So the Lakers enter the second half of the season with the All-Star break about a week away, and already there are more questions about this team then there were last season.
In the last week alone, there have been rumors of a mega trade that would bring Carmelo Anthony to town, rumors of a trade that would've taken Ron Artest out of town, rumors that Artest wanted a trade and questions about the Lakers' toughness and ability to win games against the NBA's elite.
Mitch Kupchak's ears must be burning.
Truth of the matter is that the Lakers are definitely struggling right now, but these are still the defending champions. So with that in mind, here are 10 bold predictions for the Lake Show entering the second half of the season.
The schedule isn't as easy as it was earlier in the season, but after Sunday, the schedule gets a little easier. LA is already on a three-game win streak, and if the Lakers can win tonight in New York and Sunday in Orlando, they can put a nice run together.
The next five games after the showdown with Orlando are at Charlotte, at Cleveland, home vs Atlanta, at Portland and then the Clippers.
The last couple of games on that stretch are not easy, but these are all teams the Lakers should beat considering they're the Lakers. I mean, could you imagine if they're the ones who break Cleveland's losing streak?
Ron Artest won't be traded. The fact of the matter is he still has too big of a cap hit considering his baggage for anyone to really take him on. Even if the Lakers were to trade him, he would probably be part of a bigger deal like the newly-rumored Carmelo Anthony deal.
Plus, for the way his mood and personality seem to change by the hour, he still can be an effective player when he's going well. His defense could be an invaluable asset down the stretch if the Lakers can keep him focused when it counts.
But some people close to the Lakers have made it known they're willing to deal. I don't know how much credence I put into the rumored deals that would've sent Artest to Charlotte, but it sounds like the Lakers are at least thinking about it.
When it's all said and done, Ron-Ron will still be around. The Lakers still have a use for him and Artest is still useful when he's right. But the Lakers will still have their ears to the wall, and if they come across a deal involving Artest that they think can make them better, they wouldn't be afraid to pull the trigger.
Phil Jackson knows that the Lakers have success when Gasol is involved in the game and when he's getting touches and shots down low. But too many times this season, Gasol has been invisible.
Part of that has been the flow of the game, but part of that is also Kobe reverting to the older Kobe and jacking up 30 shots a night. Not that he's not a player who can't be successful doing that, but he knows by now the team does better when Gasol gets touches and establishes a presence.
Jackson will make sure he remembers.
It's not too often when ESPN's Skip Bayless says something and you think to yourself "that actually makes sense." But he might be on something when he mentioned that Bryant only played five minutes in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
He was much fresher, and in turn, much better.
Bryant is still one of the elite players in the world, but all those miles are starting to show. If the Lakers can keep Bryant at bay a little longer down the stretch and save him some minutes, they could extend his life and make him better down the stretch.
We've heard so much about the Lakers' struggles against elite competition and how they couldn't get a showcase win until last night in Boston. It sounds silly that we're talking about signature wins in the NBA, but it does go a long way towards building confidence.
Of their remaining schedule, the Lakers still have two games left with San Antonio, two with Dallas, two with Oklahoma City, one with Miami and one with Orlando. The Lakers will have chances to get more of these "elite wins." And if they can get two, especially one against San Antonio, that will go a long way towards building their confidence.
The Spurs have been nothing short of phenomenal in the first half of the season, and they've been relatively lucky in terms of injuries. Odds say that the age of some of their key players and law of averages has to catch up with them eventually and they'll go through a drought.
If that's the case, the Lakers will have their opening. Los Angeles is currently 7.5 games back of the Spurs in the West. If they can take advantage of the Spurs' cold snap, then they can find themselves right back in the conversation for the top spot in the West.
No, it won't be for Carmelo Anthony (sorry Lakers fans).
If we remember the Pau Gasol trade, it happened very quietly. Plus I've felt that a Carmelo Anthony trade would be overkill for the Lakers. If the Lakers have a real need, they can use some depth in the frontcourt.
I'm expecting the Lakers to make a move of some sort, but it's not going to be a blockbuster. I'd expect it to be a smaller move for a role player or a forward/center who can take some of the pressure off of Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum and provide some defense.
Building off of the idea of getting those signature wins against elite opponents, there is a stretch that could very well make or break the season.
It's four straight games in March: at San Antonio, at Atlanta, at Miami, at Dallas.
The Atlanta game is probably the easiest (by that I mean the most winnable) of those four games, although they are a good club as well. But a four-game stretch with four of the best teams in the league will go a long way towards defining the Lakers' season.
If they can split those games or even get three, then they'll feel phenomenal about themselves going forward.
Either way, we'll learn a lot about the Lakers in those four games.
The Lakers are definitely talented enough to win the title; they've already proved they can do it back-to-back years with basically the same core group.
But the question will be, can they even get out of the West?
The first round shouldn't be a problem, but a possible second-round matchup with the Mavericks and facing the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals would be a tough gauntlet to run considering how well each of those teams have played before. If the Lakers get a little bit of luck, I can see it happening.
But if they don't, then I don't think the Lakers make it out of the West.