Showtime days are seemingly long departed…
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in professional sports history. 16 championships, 31 conference championships, 9 retired numbers, the list goes on. The Lakers have a proven past that can’t be matched. Although many attest the Lakers success is ancient, many also neglect to recognize the fact that they’ve been to three NBA consecutive Finals from 2008-10 and walked away victorious twice (’09-’10). In reality they aren’t far removed from success. But in Tinsel town, it’s all about “what have you done for me lately” and fact is LA hasn’t given their fans much to be proud of—by Laker standards that is. A 27-55 ball club is their harsh reality. Last month the sobering reality was realized as they selected Julius Randle with the #7 pick in the draft. When you hear the term draft and Los Angeles you’d normally think the Clippers, but this time the roles reversed. The Lakers haven’t been in this position to pick a top ten pick since Eddie Jones (#10 1994) and Andrew Bynum (#10 2005) and don’t plan to permanently switch roles with their counterparts, the Clippers. Conventional outlook is bleak, but there is a silver lining to it all. The Lakers will be back sooner than many think.
The injuries plague and patchwork duty was the Lakers reality in 2013-14
The Lakers entered the season with two huge question marks from their star players. Kobe had just come off a season ending Achilles injury, and Steve Nash had on-going nerve and back issues. Both were optimistic and primed for a grand return and both did the exact opposite playing in only 21 NBA contests combined. The Injury woes at guard continued as backups Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, all missed significant time due to injury. The Lakers’ desperation hit an ultimate high as shooting guards Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry had to play heavy point guard minutes, so they went down to the NBA Development League ranks to fish up the services of the exiled former-Tarheel standout, Kendall Marshall. Prior to his latest call-up, Marshall averaged a lowly 3 PPG and 3 APG in only 48 contests in 2012-13. He was hardly the ideal replacement. However Kendall played the role of mercenary point guard well and averaged an impressive 8 PPG and 8.8 APG given the circumstances.
Laker Injuries in 2013-14
Jordan Farmar 41 games
Nick Young 18 games
Kobe Bryant 76 games
Steve Blake 28 games
Pau Gasol 23 games
Steve Nash 67 games
It’s very unlikely to believe that the Lakers will have another season as injury laden as this one in the past. Kobe has rested a great deal in the past 16 months, so expect a big resurgence this season. Black Mamba has much to prove.
The 2013-14 season by the numbers
3 — The number of times the 40-point plateau was reached by a Lakers player this season with Jodie Meeks scoring 42 in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nick Young hitting for 40 and 41 in two games in April.
4 — The number of eligible players the Lakers ended up with in a game against Cleveland after they had a limited roster because of injuries and after Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre fouled out.
8 — The number of players to set new career-high scoring games for the Lakers this season including Meeks (42 points), Jordan Farmar (30), Jordan Hill (28), Xavier Henry (27), Ryan Kelly (26), Kent Bazemore (23), Kendall Marshall (20) and Sacre (15).
9 — The Lakers failed to sell out Staples Center for nine of their 41 home games this season. Their streak of 320 consecutive sellouts (playoffs included) was snapped in November.
35 — The number of different starting lineups the Lakers used in 82 games this season.
319 — Lakers players missed 319 games combined because of injury this season, which led the NBA.
Kobe’s back, D’Antoni’s gone, LA can now get back to the basics
Los Angeles’ future seems like a pipe dream to many given the recent events of the past two seasons. Conventional thinking today is you have to stack stars together to win and that simply isn’t true. Miami’s Big 3 was an extreme exception to the rule and we may never witness anything close to that again with the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement approaching in 2016. Eventhough the Lakers didn’t land a big name like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or LeBron James, they still posses something that most franchises don’t…a proven champion. That alone can trump unproven talent in a lot of situations. Anyone remember the 2011 Dallas Mavericks? It was Dirk Nowitzki and a stockpile of pieces. Nothing more, nothing less. The Lakers have a very similar situation to that Mavericks squad. Let’s look at his cast; the Lakers have improved across the board as far as their starting lineup in concerned.
Jeremy Lin comes in a tremendous upgrade from the three-headed injury point guard committee of Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, and Kendall Marshall. Lin is coming off a somewhat of a disappointing season in Houston, but in Los Angeles he wont be given nearly the same free rein that was allotted to him in Houston while playing under Coach Kevin McHale. Although the Lakers currently do not have a head coach, “assistant player-co Kobe Bryant has never shied away from letting a teammate know how things roll in LA. Steve Nash should serve as an excellent mentor as well as he perfects his aggressive style of point guard play.
2013-14 Starting Lineup Projected 2014-15 Starting Lineup
PG Kendall Marshall PG Jeremy Lin
SG Jodie Meeks SG Kobe Bryant
SF Wesley Johnson SF Nick Young
PF Pau Gasol PF Julius Randle/ Carlos Boozer
C Jordan Hill C Jordan Hill
Speaking of Mamba, Kobe’s return will give the Lakers a much-needed upgrade at shooting guard. At 36 years of age questions definitely surround his return, but when you look at players like Dirk, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Tim Duncan playing on freakishly high levels late into their 30’s, it’s not impossible to believe Kobe can return to his 27PPG and 6APG of two seasons ago. Self-motivation has always been what Kobe hangs his hat on, and he’s heard the doubters, he’ll be ready. Nick Young aka Swaggy P signed on last season for pennies seemingly on a 1-year contract and only went on to have the best statistical season of his career averaging just south of 18 points per game. Young also surprised and impressed many Laker faithful with his rigor and Laker pride (most of which wasn’t matched by his Laker teammates). He was in turn rewarded with a generous 4-year 21.5M contract; so with the new comfort of long-term contractual security, expect a solid complimentary player in Young. At power forward the Lakers have flexibility between #7 draft selection, Julius Randle and Carlos Boozer, veteran with a clean slate and new scenery in Southern California. Randle enters as a promising rookie who has a knack to play strong around the basket as well as defend the post exceptionally well. This has been an area of concern for the Lakers at the power forward position for years. Boozer will bring forth his strong defensive prowess and ability to score from the high post. Kobe
will enjoy his two new interior options. Jordan Hill also returns to solidify the Lakers at the center position. Hill is no Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard, but one thing you will get from him is maximum effort… always. In 2013-14 Hill posted a career-best 9.7PPG and 7.4RPG, and the front office took notice. Early July he was given a multi-year contract to be a staple in Los Angeles for years to come. The Lakers also re-signed Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly as well as bring in a promising young big man, Ed Davis. None of these moves will knock your socks off, but they are all players that provide a specialty off the bench to supplement the starting talent.
Last but not least, the exile of Coach Mike D’Antoni is probably the best move made by Los Angeles in this entire off-season. D’Antoni was brought in to replace the equally disappointing Mike Brown, and he simply couldn’t get the job done. In two seasons he managed to scrounge up a 72-96 record and showed exactly why he was run out of New York the year previous. High offensive schemata with no interest in defense is recipe for failure. D’Antoni’s biggest issue is he still thinks his brand of basketball he won with in Phoenix can be re-created in bigger markets such as LA and New York.
This week the Lakers named Byron Scott as the new head coach and offered him a 4-year contract after an uncharacteristically summer-long coaching search. Being that Scott was himself a former Laker and three-time NBA champion, he brings and edge and toughness that the Lakers haven’t seen in nearly a half decade. He is truly a Laker through and through. Although he’s had his struggles in Cleveland, Scott has experienced success in New Orleans coaching Chris Paul, and most noteworthy, Jason Kidd & the New Jersey Nets in the early 2000’s. His two appearances in the NBA Finals in 2001-03 show he has the experience coaching at that elite level that the Lakers (namely Kobe Bryant) expect. His exodus from Cleveland wasn’t pretty, but as he said, “LA is my dream job,” so this change of scenery may be exactly what the doctor (Jerry Buss) ordered to restore the Showtime in Southern California. One thing is for sure, he had better have a defensive strategy to change the score first mentality that D’Antoni established the previous two seasons, or his homecoming may not be the lamenting experience he envisioned.