Los Angeles Lakers: Complete Season Preview and Primer
Just four short days remain until we get our first glimpse of new head coach Mike Brown's Los Angeles Lakers, a team we last saw appearing disinterested during their attempt at a third straight title while being swept away by the eventual NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
It was a meltdown of epic proportions under the guidance of their legendary head coach, Phil Jackson. And when the dust settled, one thing remained clear: It was time for change.
And change they got, a new man upstairs rumored to be calling the shots, a new coach, a new system, a new defensive philosophy, new players and the subtraction of one very popular, do-it-all combo forward.
If there's one common theme that will remain unchanged from year's past, it should be our ability as fans to always expect the unexpected in Laker Land.
Now let's take a peek at this year's circus...
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Derek Fisher (hopefully not for long)
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Matt Barnes
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Andrew Bynum
Mike Brown announced that Derek Fisher was the starter "for now" and that Metta World Peace (do we really have to call him that?) would be coming off the bench.
Barnes has been the starting small forward in team scrimmages, and Steve Blake has been running the point while Fisher works his way back into playing shape.
What Is Going on with the Point Guard Postion?
I don't see how much longer the Lakers can continue to trot Derek Fisher out there as their starting point guard with a serious face. The loyalty card went out the window with Phil Jackson's departure, and the Lakers no longer have the talent to be able to afford getting absolutely crushed at that position night in, night out.
Fisher is by far the worst starting point guard in the NBA—ranking 60th (yes, you read that correctly, 60th) in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings for qualified point guards.
Steve Blake isn't much better, but he is a slight upgrade over Fisher and he should be the starter before it's all said and done.
As an avid follower of college basketball, I can definitively say that Darius Morris was a great player at the University of Michigan last season. Unfortunately, I'm not quite ready to determine whether or not he'll be able to contribute as a rookie point guard for the Lakers. I should also note that Morris is 6'4" and contributed 11 points, three rebounds and three assists as the second player off Mike Brown's bench in the Lakers preseason opener.
Obviously, this is a position in serious need of an upgrade, which makes the David Stern decision on the Chris Paul trade that much more frustrating for Lakers fans.
In the past, the Lakers have been able to get by without an elite point guard thanks to a younger Kobe Bryant, three seven footers and the triangle offense. None of those things exist anymore.
The NBA has become a league dominated by point guards, and the Lakers can ill afford to continue to try to get by with their current personnel.
Is Matt Barnes the Answer at Small Forward?
The Lakers could really use a player like Lamar Odom to pencil in at the three...oh wait, never mind.
Count me amongst the group of people that think the career of Metta World Peace is over before it started. The artist formerly know as Ron Artest showed up to training camp out of shape, lost his starting spot and went 0-for-8 from the field in the preseason opener.
I would be very curious to know if Mitch Kupchak didn't seriously consider using the Lakers amnesty clause on MWP (much easier to type) and just cutting ties altogether.
By default, Matt Barnes opens as the Lakers starting small forward, but don't be surprised if Devin Ebanks makes a serious push for the starting job.
Kobe Bryant has been singing the praises of the second-year player out of West Virginia, comparing him to a younger version of Trevor Ariza.
Ebanks (6'9", 215 lbs) has the length to bother shooters on the perimeter, and according to Bryant, is a very underrated offensive player. If he can consistently knock down the three, he will see a lot of playing time under head coach Mike Brown as a result of his ability to defend on the perimeter.
Will Any of the Recent Additions Make an Early Impact?
In a roundabout way, the Lakers essentially traded Lamar Odom for Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono.
And it should be noted that the three players combined salaries are less than the 8.9 million the Lakers would have paid Odom this season.
McRoberts will be counted on heavily right out of the gates, as he will be thrust into the starting lineup immediately on Christmas Day thanks to Andrew Bynum's five-game suspension to start the season.
I wrote this yesterday in regards to Kapono and Muprhy:
"Kapono led the league in three-point percentage in back-to-back seasons (2007/2008) and is a career 43.7 percent shooter. During the 2009 and 2010 NBA seasons, Murphy shot 691 threes and made 289 of them (41.8 percent). It's no secret that both players have dealt with injuries in 2011, but both remain adamant about their health today, and the Lakers will be counting on them to prove it come Sunday."
I think it's safe to say if the Lakers don't get at least minor contributions from all three players this season to help offset the loss of Odom, it will be a very long year.
What Are Some Reasonable Expecations for This Season?
The expectations for this season are simply to be better than last year. Anything short of a trip to the Western Conference Finals will be a disappointment.
The Lakers still have enough pieces to compete for a trip to the Finals, but please excuse me for having an extremely difficult time envisioning Derek Fisher or Steve Blake keeping Russell Westbrook in check while Matt Barnes or the out-of-shape MWP are charged with slowing down Kevin Durant.
Unless the Lakers are somehow able to upgrade their roster at the point guard and small forward positions, I don't see them getting to 45 wins this season (remember, we're only playing 66) or being able to compete with a young and athletic team like Oklahoma City.
If the Lakers didn't have enough talent with Lamar Odom last year to get past the second round of the playoffs, how can anyone reasonably argue that they will fare any better this season?
Question and Answer Session
Q: Which player absolutely has to have a huge season for the Lakers to be successful?
A: Andrew Bynum must be the 20 and 10 All-Star center the Lakers have been telling us about for the past three years. If Bynum is dominant, the Lakers will have a chance to win the West.
Q: Who is the most important player off the Lakers bench?
A: Three-way tie between Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy. In case you haven't noticed, I've given up on Metta.
Q: Who is primed to be the Lakers breakout player of the year?
A: Devin Ebanks has all the physical tools to be the starting small forward for this team by the All-Star break. The key to his success (or failure) will be his ability to consistently knock down outside shots while keeping opposing defenses honest when he's on the floor.
Q: Is there any way you can envision someone other than Derek Fisher or Steve Blake starting at point guard for this team?
A: Keep an eye on the rookie out of Michigan, Darius Morris. At 6'4", he has the size to be successful at this level and he possesses exceptional play making abilities. The questions will be: Can he make a three? Can he guard smaller, faster point guards? Can he take care of the ball?
My advice would be, don't count on a rookie point guard being the answer in 2012.
Q: What's your prediction for the season?
A: 41-25 regular season record, fourth or fifth seed in the West, first-round playoff exit.
I don't know what's going on in Laker Land these days, but the inexplicable trade of Lamar Odom and the failure to significantly upgrade their roster leads me to believe that this year's team is not as good as the one that was swept out of the playoffs in the second round last year.
I hope they prove me wrong.