The Los Angeles Lakers are considered underdogs to repeat as NBA Champions and the more I consider that shocking fact, the more I have come to agree with it. The truth is the Lakers are not even as good as they were last season when they barely beat the fourth seeded Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Many people have looked at the front office's off season moves and attempted to spin them as a positive rather than a negative for L.A., but I can not longer go along with such deceptions and this article will poke holes in the Los Angeles propaganda machine. For argument's sake I will consider their main competition, currently the Miami Heat, as a measuring stick.
Kobe Bryant has a growing list of career injuries. The most noticeable is his knee surgery, the third major surgery in his career on the knee, which Kobe says is about "60 percent healed" at this point. Although Kobe fans will suggest it means he had a good summer of rest and recuperation, the fact is he will begin the season with less training, strength, and preparation than he has in years.
Offseason weight lifting and training is a serious part of Kobe's regimen and a reason for his end-of-season success. Viewed in this light, time missed due to surgery is a negative, thus Kobe Bryant is worse off than he was a year ago, and worse off than he was in the playoffs.
Lamar Odom spent his summer playing FIBA basketball in Turkey (where he won the gold medal) after playing 237 regular season games since the start of the 2007-2008 season, plus 60-plus playoff games.
Every year he gets older and the risk of injury grows; he has now played in as many or more basketball games at the professional level than any other player in the world. Lamar Odom will likely miss at least ten games due to injury this year.
Derek Fisher continues to decline each year due to aging, and Lakers fans were almost unanimously hoping he would retire after the season, only to be seduced by a few big shots in the playoffs. There isn't another NBA team he would start for in an open competition, and in fact when he played for the Golden State Warriors in 2004-2006 and the Utah Jazz in 2006-2007, he started less than half the games.
If Derek Fisher wasn't a consistent starter on the Warriors five years ago, how can he be the starter for the best team in the league now?
Andrew Bynum announced he will be missing the first month of the season due to his third major knee surgery in his young career, and Phil Jackson is suggesting he may place a hard cap on Andrew's minutes each night to prevent further injuries. The future "franchise player" of the Lakers may be reduced to a role player before the age of 23.
Lakers fans have insisted that he merely needs to be ready for the playoffs, but what good will it do them if Bynum has practiced and played so little that a healthy body won't make up for all the lost time and reps?
Perhaps the single bright spot for the Lakers is Pau Gasol, who will be asked to carry an even larger burden than before with all the injured or slowed players around him. Can the man many labelled as "soft" now carry the mammoth expectations of the Los Angeles sports universe?
He made it a priority to rest this summer rather than play in the World Championships in Turkey and that should pay off with less injuries and fatigue during the regular season.
Offseason additions of journeyman Matt Barnes (now with his eighth team) and Steve Blake (seventh team) will likely not contribute much over past seasons. If seven teams have passed on Matt Barnes, it is hard to imagine him becoming a valuable player in the triangle offense.
The fact is the Lakers have injuries or declining abilities due to age at every position. I can't think of a single player besides Pau Gasol who is projected on an individual level to improve over last year. If every player will decline slightly on an individual level, then the team must decline as a whole over the previous year. Therefore, we can conclude the Lakers are worse than they were just a few months ago.
Contrasted with the favorites, the Miami Heat, who have assembled a team of offensive weapons who are younger and healthier than the Lakers, combined with a new level of focus and attention to detail brought about the by new situation and expectations for all involved, the Lakers simply appear to be a team that is on the decline.
The Lakers will probably finish the season with many games missed due to injury for nearly every starter, having to fill significant minutes with bench players and castaways from other teams, and may not have the best record in the Western Conference.
Prediction: OKC Thunder finishes ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference.