Can the San Antonio Spurs Knock Off Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?
Though the perennial favorites are the two-time world champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Western Conference is not all but won.
During the past decade, the West has been run by two teams, the historic champion Lakers and the resilient San Antonio Spurs. Both happen to be led by two NBA greats, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
The Spurs star is obviously on the decline, but Duncan has continued to prove that the "Big Fundamental" can still reign supreme in the lane as a rebounder, defender, and consistent scorer.
However, the Spurs have had to count on the likes of lefty Manu Ginobili and speedy floor leader Tony Parker to provide more of an offensive lift while they develop their young talent.
Though the Spurs' main post options are aging quickly (with Antonio McDyess also quickly moving toward the end his career), the Spurs are quietly getting younger.
They have continued to steal players in the draft with the second-round choice of De'Juan Blair last year and a first-round steal this year in Big 12 Player of the Year from Oklahoma State, James Anderson. Also, they have finally been able to bring over European star, Tiago Splitter.
Also, they re-signed Richard Jefferson to a three-year deal that potentially saved themselves money.
Anderson, Splitter, Hill, and Blair provide a solid, young bench that will be taught how to do things the right way by Duncan, Ginobili, McDyess, and Parker, and will build a solid foundation for the team's future.
Anderson enters the league NBA-ready with his range close to limitless and with the ability to get to the rim with either hand. While Splitter dominated Europe, his game is very similar to Duncan's so his adjustment should be minimal as well.
Hill and Blair have already shown they're ready, with Hill being the driving force in the Dallas series during last season's playoffs, shining as Parker's replacement while he was out with an ankle injury.
The Lakers, however, have also reloaded by signing Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff while looking to sign their two second-round draft choices, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.
Also, you can't forget about Bryant, who is arguably still the league's best player and who will be even more motivated to add another dimension to his game with the superhuman trio that formed out East.
The Spurs have all the tools to beat the Lakers. Duncan can still play with Gasol and McDyess can get Bynum or Odom into foul trouble.
Parker and Hill can blow by Fisher and possibly Blake, while Jefferson and Anderson give an aging Artest and the emotional Barnes fits with their different playing styles.
The one player who will truly have his work cut out for him is Ginobili, who'll have to attempt to guard Bryant and be effective on offense while being guarded by Kobe.
But to answer the question: Yes, they can knock off the Lakers, but first they have to get to them. The pieces are there for the NBA's version of the Indianapolis Colts as they just keep on plugging, proving to everyone that their so-called "window of opportunity" to win the NBA championship has yet to budge.
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