No longer the best team in Los Angeles and no longer genuine Championship contenders.
Last season was far from satisfactory for the Lakers. Losing to their main rivals in February as the Clippers clinched their first ever Division title before being carried into the play-offs by Kobe Bryant only to lose their superstar to injury prior to a 4-0 first round defeat at the hands of San Antonio.
Dwight Howard was pleaded to stay but opted to join the Houston Rockets in search for a first ring before the Lakers decided to activate Metta World Peace’s amensty clause and release a key member of their 2010 winning roster. So who do they bring in?
Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wes Johnson and the returning Jordan Farmar are the four players recruited by G.M Mitch Kupchak so far. Not exactly the caliber of players expected at a 17-time Championship winning franchise which speaks volume of the state of the Lakers especially given the fact that one of those joined the Purple & Gold of LA because of ‘no other options’.
It's not all bad news for the Lakers, well at least not yet, as the main aim now seems to revolve around the 2014 Free Agency when the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony become available should they decide not to re-sign for their respective teams.
There were rumours that Howard disapproved of head-coach Mike D’Antoni‘s systems and there were several reports of a rift with Bryant. Team unity should improve and D’Antoni will hope that the vastly experienced trio of Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and the ‘Black Mamba’ will all stay healthy this time around after all suffering injury-plagued seasons during 2012-13.
Lakers fans saw glimpses of Howard at his best and will claim they can cope without the 7-time All Star although others will worry that the lure of the Lakers is diminishing which could affect their chances for the aforementioned Free Agency next season.
If Bryant manages to make a quick recovery and stays fit then the Lakers won’t be a bad side, Bryant won’t let that happen but they could well face another battle on their hands to make the post-season. D’Antoni will have to use his star man well and refrain from letting him clock up serious minutes in order to avoid another major injury whilst looking to Gasol and Nash to nurture the new recruits.
The 7’0″ Kaman could well start alongside the Spanish international next season. The 27 year-old is a 10-year pro in the NBA and will be no stranger to the Staples Centre having spent eight seasons with the Clippers, his new enemy. Kaman was an All-Star back in 2010 when he averaged 18.5 points per game while his best rebounding average of 12.7 came two seasons earlier when he also achieved a career best 2.8 blocks per game in the 2007-08 season.
Farmar has already won two Championships with the Lakers in 2009 & ’10 and is likely to play a similar role as he did then by providing back up to Nash and Steve Blake at the guard position. The 27 year-old has played a total of 39 games in the NBA in six seasons (two with New Jersey Nets from 2010-12) and returns to the league after spending last season in Turkey with Anadolu Efes alongside another former Laker in Sasha Vujacic.
‘Swaggy P’ and Johnson are two versatile additions to the Lakers roster having signed from Philadelphia and Phoenix respectively. Both had steady 2012-13 campaigns and will be looking to kick on and prove themselves in L.A with the opportunity of learning from a future Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant. Young spoke about being in awe of the ‘Black Mamba’ while Johnson has previously received advice from his new team-mate.
The four new recruits gives D’Antoni options for the coming season but the 54 year-old will be praying, as will fans across the globe, that Bryant will be able to return to the form in lifting the Lakers to a seventh place finish in the Western Conference. If that happens, Gasol and Nash also stay fit, and at least one other player really steps up then the Lakers may challenge for a higher seeded finish but a worst case scenario- and one not beyond the realms of possibility- could see Los Angeles with only one team in the play-offs (not the Lakers!).
However, this time next year there could be talk of a possible 18th Championship after the Lakers snap up a huge star to play alongside Bryant and re-install the franchise as title contenders. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet though.
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