2013-14 record: 27-55
Key Additions: Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Julius Randle, Wayne Ellington
Key Departures: Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Pau Gasol, Marshon Brooks, Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG: Steve Nash SG: Kobe Bryant SF: Wesley Johnson PF Carlos Boozer C Jordan Hill
I’d like to start by saying that I think this Lakers team is going to be far better than they’re being given credit for. Not on the level of being a top team in the West or certainly being a title contender, but they’re going to compete well every night against every team they play. I wouldn’t be surprised if their final win total is much more than I predict at the bottom of this post, but more on that later.
A return that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves is that of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers were pitiful last year, proving just how valuable Kobe is. The team couldn’t defend, and most importantly, they couldn’t win. Now, they’ve lost their two best scorers (Meeks and Gasol) and their best facilitator (Marshall), but they’ve added Bryant and a few other guys who should be big time contributors. The question is whether the replacements are going to be able to improve on what the team did (and didn’t do) last year.
I have little doubt that they’re going to not only improve, but look greatly better. The reason is simple enough: the Black Mamba. Kobe is a killer and he’s going to be on a mission. He hasn’t had a losing season since 04-05, and that’s the only one he’s suffered through in his entire career. This year is likely going to be the second, but it won’t be any fault of Bryant’s. One of my bolder predictions for 14-15 is that Kobe leads the league in scoring, dropping over 30 per game. He’s on a mission, and it won’t matter who’s standing in his way.
Unfortunately though, the Lakers do have to put at least four other guys on the court. Nash is getting old, but he’s still a valuable player to have on a team, if for nothing else than his experience. I was a big fan of Wesley Johnson’s game in Minnesota (if not necessarily the results). The guy has talent, and when there’s almost no defensive talent on him, he should be able to let that sometimes-shrouded ability shine through.
The big men actually aren’t terrible. I’ve got a lot of faith in Jordan Hill who had some huge games last year. Instead of being the exception, I think those games are going to become the norm for Hill this season, as he’ll gobble rebounds, swat shots, and keep up his great offensive efficiency. He’ll be a solid scoring option, but whether he’ll be enough remains to be seen. Behind Hill and Boozer they’ll have top pick Julius Randle. I watched Randle play a fair bit last year, and in my opinion he was the most NBA-ready big man in college hoops. I can’t say whether ability in college will actually translate to the NBA, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t. Look for him to work his way into a major rotation spot by a quarter of the way through the season.
The thing is, as great as this Lakers team make look in a vacuum, their talented players are old and their young players are too inexperienced. They’re at a crossroads right now, and while Kobe isn’t done, he’s also not good enough to carry a team on his own. The Lakers could be a lot better than predicted, but it’s going to take a major resurgence out of a lot of their veterans, and that seems rather unlikely, at least for any extended period of time. Their final record will be hurt even more by the fact they have to play Western Conference teams for the majority of the season.
X-Factor: Jeremy Lin
Regardless of how good Steve Nash is, he’s going to be on limited minutes. The Alouette Assist1 is getting old. That means that Jeremy Lin is going to get some major minutes. This team saw solid point guard play out of Kendall Marshall last year, and they’re going to need Lin to provide more of the same. There are enough scorers on this team, Lin needs to learn to facilitate the offense and set up Kobe. If he’s able to do that, it’s going to be huge for LA.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Carlos Boozer
Boozer was destroyed by fans and Chicago media alike over the last couple years. After all, when you’re paying a player that much to sit on the bench for the fourth quarter, there’s likely going to be some backlash. But lost in that criticism was the fact that Boozer wasn’t terrible for the Bulls. He was a solid contributor on both ends of the floor. That’s right: Both ends. His defense is constantly criticized, but he had a defensive rating of 98 last season. That number would be good enough for 16th of all time, one spot behind Hakeem Olajuwon. His career mark is 95th all time, which is seven slots ahead of LeBron James.2 Boozer has a chance to bounce back in a major way for the Lakers, filling the void left by Gasol’s departure. If he plays at the level he’s capable of, he’s going to find a whole new base of fans to make him forget about Chicago.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
Kobe, Kobe and more Kobe. The Mamba is back, and he’s going to be back with a vengeance. He’ll have the potential to go off every game this year, so there’s no way you should be missing any of it.
Best Case: As I said earlier, this team is the biggest unknown of the NBA. They could win a lot more than predicted or a lot less. If Kobe is back, Boozer plays well, and Randle is the real deal, this team could win 43 games.
Worst Case: Kobe is unable to return to form (unlikely), Jordan Hill plays nothing like he did last year, and Steve Nash is hurt all season. 23 wins.
Projected Record: 34-48