The 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers Season Preview
by Brandon Neal
"Your future takes precedence over your past. Focus on your future, rather than on the past." - Gary Ryan Blair
Months ago, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Since that nasty defeat in the NBA Finals, the Lakers have welcomed back Andrew Bynum, who will be our starting center, and are making lineup changes that will eventually benefit their perimeter offense and bench production. To date, the Lakers are courting the best player in the world in Kobe Bryant, who will be returning for his 13th NBA season. Only two players on Los Angeles' roster are over 30 -- Kobe, who plays like he's much younger, and Derek Fisher, both being originals from the three-peat Lakers from almost a decade ago. With little experience outside of the championship duo comes big expectations for the next two or three years, at the very least. It can be debated that this Lakers squad, barring any injuries, has the potential to be one of the best Lakers fans have seen since the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West. However, there's no denying the talent around the league, especially in the Western Conference, so with all things considered, there's no guarantee that this season will rival that of other 60-win Lakers teams in the past, but one thing is for certain: based on visuals from last season, the starting five and bench, under Phil Jackson's wing, will turn confident non-Lakers fans into nail-biters halfway through the regular season.
For Lakers roster information, click here.
THE STARTING FIVE
17 - ANDREW BYNUM (profile)
School: St. Joseph HS (NJ)
Drafted: 1st Round, 10th (LAL) 2005
Projected Stats: 13.3 PPG, 58% FG, 10.1 RPG, 2.1 BPG
After a successful knee surgery, Andrew Bynum seemed to be back to his old self in preseason basketball. Before the injury, Bynum was averaging a solid 13 points per game, along with ten boards. Granted this was only for 35 games, many don't understand that it was for almost a half a season, not a month. Bynum is nearly impossible to stop once he gets three or four feet from the rim, and with less body fat this season, Bynum's frame makes it tough for anyone to keep him grounded. Andrew has to play hard every night, stay healthy, and focus on dunking everything he gets his paws on, if he wants to be called one of the best centers in the league someday.
16 - PAU GASOL (profile)
Drafted: 1st Round, 3rd (ATL) 2001
Projected Stats: 14.5 PPG, 54% FG, 8.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Defensively, Pau Gasol has little to show for, minus his length. Otherwise, Gasol is an excellent player. With the ability to play with his back to the basket, or face up, at two different positions, Pau could be Kobe Bryant's favorite target once again this season. Gasol's passing is very impressive for a big man; definitely not what you'd see from Shaquille O'Neal years ago, but Gasol's range is better, which makes it easy to draw defenders. If it's a dunk, a hook, or a mid-range jumper, Pau Gasol can give it to you consistently, which makes him a dangerous weapon in the triangle offense this season.
10 - VLADIMIR RADMANOVIC (profile)
School: Serbia & Montenegro
Drafted: 1st Round, 12th (SEA) 2001
Projected Stats: 7.2 PPG, 45% FG, 3.1 RPG, 1.8 APG
Replacing Lamar Odom in the starting lineup, Vladimir Radmanovic is to the Lakers as Toni Kukoc was to the Chicago Bulls: an international forward that's instructed to "bomb away." Radmanovic can shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc, and if necessary, knows how to put the ball on the floor. His rebounding may not be up to par with other players near his height, but on a team with Bynum and Gasol running with him in the frontcourt, Radmanovic should have nothing to worry about five or six feet from the rim, which is where he'll be spending very little of his time in the first place.
24 - KOBE BRYANT (profile)
School: Lower Merion HS (PA)
Drafted: 1st Round, 13th (NOH) 1996
Projected Stats: 26.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.1 APG
The 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player in the world today. If critics are declaring your trust issues as your only weakness, you have something to brag about, and since last season, Bryant has been able to trust his teammates quite well (possibly due to the fact that he has legitimate teammates now). The best scorer in the NBA is also one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league, and it may be his determination and undying will to win that will lead him to possibly his fourth NBA championship in 2009, as well as a second run at another MVP award. With more help at all positions, and players moving back to their original spots on the court, the load may be less for Kobe, but the task is still the same.
2 - DEREK FISHER (profile)
School: Arkansas-Little Rock
Drafted: 1st Round, 24th (LAL) 1996
Projected Stats: 9.7 PPG, 42% FG, 1.7 RPG, 3.1 APG
Derek Fisher, who may be fighting with Jordan Farmar for the starting point guard spot, provides veteran leadership on and off the court. One of the better players in the league at drawing an offensive foul, Fisher's smothering defense helps his steals-to-turnover ratio, but also gets him into trouble sometimes, leaving him vulnerable to guards with an explosive first step, or those that are simply faster than Fisher. His ability to hit the open three overshadows his weakneses on defense, though, which has been the feature of Derek's game since the Lakers drafted him in 1996.
7 - LAMAR ODOM (profile)
School: Rhode Island
Drafted: 1st Round, 4th (LAC) 1999
Projected Stats: 12.4 PPG, 53% FG, 9.1 RPG, 3.9 APG
Strengths: ball-handling, passing, rebounding
Weaknesses: post defense, clutch scoring
5 - JORDAN FARMAR (profile)
Drafted: 1st Round, 26th (LAL) 2006
Projected Stats: 10.2 PPG, 47% FG, 2.1 RPG, 2.5 APG
Strengths: quickness, jumpshooting
Weaknesses: perimeter defense, playmaking
18 - SASHA VUJACIC (profile)
Drafted: 1st Round, 27th (LAL) 2004
Projected Stats: 7.9 PPG, 46% FG, 1.9 RPG, 1.9 APG
Strengths: three-point shooting, ball-handling
Weaknesses: quickness, physical strength
3 - TREVOR ARIZA (profile)
Drafted: 2nd Round, 43rd (NYK) 2004
Projected Stats: 6.1 PPG, 47% FG, 2.8 RPG, 1.4 APG
Strengths: athleticism, on-ball defense
Weaknesses: jumpshooting, inconsistency
4 - LUKE WALTON (profile)
Drafted: 2nd Round, 32nd (LAL) 2003
Projected Stats: 4.8 PPG, 41% FG, 3.5 RPG, 3.2 APG
Strengths: passing, basketball IQ
Weaknesses: interior defense, scoring
31 - CHRIS MIHM (profile)
Drafted: 1st Round, 7th (CHI) 2000
Projected Stats: 4.5 PPG, 48% FG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Strengths: low-post scoring, rebounding
Weaknesses: health, interior defense
21 - JOSH POWELL (profile)
School: North Carolina State
Projected Stats: 4.0 PPG, 47% FG, 4.3 RPG, 0.9 APG
Strengths: rebounding, physical strength
Weaknesses: interior scoring, basketball IQ
28 - DJ MBENGA (profile)
Projected Stats: 2.2 PPG, 49% FG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 BPG
Strengths: shot-blocking, physical strength
Weaknesses: scoring, playmaking
9 - SUN YUE (profile)
Drafted: 2nd Round, 40th (LAL) 2007
Projected Stats: 1.8 PPG, 36% FG, 0.9 RPG, 1.0 APG
Weaknesses: turnover-prone, perimeter scoring
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2009
From top to bottom, the Los Angeles Lakers may be the best team in the NBA, and they will set out to prove it this season. Once again, the triangle offense will be implemented, but the key to the Lakers' success this season will be defense. Bynum and Ariza will surely help lessen the Lakers' woes on the defensive end, along with Bryant, but Gasol and Odom will be asked to lock in on their opponents much better, playing more physical basketball under the rim, and crashing the boards, which hurt us against stronger frontcourts throughout last season. Also, guard penetration needs to be minimized, and with an additional seven-footer in the paint, there's less room for a Tony Parker or Steve Nash to slide in and lay the ball up off the glass.
Our biggest issue on the offensive end has to be moving without the ball, and spacing. The triangle offense demands spacing, playmaking, and versatility, from all players (including the big men). Instead of having shoes of stone (sluggish movement, sometimes no movement at all), every player in purple and gold needs to learn, and apply, the basic cuts and post-positions in the triangle. Practicing good spacing and movement will not only beat most defenses with this type of offense, but also cut down on the effectiveness of the zone defense, which has been the antidote for the triangle offense since Phil Jackson, Tex Winter and Jim Cleamons introduced it to the Lakers in 1999.
Finally, attention has to be directed at Jackson, specifically for his in-game decisions. Jackson's rotations seem to be effective, but the timing has been questioned, especially late in the third and early fourth quarters. Phil Jackson's mind games has worked in the past, and may even be working with Lamar Odom, but you'd have to wonder if he's focusing too much on the players as individuals, rather than the game itself.
There are two notable streaks in the schedule: five consecutive home games to end the month of November, and a seven-game road trip at the end of March. The March road trip may be easy, as the Lakers play the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks (with the Detroit Pistons being a toss-up). Also, from March 9th - March 17th, the Lakers will play the Portland TrailBlazers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and the Philadelphia 76ers. No team would be happy about that, especially when the first three are on the road.
The Lakers racked up a very impressive 22-5 record with Pau Gasol in the lineup. If you do the math, that's an .815 win percentage, which equals a 67-win season. Keep in mind that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have yet to play a regular season game together. If fully healthy, the Lakers could reach 67 wins or beyond, something they did in the 1999-00 and the 1971-72 NBA seasons. Putting it into that perspective, it seems impossible.
With that said, I have no choice but to believe they will match that total of 67 wins, exceeding the Boston Celtics' win total from last year by one. They will defeat the Hornets in the Western Conference Finals, 4-2. Then, in a series featuring the two best players in the league, the Lakers will defeat the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, 4-1.
LET'S CLOSE THE BOOK
Remembering the past is fine. It helps us prepare for the future. However, living in the past sends you in the wrong direction. Tonight, the championship rings were handed to each player who wore a Boston Celtics jersey in 2008. As of today, there is no NBA champion -- only contenders. The Lakers are the favorites coming out of the Western Conference, and perhaps the favorites to win it all this season. It's a long, rough road ahead, an agonizing 82-game regular season, but the sweet taste of victory is near. There's no success without struggle, and there's no struggle without blood and sweat. The offseason was the calm before the storm, and starting October 28th, it may be "lights out" for Lakers opponents, as a new dynasty is built from top to bottom, and a championship banner is raised once again in Los Angeles.