stay healthy along with newly acquired hometown dynamo Jeremy Lin. Both have thrived in an uptempo offense coached by Mike D'Antoni, but he resigned as head coach following the team's woeful 27-55 season.
Now the 2014-15 term is on the horizon, with former Laker player Byron Scott patrolling the bench, and Odds Shark has the Lakers at the quite generous odds of 50-1 to win the NBA championship.
Streaky shooter Nick Young is returning to the fold, and L.A. drafted Julius Randle No. 7 overall to aid its previous league-worst rebounding efforts. Randle could form an intriguing frontcourt alongside Jordan Hill and perhaps help the Lakers exceed expectations.
ESPN's Colin Cowherd approves of what general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. have done to improve this offseason:
Then the Lakers added Carlos Boozer, a former All-Star who makes yet another aging player on the roster.
The Western Conference is as deep as it's ever been, so recuperating from such a disastrous 2013-14 is going to be a tall task any way the Lakers cut it. Bryant's return figures to help a lot, but it remains to be seen whether it's enough to get L.A. into playoff contention.
Below is a look at some of the most compelling games on the Lakers' 2014-15 schedule, along with an early prediction as to what their final record will be.
Analyzing Marquee Matchups
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers:
October 31st, 10:00 p.m. ET
The battle for supremacy in the City of Angels—if only for just one night—will occur when the Clippers and Lakers meet for their inaugural 2014-15 showdown. And although big things are expected from head coach Doc Rivers' Clips, this is a matchup that looks rather good on paper for the underdogs.
Presuming Bryant is himself, he is bound to give the Lakers a big edge at the 2. Acquiring supreme athlete Ed Davis also helps up front, which is necessary due to the presence of Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan.
Grantland's Zach Lowe praised the Lakers' two-year, $2 million signing of Davis, a former first-round pick with plenty of untapped potential:
Spencer Hawes' ability to shoot from the outside finally gives the Clippers a big who can stretch the floor—something they've lacked. That could prove to be too much for the Lakers to overcome, with superstar point guard Chris Paul manning the point, able to get around Nash and Lin with ease.
Randle's face-up game and how he coexists with the point guard contingent and Bryant will go a long way in determining how close the Lakers can stay in this contest. What the Lakers have lacked is physicality, something Randle definitely brings to the court in spades, per Yannis Koutroupis of Basketball Insiders:
Perimeter defense should automatically be upgraded by the Black Mamba's presence alone, but Randle and Co. will have to hold their own on the inside.
That puts a lot of pressure on Hill to perform well and capitalize on his promise as a former top-10 draft choice. Given that he's being paid $18 million over the next two seasons, the Lakers are expecting big things out of him. With an improved supporting cast and an unprecedented amount of minutes, Hill could make them happen.
It's going to be must-see TV in L.A. on Halloween night.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Chicago Bulls
December 25th, 8 p.m. ET
A lot of fascinating, athletic additions to the frontcourt are pushing L.A. in a new direction, but the Lakers did say goodbye to longtime franchise cornerstone Pau Gasol.
The Bulls signed away Gasol, pairing him with another All-Star in Joakim Noah to create an exceptional frontcourt rotation along with Taj Gibson. Former league MVP Derrick Rose returns to run the point, making the Bulls a heavy favorite in the East.
Even Lakers legend Magic Johnson couldn't deny the improvement Chicago would undergo:
But based on L.A.'s revamped personnel, it might have the necessary grit to match up well with the Bulls. It's no guarantee that Rose will return to his MVP form after nearly two lost seasons. He wasn't nearly on that level in the 10 games he played in 2013-14, shooting just 35.4 percent from the floor.
European star Nikola Mirotic is joining Chicago's roster, so he will be a make-or-break piece who may determine whether the Bulls can contend for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Mirotic can be a stretch 4 and spread the floor, opening up lanes for Rose to drive through. What's nice about Randle is he has the athletic ability to guard a player like that and has superior quickness to take Mirotic off the dribble.
New Laker Boozer was amnestied by the Bulls, so he'll be fired up to show he still has something left in the tank. ESPN Stats & Info suggests he's declining, albeit ever so slightly:
If Rose is back to the peak of his powers, Chicago may be too much for the Lakers to handle. Since Gasol has lacked aggressiveness at times, though, don't be surprised if Bryant is inspired to perform well, egging on his young bigs to harass the Bulls.
Bryant and the Lakers have their work cut out for them on Christmas day.
The biggest hole is at the 3, where the Lakers have no real answer beyond Young. According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, a tentative plan is in place for Boozer to start at small forward, which seems bizarre. Randle's skill set seems better suited to handle such a transition.
To endorse the Lakers as a real postseason threat, they need to prove themselves. It's conceivable that this frontcourt overhaul, combined with a reinvigorated Bryant trying to chase one more title, will produce surprisingly good results.
The younger players Kupchak has assembled would perform better in a fast-paced scheme, something that may not be best for Nash or Bryant at this stage of their careers. Banking on an older backcourt, a 32-year-old Boozer and a bunch of unproven pieces sounds unpromising for L.A.
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead feels the Lakers are destined to go rather high in the draft lottery:
Second-round pick Jordan Clarkson is a compelling combo guard, yet he probably isn't ready to contribute at the NBA level right away. Mike Trudell of Lakers.com offers some hope based on how Clarkson is faring this summer:
Barring Clarkson balling out, there should be a fair amount of headache-inducing lineups that don't quite click. It still feels like the Lakers are about a year away from competing for the playoffs, which will be the final year of Bryant's current deal.
Here's the good news: There should be plenty of promise flashed by Randle in his rookie campaign. Learning from Bryant will help him immensely. Bryant also won't allow a squad he plays for to win only 27 games.
Expect some improvement from L.A. as long as its key veteran contributors are healthy. But in the loaded West, it just won't be enough to make the playoffs.
Regular-Season Record Prediction: 40-42
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