After a tumultous, frustrating & chaotic off-season...oh wait that was last year. I guess we just arent accustomed to having a quiet off-season but this was a welcomed one. Here's my take on the Lakers upcoming "championship caliber" season.
Perhaps the best move we did was not to make a move. The return of Andrew Bynum to an already contending team is comprable to adding a big name free agent. Along with Andrew's return, getting back another vital piece in Trevor Ariza can only be a good thing.
Key losses: Ronny Turiaf, while we will miss his spirit and charisma, not to mention his all out effort and hustle, there just wasn't going to be enough minutes for Ronny with the return of Andrew that would justify the type of contract that he was tendered in Golden State. The Warriors will use him more then we would have so he deserves it, there's not a better locker room guy in the league then Ronny and I wish him all the best...and a hopeful return back home when he is done in Golden State (hey we got D. Fish back!)
Key Additions: Besides the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, the loss of Ronny Turiaf was countered by the addition of Josh Powell. I am a fan of this kid (except for the kwamish braids) and he has been decent in the pre-season. He is a solid bench player, a big physical body and while he wont replace all the intangibles that Ronny brought to the table, he will be sufficient enough when needed. Last season towards the end of it when Chris Kaman was sidelined, he did a solid job filling in for the Clippers.
Resigning The Machine Sasha Vujacic was also a big move. A lights out shooter, streaky at times but dangerous, a pesky defender and key role player. He had a breakout season last year which earned him 3 more years and $15 Mil deservingly so.
Andrew Bynum: Potential is the word that is always being thrown around with this kid. I have to admit there was a slight moment of concern during the first couple of pre-season games but he progressed like he has his whole career as the pre-season rolled along. I thought that his biggest challenges would be playing with the lingering concern about his knee and with the way he has been playing, it looks as if that injury never happened. Another challenge would have been to get better acclimated with Pau Gasol offensively and after they looked "slow and clumsy" in the first 2 pre-season games, it looks like they are starting to gel beautifully. As the regular season progresses, its only going to be a matter of time before we see a Tim Duncan/David Robinson type of combo down low.
Jordan Farmar: I was one of those who had some doubts if Jordan could be our future PG, but the kid was nothing short of impressive. His confidence is almost parallel to Kobe's. I like that he is the mind state where he doesnt feel that anyone can stop him from getting to the basket. His jumper has looked impressive along with his long range. He looks active on defense and always looking to push the ball offensively. His decsion making has vastly improved and he looks to be a true leader for us. I have high expectations for Jordan Farmar, I look for him to be Paul Revere to our Minutemen!
Trevor Ariza: Lightning in a bottle, thats the best way I can describe him. What I have noticed the most in the pre-season is the array of skills Trevor possesses. He can slash to the basket, always aggressive, always active on both ends...when one part of his game isnt working, he elevates another part. Trevor may not be the starter and for a good reason, he is still a bit raw and given the dynamics of the starting squad, probably isnt the best fit as a starter...but he will be a monster coming off the bench, he's like redbull, if red-bull was on speed!
Question Marks & Concerns
Lamar Odom: When the biggest problem or question mark you have is where to put Lamar Odom, then is that really a problem? What it is, is a welcomed problem. After pouting about his role in the beginning, Lamar was accepted it and looks like he has adapted to it in the latter parts of the pre-season. Lamar is going to be instrumental in our run, we all know he is at his best when he is un-noticed and is relieved on any pressure. The bench role suits him perfectly which gives the Minutemen a valuable weapon.
Health: Injuries are a part of the game, last year we were able to overcome injuries and still had a shot to win it all. Even as deep as we are, injuries have to be contained in order for this team to play at its max potential. This team if healthy has a chance to be one of the most powerful and versatile teams the league has seen in a very long time...with that said lets all knock on wood that we dont see the same types of injuries we did last season.
Starters: Vlad Rad looks to be the starter at the SF after Phil tinkered and experimented with the lineup throughout the preseason. I am at an understanding that this would be the best option because Vlad will be able to spread the floor better then Lamar or Ariza could. My hopes are that he regains his form when he was with the Sonics and Clippers where he was a deadly sharp shooter. He is the ex-factor.
As I mentioned it will only be a matter of time with them. Bynum is an unstoppable force, at times he does look like he is trying to do a little too much whereas he is only asked to rebound and be a defensive presence. He reminds of a young Kobe in the sense that you cant contain this kid's talent, we had growing pains with Kobe too but we all knew that he was something special. I think Phil wants to unleash his potential in small doses much like it was done with Kobe but in a more controlled manner. Pau is making a concentrated effort to look for Andrew as is Kobe and the others. Andrew has a great supporting cast around him to set him up for success, but as it is in any young potential superstar, patience is a virtue!
Pau and Kobe's numbers will slightly diminish from the norm and thats not really a bad thing. Minutes will be down for Kobe, as will points per game. With presence of Andrew, I look for Pau's scoring numbers to go down as he wont have to be the primary Center in this lineup, but I look for his assist numbers to be better. D. Fish is still a rock at the PG and his veteran presence is alone a valuable asset. There will be a lot more reliance of D. Fish perimeter game as he will also be able to spread the floor effectively. His is a bit older but D.Fish has always been a bulldog for us.
The Bench Mob: Or also known as the Minutemen feature a lineup good enough to be an up and coming team themselves. With Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza & Luke Walton, this will be one of the fastest and most active lineups. Their ability to run at a much more faster pace style then our starters will give us a great edge against teams that are one dimensional defensively.
Role Players: Sasha Vujacic will also benefit from Andrew Bynum in the lineup. Although he wont start games, he will be there at the end as he is one of our deadliest and also one of our more consistent shooters. He is an inter-changeable player that can fit in both with the starters and the bench players. Luke Walton is always an anomaly, he could be as valuable as he was in the Denver series or as non-existence as he was prior to that and after that. If we can get anything better then we did last season from him, then its alreay been a success in regards to Luke. Chris Mihm can also be in that category, injuries have plagued him for the last 3 seasons but it does finally look like he is in actual game shape. While I dont think he will ever be the same player he was when we first acquired him, he will be heavily counted on if there are injuries sustained to our front court.
Of course no dynasty has ever lasted just one or two seasons. With the impending financial questions that need to answered in order to lock in our key pieces, the Lakers have some questions to address. The main one being, Kobe Bryant who has an option to opt out after this season...there might be a realistic chance that Kobe can go to Europe and take the ridiculously lucrative offer that he will be presented and honestly who wouldnt. But it would all boil down to whats more important, to play on an international stage or to solidify his legacy here amongst the best players in the world.
Andrew Bynum is our future, but understandably pre-cautions must be taken, better safe then sorry. Andrew and his agent are looking for the max and want it before the season starts, but the Lakers are taking the safe bet and waiting and seeing what he can do in the season ahead. If he has the season we know he is capabale of then he will warrant what he is looking for.
Lamar Odom has been the center of trade talks with concerns to the Lakers seemingly almost forever. But with the uncertainty of his role now with the team and for the future, the Lakers could look to move him by mid season if he cannot adjust or they can just let him walk freeing up cap space to resign other hopefulls like Trevor Ariza.
I know we have high expectations and why not. With as versatile, deep and motivated team as we have ever had in recent years led by one of the greatest if not the greatest coaches of all time, this team has the markings of a championship dynasty. This year could be something special given they gel the way we know this team can. The western conference doesnt get any easier this year. Houston is a legit contender with Artest and are just as deep, the Hornets have added a nice weapon in James Posey and I look for them to be in the mix all season long with the Lakers. Utah is still a strong team. S.A and division rival Phx may have lost a step or two but are still formidabble foes. The rest of the west is better with the emergence of the Blazers and Clippers and teams like Dallas and Denver can be either a hit or a miss. With that said, we still rolled through the west in the playoffs last season short-handed so my real concern is shot at redemption. Boston can always that they may have exposed us but the reality is that Boston didnt face a complete Lakers team and this year barring any crucial injuries, I am hopefull that we can redeem ourselves and if we happen to run into the Celtics again, the Lakers can show them and the rest of the league what a true champion looks like!
Record: 63-19 - best in the league.
Andrew Bynum - Most Improved Player
Mitch Kupchak - GM of the year
Kobe will unfortunately not win the MVP, Lamar Odom will probably not get traded but will not get resigned with the Lakers.
The Lakers will dominate in the playoffs and will redeem themselves in a rematch vs. Boston as they will beat them 4-1 in the Finals with the championship clinching game in Boston. Kobe will win Finals MVP.