By Andrew Upshaw
Lakers fans are mad excited for next season. The Lakers landed Steve Nash AND Dwight Howard and now have four all-star caliber players in their starting lineup, which already includes Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Last season's disappointing ending has already been redeemed in most fans eyes, mine included. The Miami Heat's title reign already looks to be in jeopardy to many casual observers. The hype is crazy and the expectations for the Lakers next season are as high as they can be. It’s a championship or bust. Kobe likes to believe that’s his standard every year but last season the Lakers weren’t even close. They were lucky to win one game from the Thunder even though they should have won 2 or 3. In upgrading from Andrew Bynum to Dwight Howard the Lakers improved a lot. Not just on paper. The addition of Steve Nash gives the Lakers a great point guard for the first time since Magic Johnson. No team in the league can compete talent wise with the Lakers staring line-up, on paper. But it’s going to take more than that for the Lakers to transform from the champs on paper to the actual champs.
Because Kobe has won so many rings people are inclined to believe they were easy for him to win, but the opposite is true. Kobe has won 5 rings, but has been knocked out of the playoffs more than twice as often. It’s hard to win a championship even with great talent. Just ask Lebron James. I'm not ready to crown The Lakers but sometimes it’s just as fun to imagine the potential. And really how great it is gonna be when the Lakers meet the Thunder in the playoffs? Never mind if the Lakers face the Heat in the Finals.
That’s the Finals every one wants but the journey there will be just as exciting in a different way. Kobe is the second best player on the team for the first time since Shaq played in LA, though his reputation is still number 1. Kobe is playing with a ball dominant point guard for the first time in his career. The Lakers are running the Princeton offense next year. Steve Nash will also have to adjust to playing with Kobe, who likes to shoot. Kobe might have to curtail his shooting, which he doesn’t like to do. Wait, has Kobe EVER curtailed his shooting? I’m actually not concerned much about Kobe shooting too much. He can shoot as much as he want as long as he's efficient which is something he wasn’t last year. Pau Gasol didn’t play up to his usual standards last year (although he was still very good) and is looking to redeem himself this year. He needs to develop chemistry with Dwight Howard and Mike Brown needs to do a better job getting Pau post touches. On paper that sounds difficult because Dwight is the Center and therefore needs post touches just as Andrew Bynum did last year. But the Lakers have a dynamic playmaker in Steve Nash and can do something they couldn’t last year: put a lineup on the floor with more than 3 scoring threats. That is gonna make life easier for Pau and every one else offensively. Dwight Howard doesn’t have the conventional back to the basket post up game Bynum has, but he’s actually just as effective. Dwight is better on pick n rolls also (he’s awesome at these. Awesome. And he’s gonna run them with Steve Nash who’s also awesome at them. Awesome).
Dwight's an above average passer where Bynum has average at best. He can run the floor better. On paper Dwight will make the Laker's offense better. And that’s before we get to how Dwight improves the laker defense. Steve is a subpar defender, Kobe is slightly above average in his advanced age, and Pau is also above average. Dwight is the best defensive player in the league and his presence alone should make the Lakers a top ten defense. Dwight did the same for The Magic who had plenty of mediocre defensive players around him. Right now Dwight Howard is rehabbing form a back injury he suffered late last season. There’s a decent chance he may miss training camp and the early part of the season. Dwight is happy to be a Laker no doubt. It’s all good right now to be the paper champion.
Dwight and The Lakers need to work their asses off to become a real champ though. For all of their talent they have some disadvantages to the other contenders. The Lakers are a new team and lack The Thunder and Heat’s chemistry. The Lakers have to work harder to develop that kind of chemistry, especially if Dwight misses the start of the season. The heat still have the biggest advantage in the world in Lebron James. They also have off time for Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to get healthy. They added Ray Allen. They also know how to win. The Heat's three best players are still in their primes, while 3 out of 4 of the Lakers best players are old. In Kobe and Nash's case: really old. The OKC Thunder make the Lakers look even older though. Kevin Durant, James Harden Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka who just signed an extension were little kids when Kobe and Nash entered the league in 1996. Really though Durant is the oldest and he was 8 in 1996. Dwight is the only Laker that can keep up athletically with the Thunder and Heat. Then there’s the Laker supporting cast, which was the Lakers’ biggest weakness by far in 2012 besides Andrew Bynum gray hairs. Its better this year but how much better?
They finally got Kobe a back up in Meek Mills Jodie Meeks. Jodie Meeks is young and is a decent three-point shooter and also played on a good defensive team last year with the Sixers. His career PER is 12.0, which is below average. But he’s better than what the Lakers had last year. A key move for me was he resigning of Jordan Hill. Hill didn’t play at all until the last few games of the regular season and the playoffs, but when he did play he was good. Jordan Hill will give the Lakers a solid back up for Dwight and Pau when Dwight gets healthy. The Lakers also signed Antawn Jamison who fits in perfectly age-wise. He’s a slight upgrade over Matt Barnes and if you add him and Metta World Peace together you have one good NBA player. When Antawn is on the floor he’ll help the Laker’s offense and hurt their D, and Metta will help their D and hurt their offense. Not great but keep in mind that Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono played significant minutes for the Lakers last year. They will most likely have Steve Blake back Nash up. That’s not very good. Its better than last year however when Steve Blake was playing big minutes in the playoffs. The Lakers are already better and more exciting than they were last season. It’s a start. The question of whether or not The Lakers can hang with Miami and Oklahoma City can wait.