6 Things Los Angeles Lakers Must Figure Out Before Start of 2014-15 Season
For starters: How much pressure are they going to put on Kobe Bryant entering his 19th season? Then there's the battle at power forward, as Julius Randle and Carlos Boozer are both seemingly worthy of starting spots with a playoff berth looking like a long shot.
In 2013-14, there was the question of whether fans even wanted this team to win games, as a draft pick was on the line. However, that narrative no longer applies, as L.A.'s 2015 selection is on its way to Phoenix regardless of how many wins it picks up this upcoming season.
Can the Lakers compete for a playoff spot in 2015? The odds are against them, but this team will do whatever it can to be competitive.
The Lakers aren't the tanking type, and as a result, they'll look to turn things around as soon as possible—especially with a stacked 2015 draft class ready to come in and potentially make a difference this upcoming offseason.
Shallow Wing Rotation
The current construction of the Los Angeles Lakers roster leaves a major question mark surrounding depth on the perimeter. Kobe Bryant and Xavier Henry are the two injury-plagued options at shooting guard, while Nick Young and Wesley Johnson are the athletic, yet shallow placeholders at the 3.
If you want to extend this topic to point guard, you could include Steve Nash's health, Jeremy Lin's inconsistency and Jordan Clarkson's inexperience on the perimeter—but we'll make that a topic for discussion a bit later.
At this point, the Lakers have two options: sign another wing or get creative with the rotations. When it comes to the former, Michael Beasley appears to be on the team's radar. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the forward has met with L.A. twice this summer.
As for getting creative, there's not much wiggle room, but Byron Scott has already stated, via Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, "I do love Swaggy (Nick Young) coming off the bench."
At this point, it would behoove Los Angeles to take a gamble on a free-agent signing. Bringing Young off the bench is a fine move that will improve the second unit, but if any of the four players mentioned above fall to injuries, this group will need help that it simply doesn't have.
Who Will Start at Point Guard?
Steve Nash or Jeremy Lin? That is the question at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the starting spot seemingly up for grabs, there are two popular, passionate opinions. The first focuses on Nash's career achievements, giving him the nod over a player who has been inconsistent since "Linsanity" hit the scene in 2012.
The other side of the coin shows an aging veteran who won't play many minutes anyway, lending an opportunity for Lin to start right away.
Despite these being the two passionate approaches to the topic, there is a third opinion that can be found in the middle. Nash could start until his body tells him otherwise, then Lin can take over and Jordan Clarkson can slowly be worked into the rotation to spell the two when needed.
Is there a right answer to the question of who will start? Probably not. That said, it seems like it would benefit the Lakers to see if they have a point guard of the future in Lin, seeing as the floor general is in a contract year.
Don't be surprised if Nash gets the job to start the year, but don't be shocked, either, if Lin takes over sooner rather than later.
Who Will Start at Power Forward?
The Los Angeles Lakers have a decision to make at power forward. Do they go with the experienced, yet declining former All-Star in Carlos Boozer, or do they throw Julius Randle, the newest future face of the franchise, into the deep end to see what he can do early in his career?
The easy answer, if the Lakers are truly looking to compete for a spot in the playoffs, is Boozer. He's entering a season where he wants to prove he's still got it, and quite frankly, he has the potential to play the role of mentor if L.A. wants to slowly groom Randle for the future.
Then again, Randle has already earned high praise following his summer league performance. As B/R's Kevin Ding observed:
What Randle did show on the court was how people who peg him as strictly a traditional, back-to-the-basket power forward are in for a surprise. More than Zach Randolph, the guys he resembled were Chris Bosh and Lamar Odom with an eagerness to face up and drive to his left.
Like the point guard position, don't be shocked either way when the Lakers make their decision. It's tough to get it wrong when you have two solid players at your disposal and knowing you have one backing up the other is simply insurance.
Who Will Play Backup Center?
Jordan Hill has started 52 regular-season games in his career, but following a big pay day and the signing of a new contract this summer, he's ready to accept the role of starter in 2014-15.
The problem is that the Los Angeles Lakers now have a gaping hole behind him at the backup 5 spot. Robert Sacre has shown he can compete during stints throughout the early part of his career, but the team would be throwing him to the wolves if it gave him the primary responsibility of spelling a first-time starter.
L.A. is stacked at power forward. The problem is that none of the options at the 4 have the size to step in at center. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle, while both skilled, don't have the frame to defend bigger bodies, and Ed Davis, while an emerging defensive presence, is expected to see fewer minutes than the two ahead of him in the rotation.
The Lakers have two roster spots they've yet to fill, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a look at free agents such as Emeka Okafor, Andray Blatche and Jermaine O'Neal (should he choose not to retire). Either that, or they must find a way to play defense by committee in Byron Scott's system.
"They better be ready to play some defense."
That quote comes directly from new head coach Byron Scott, via ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, and it's indicative of the mentality shift this group is about to experience with Mike D'Antoni no longer roaming the sidelines.
Under Scott, the Lakers will look to improve the following from the 2013-14 season:
- 29th in points allowed
- 26th in opponent field-goal percentage
- 28th in defensive efficiency (ESPN.com)
- 30th in opponent points per game in the paint (TeamRankings.com)
With the players on this roster, you have to believe Scott's system will include a lot of help defense and (hopefully) quick rotations. This, largely, is not a defensive-minded group of players, and barring a massive shift in player personnel, it will have to be hard work and efficient movement that creates somewhat of a defensive identity.
How Much to Expect from Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is in the final stages of his career, and while that would undoubtedly slow down any player, the Black Mamba has the added burden of making yet another return following back-to-back season-ending injuries.
According to the apparent perspicacious insight of fellow guard James Harden, via a video from ThePostGame, Bryant will return to a "20-year-old Kobe." From an athletic standpoint, that's highly unlikely. From a statistical standpoint, however, Harden might be more accurate than even he realizes.
During the 1998-99 season, a 20-year-old Kobe recorded 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game (all below or even with his career averages). Don't expect him to regress in terms of the changes he's made for efficiency and, yes, team-oriented basketball. However, it's unlikely he matches the production he saw the last time he was healthy.
The bigger question, stats aside, is: What will the Lakers expect of him? Will he still play 38 minutes a game? Will he play alongside Nick Young to relieve some of the scoring pressure?
Bryant is ready to shock detractors, but with age and health two very real concerns, it's important for the Lakers to prepare adequately as the Mamba climbs down the mountain he's been atop for nearly two decades.