Los Angeles Lakers: Why Champs Will Dominate the West Again
The Los Angeles Lakers have dominated the West these past three seasons. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' General Manager, has done a brilliant job in acquiring talent that can fit around Kobe Bryant. There isn't a player on the team that can challenge Kobe as the "man" on the team as Shaq could (in his prime of course), therefore eliminating the same problems that plagued the team during the 2004 season.
Pau Gasol proved to be the perfect pickup to play alongside Kobe as his "Robin," and LA didn't have to give up a core piece to make the deal. Gasol can't be your first option on a championship team and having a Kobe Bryant to play alongside him has glorified his legacy just as much as the Spaniard has helped LA. Even with the acquisition of Gasol, the Western Conference was supposed to be too deep for LA to dominate every year, but that hasn't stopped them.
The Western conference, unlike the East, has been very competitive these last three seasons. Entry into the playoffs would require at least 50 wins, while in the East teams who aren't even at .500 are playing in the postseason. Despite playing in a tough the Western Conference, LA continued their reign of dominance these past three seasons.
With the Western Conference teams loading up again, you have to ask the question, what's the point? Every team wants to trade for a guy that can help their team as much as Gasol has, but that will be a tough feat. LA already had a good team before Gasol came (I believe they were first in the West before Bynum went down). They had Kobe Bryant, a great bench, Phil Jackson, and a promising Andrew Bynum. Not many teams have that already in place before adding a key piece.
Here are the reasons why LA will continue it's dominance in the very deep Western Conference.
What team out West can stop both Bynum and Gasol in the paint? The answer is no one. While they still have to work on some kinks, it has proven so far to be a success when they're playing together. Gasol usually plays in the high post when Bynum is out there with him and is just as successful.
Gasol is still in his prime, and Bynum just turned 22. It's scary to think that Bynum can still improve individually and also as a pair with Gasol. Like I said before, they still haven't found a complete comfort zone when they play with each other. That has a lot to do with Bynum's knee injuries. They need experience playing with each other to get better, and if Bynum could stay healthy, that's a frightening thought for the rest of the West.
Eliminating LA's size advantage is the first step in trying to dethrone the defending champs.
LA's "bench mob" has been very weak these last two seasons. They were a very inconsistent bunch who played more as individuals than as a unit. They blew many leads that the starters established, and on most nights, the other team's bench would completely outplay them. Some of those other bench units were even less talented than LA's reserves but still managed to match their production or best it.
This season should be different. Mitch did a great job in acquiring Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, both on the cheap. Both players fit the triangle and bring skill sets that could boost production for the bench unit. They also mesh well with the starters. Ratliff is a nice back-up option especially if Bynum goes down with another injury. Also, two promising rookies were added to the roster. Both Ebanks and Caracter can be good role players down the line if they can continue to improve their game year in and year out.
By adding those new pieces to the bench while already having the versatile Lamar Odom and athletic Shannon Brown, LA expects big things from the bench unit in the upcoming season.
The Black Mamba
Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game right now. He doesn't need to add to his legacy, but that hasn't stopped him. That's the type of player he is, and you'll find that type of mentality in all the great ones.
Kobe has definitely sacrificed individual stats for the betterment of the team. There are talks about Kobe's decline, but that's just crazy talk. The guy was a walking injury last season, and yet people want to blame his age. Kobe keeps his body in shape every offseason and is a workout warrior. I understand he has a lot of mileage on him, but Kobe's stats aren't declining due to age.
I believe his stats are mostly declining because Kobe understands that having shootouts won't win games. He has matured significantly as a player and has truly understood that championships define your career, not MVP awards (hear that Lebron!).
As long as he stays healthy, Kobe has 4 (maybe 5) good years left in him and that could mean 4 to 5 more championships for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Western Conference has to go through the Lakers and a hungry Kobe Bryant. Teams out west believe they have a chance at dethroning LA, but realistically there is an understanding that the only thing stopping the Lakers is the Lakers.