Can the Lakers make the playoffs?With Kobe Bryant returning from an Achilles injury and Dwight Howard now a member of the Houston Rockets many have written off the Los Angeles Lakers as a legitimate playoff contender. With the NBA’s Western Conference as deep as ever and many of the contenders making improvements to their roster the Lakers will have a tough challenge ahead of them. Here are five factors that will impact whether or not the Lakers will make the playoffs.
Kobe Bryant’s Health: The Lakers superstar has been such an iron man during his NBA career that the sight of the injury he suffered late last season was a shock to NBA and Lakers fans alike. The injury served as a reminder that Bryant has accumulated a lot of miles on his legs during his sixteen year NBA career. With Howard now a member of the Rockets and an aging cast around Bryant the Lakers will rely on their superstar more than ever. The big question is how quickly can he come back? The injury is an opportunity for Bryant to tap into his famed work ethic and shock the establishment by making a quicker return than normal. The Lakers need their superstar back and how quickly and effectively he can return will greatly shape the upcoming season. Bryant has proven people wrong time and time again in his career and it wouldn’t surprise anyone around the Lakers if Bryant came back and put together an All Star caliber season.
Can They Stay Healthy? Beyond the chemistry issues of incorporating Dwight Howard into the lineup the Lakers early struggles last season was health related. With injuries to Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Nash and Howard the Lakers very rarely had the starting five they envisioned going into the season on the floor at the same time. The Lakers had big expectations from the two-time former MVP Nash, but the forty-year-old point guard just couldn’t stay healthy. All indications this season is that Nash is healthier than he was in the last couple of seasons. If he can regain some of the form he showed the past handful of seasons in Phoenix the Lakers may be in good hands. In regards to Gasol the veteran big man will be motivated to re-assert himself as the leader of the Lakers frontline and should form a nice veteran inside combo with Chris Kaman. The former Clippers big man had a difficult season last year in Dallas but is a capable inside player who should provide quality minutes.
Have they gotten younger? Even though the Lakers will still rely heavily on the aging veteran trio of Bryant, Gasol and Nash they did make some moves to inject some younger and more athletic players into the rotation. Nick Young and Wesley Johnson have bounced around and both been labeled as disappointments in various stages throughout their careers. Johnson was a former high draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves who never really lived up to expectations, which included spending last season in Phoenix. The Lakers are hoping that the tutelage of Mike D’Antoni and the presence of Kobe Bryant can help Johnson elevate his game to the promise of a fourth overall draft pick. He can shoot the three ball, is extremely explosive in the open court and is a plus defender. Nick Young is a similar player to Johnson, rangy and athletic with the ability to hit the perimeter jumper. The big question is whether the duo will be an upgrade over veteran Metta World Peace.
The Head Coach Question: Much continues to be written regarding the Lakers decision to go with Mike D’Antoni as the head coach over Phil Jackson. The bottom line is that the Lakers roster as it was built last season just didn’t fit the style of play that D’Antoni utilizes. With an offseason to re-construct the roster and with Dwight Howard off in Houston , D’Antoni and the front office have added some younger more athletic shooters to help him achieve the style of play he wants. Of course the D’Antoni offense requires a healthy point guard, and the question is still out on whether Steve Nash can stay on the court the entire season. The Lakers Head Coach has the point guard who helped drive his offense during their year’s together in Phoenix. Like Bryant and several other members of the Lakers, Mike D’Antoni has something to prove this season.
Can they play defense? The Lakers were a poor defensive team last season and lost their top two defenders from a year ago in Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace. At this point in his career Kobe Bryant is no longer the defensive force he used to be. In fact he often takes many possessions off on the defensive end. Both Nash and Gasol are outright liabilities on defense. Chris Kaman is solid but not the quality of Howard when the former Lakers big man is playing up to his capabilities. It’s likely the Lakers will have to outscore teams, which is possible in the D’Antoni system. They’ll compete well with the middle and bottom tier Western Conference teams, but will struggle against the elite Western Conference foes like Oklahoma City, Denver, San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Memphis and Golden State. Whether or not the Lakers can find some semblance of cohesive team defense will be a key factor in whether or not they make the playoffs.
So, will they make the playoffs?
It’s going to be a challenge. There are seven teams (Oklahoma City, Denver, San Antonio, the Clippers, Houston, Memphis and Golden State) that have the look of potential fifty win teams. The Western Conference is as deep as ever. The Lakers very well could be competing for the final spot with a group of teams that includes Portland, Utah, Dallas, Minnesota and New Orleans. In that group the Trail Blazers have a young roster and have made some nice offseason moves. The Timberwolves have a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio and look to be much improved. Both Dallas and Utah have a veteran core. It all depends on how quickly and how effectively Bryant returns. If the Lakers star can make an early season return and be the player he has been the last several years the Lakers have a chance to start strong and be in playoff contention. If Bryant cannot make that return it may be a tall task to make the playoffs.
Lakers Tickets are at the lowest they have been in many years reflecting that the fans might not be supporting the Lakers organization and the moves they have made since Mr Buss passed away. By:Chris Michaels