Los Angeles Lakers: Five Burning Training Camp Questions
After a busy summer of free agent signings and rehabilitations, the Los Angeles Lakers open up training camp tomorrow.
The two-time defending champions will have plenty of work to do before they embark for their preseason scamper about Europe.
With the Miami Heat assembling a core of Superfriends and the likes of Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant recovering from last season's injuries, the Lakers are no longer a shoe-in for the franchise's second three-peat under Phil Jackson.
As such, there are a number of important questions yet to be answered by the Purple and Gold, some of which may not be sufficiently solved until after the 2010-2011 season.
In no particular order, here are the five most important ones to consider.
Will Andrew Bynum Finally Stay Healthy For a Whole Season?
Ever since Andrew Bynum began to blossom as a basketball player some three years ago, Laker Nation has been left to ponder whether he can or ever will avoid injury long enough to maximize his potential.
There's no doubt that Bynum is still loaded with promise, even after five NBA seasons.
The 7'0", 285-pound youngster has tantalized the basketball world with his strength, footwork down low, athleticism, and ability to run the floor even since he came into the league as a 17-year-old high schooler from Connecticut.
Bynum's flashes of brilliance have been just that—flashes—thanks to a rash of unfortunate ailments over the course of his young career.
From the dislocation of his left knee cap in 2008 to the tear of his right MCL in 2009 and the re-injury of his knee during the 2010 playoffs, Drew has struggled to stay off the operating table.
Word now out of Lakers' camp is that Bynum won't be ready for the start of Lakers camp, which has some questioning the center's decision to put off surgery until after his trip to South Africa for the World Cup.
Nevertheless, Bynum should be back and ready to go by the time the start of the regular season rolls around in October.
If the Lakers want to tie the Celtics' franchise record for NBA championships this year, they'll need Bynum to not just play, but play well and without debilitating injury.
Should Bynum go down once again, GM Mitch Kupchak has veteran Theo Ratliff to mop up minutes in the middle.
How Will The New Additions Fit In?
Of course, Theo Ratliff is far from the only new face on the Lakers' roster.
Kupchak was busy filling out his roster after letting Jordan Farmar depart for New Jersey and the likes of Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga, and Adam Morrison transfer to the ends of other teams' benches.
In their stead, the Lakers brought in Steve Blake to fill in for Farmar and Matt Barnes to serve as Ron Artest's backup at small forward, especially with concerns about Luke Walton's health.
The trio of Barnes, Blake, and Ratliff should prove to be a significant upgrade for the Lakers' second unit, led by FIBA gold medalist and perpetual enigma Lamar Odom. In essence, what were once the team's biggest weaknesses should now be among its strong points.
However, no one will know exactly how the new guys will blend in until the season actually gets going and they get a chance to try out the Triangle.
Will The Lakers' Outside Shooting Be Any Better This Season?
Speaking of soft spots, saying the Lakers struggled shooting from the outside last season would be something of an understatement.
As a whole, Los Angeles shot 34.1 percent from the three-point line, tied for 23rd-best in the NBA. The team's best three-point shooter—at least statistically—was Jordan Farmar at 37.6 percent, and he's now in New Jersey.
The news certainly isn't all bad on the shooting front for the Lakers, though.
For one, new addition Steve Blake has an accurate shot, hitting better than 39 percent of his three-point shots in his career, including 43.7 percent last season in 29 games for the crosstown Clippers.
Laker Nation is also hoping that Ron Artest's shot will return to 40 percent form now that he's more comfortable with the Triangle.
That being said, the Lakers have made three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals without a legitimate three-point threat.
If the team improves at all from the perimeter this season, there's little doubt that Kobe and his Crew will be among the most dangerous offenses in the league.
How Will The Team Stay Motivated Through Another Long Season?
Most teams would have little trouble getting up for every game if they knew they had any shot at a championship, much less a third title in a row.
Then again, most teams aren't the Lakers.
And while LA will likely turn it on once the postseason rolls around, the Lakers won't necessarily have the luxury of plodding through the regular season and coming out with the top seed in the West this time around.
That's because teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Dallas Mavericks are primed to clean up if the Lakers leave behind too many scraps before the spring.
Even then, the Purple and Gold has shown a propensity to play less-than-inspired basketball in the playoffs. See this past season's performance against the Thunder in the first round and the previous year's series against the short-handed Houston Rockets in the second round.
So what can/will the Lakers do to keep things interesting in pursuit of a fourth straight Finals appearance and a three-peat?
Things should be a bit more interesting with new second- and third-stringers trying to work their into the Triangle offense, which doesn't lend itself well to individuals who've never played in it.
Also, the Lakers will have no shortage of challengers in their own conference (i.e. the three teams mentioned above) as well as in the East.
A rematch with the Magic? A 13th tilt with the Celtics, who now boast Shaquille "Benedict Arnold" O'Neal on the roster?
Or, how about a clash with the newly-anointed royalty of the NBA—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat?
All of those factors should give the Lakers plenty to think about when the team starts shuffling through the motions.
That being said, the effect these concerns might play in the team's psyche pale in comparison to one single notion, which brings us to the final training camp question for the Lakers...
Will This Actually Be Phil Jackson's Final Season?
Laker Nation spent part of the summer anxiously awaiting word on whether Phil Jackson would come back for one last shot at his 12th title and fourth three-peat.
Once the Zen Master officially announced he would return for a farewell tour, the vibe around downtown LA was one of both relief that Phil would be back but concern over who would replace him on the bench next summer.
In typical Phil fashion, Jackson didn't do much to alleviate those concerns, choosing instead to stir the pot at his press conference today by suggesting he's still not sure if this season will actually be his last.
Of course, if Phil does decide to stick around beyond the 2010-2011 season, no one would mind, not even Dr. Jerry Buss, who offered Phil a pay cut despite leading the franchise to yet another championship.
There's still a strong possibility that the 2011-2012 season won't happen due to a looming lockout, which would grant the Zen Master plenty of time to meditate and collect himself in preparation for another long, arduous season on the bench in LA.
Either way, the Lakers will be playing this year for one of two reasons.
To send Jackson riding off into the Montana sunset riding his Harley with more rings than his hands can bear, or to convince Phil to stay, to let him know that he will win forever so long as he's at the helm for the Purple and Gold.