Los Angeles Lakers Are Still the Team To Beat in the NBA
Every offseason gets the coming season pumped up by acquisitions and losses through trades, free agency, and the draft.
In Miami, we saw the trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh form.
In Boston, they called out to a couple of O'Neals to go with re-signing Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Nate Robinson.
The Thunder gave Kevin Durant an extension. These are just a few of the transactions that were made by the top teams in the league. Among those making waves were the Los Angeles Lakers.
When looking ahead to the coming 2010-2011 season, many will look to reasons why the Heat, Magic, or Celtics might be able to take the throne away from L.A. I don't necessarily want to discredit those teams from success this year. I merely want to state reasons that the Lakers are still the team to beat for this coming season.
Reason No. 1: Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the best players in the game. In a sport like basketball, having the best player in the game cannot be overlooked for its importance.
Kobe has proved, like him or not, that when talent is placed around him, he can take home the bling in June. Bryant is still healthy given his age, and although he has logged minutes similar to Kevin Garnett in his career, his playing has not seen a dip at this time. I don't plan on seeing a dip in him this coming year either.
Who do you feel is the team to beat in 2010-2011?
Reason No. 2: Phil Jackson is 3-for-3
Phil Jackson, 11-time NBA champion as a coach, has a chance at his fourth three-peat. Not bad, considering that you have to go back to the Celtics of the '50s and '60s to find three consecutive titles by a team not coached by Jackson. I find it hard to truly go against Jackson's coaching success.
Just like with Bill Russell, he has done it so many times that it has become routine. He is still undefeated in the playoffs when his team wins Game One of a series. The hunger to win still seems to be there, otherwise he would have no reason to come back another season.
It seems as if his health concerns are a bigger issue than Kobe Bryant's health concerns. If that's the case, then the Lakers are good to go because Phil is not going to go down without a fight in his own right.
Reason No. 3: Underrated Pau Gasol
It seems people still fail to remember how much this team changed with the acquisition of Gasol just two and a half seasons ago. Ever since they picked up Gasol and got rid of Kwame Brown, they have made three Finals appearances and won two consecutive titles. He was the main man in Memphis before his stay in L.A., actually leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a 50-plus win season and their only playoff appearance in franchise history.
He is probably the most underrated big man in the game. One can only wonder if he would get the full credit he deserves if he weren't a foreign born player. Hakeem Olajuwon suffered from it and I can only hope people can wake up to how good this guy is and take his game in before his play has eroded. He will be as big of factor this coming year as ever.
Reason No. 4: Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and Andrew Bynum
Lamar Odom's basketball game is more bipolar than a struggling teen trying to discover herself. That being said, half the time you still get a guy who has the ability to play like a top-10 player in the league. He has a couple titles under his belt now and is still in his prime years.
We know Odom will at least give a decent effort half the time, but if he decides to fully commit to every game it could be game over for every other team around the league.
Crazy Ron Ron is still a great defender and will be key for defending any potential game-changing small forwards, whether that is LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, or even to a lesser extent Richard Jefferson. He has been a positive force and seems mature enough these days that there shouldn't be any fear of failure by having Artest around.
Andrew Bynum has been dealing with injuries his entire career and this past season was more of the same. He was injured during parts of the Finals (as was Kendrick Perkins in that series) and could have been a lot more helpful for the Lakers.
Reason No. 5: Free Agent Signings
The first and most important signing was re-signing Derek Fisher. Year in and year out, Fisher shows up during the Finals. There was a crucial game in each of the past two Finals where Fisher hit key shots to push L.A. toward a win and eventually to the title. His return to the Lakers over leaving L.A. for Miami was vital to the team's future success.
It is still up in the air whether or not Shannon Brown comes back at this given time. Assuming Brown doesn't come back, they have a great replacement in Matt Barnes. Barnes will be able to stretch the defense with his threes on the offensive side.
Defensively, he will be able to use his length and cause turmoil similarly to the way Trevor Ariza did for the squad two years ago. He just gives more length and size to an already physically imposing squad.
Jordan Farmar left for the Nets and a hole was needed to be filled. That hole should be filled nicely by Steve Blake. Whether starting or coming off the bench, his shooting touch, quickness, and smart playmaking choices all help out. I think this might have been one of the most overlooked signings this offseason. We cannot forget that Blake has been a winner at the University of Maryland with their national title in 2002.
They also added Theo Ratliff to their big man depth in case they have injuries once again. With Bynum's injury past and DJ Mbenga's unknown consistency, this was just a smart move for $825,497 of defense. Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks are undrafted players who could find their way into developing into solid pros under Jackson.
The Lakers are returning the same solid core from last year and I feel although a year older, they are slightly deeper. They now have even more crippling lineups they can throw at opponents with Blake and Barnes signed on to the team. The issue of chemistry should not exist because they have played together (minus Barnes and Blake) and know what is expected of one another.
I expect them to win the title, it's as simple as that. Of course, we play the games before we crown a champion. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.
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