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NBA Market Watch: Preview-Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Market Watch: Preview-Los Angeles Lakers
Oct 21, 2007, 12:28 pm
Off Season Overview:

Its been a tumultuous off-season for the Lakers as the prospect of trading Kobe Bryant has hindered the team’s ability to focus. Bryant requested a trade early in the summer and the team has been immersed in a media circus of sorts for the better part of three months.

The team made a couple of nice acquisitions that should help to pay short and long-term dividends. Veteran Derek Fisher was brought back into the fold to provide a steady veteran influence at the point. Bryant’s familiarity with Fisher had to factor into the decision to acquire him. Fisher is a solid veteran who should increase the team’s offensive efficiency simply through system familiarity and experience. A tendency for clutch play will be a great asset come playoff time.

LA also acquired Fisher’s protégé when they drafted the talented Javaris Crittenton. Crittenton would be a sophomore in college this season and has a lot to learn in terms of reading the court and executing quickly in half court sets. But his size and skill set should help Crittenton transition smoothly into the Lakers system.

While the Lakers certainly didn’t add the big ticket all star that Bryant desired, the current roster is ripe with players who may be ready to step up and improve this team internally. The Lakers biggest chance at improvement comes from their frontcourt.

Andrew Bynum has worked relentlessly this past off-season and is clearly in the best physical condition of his young career. Bynum is moving with more authority on the court and seems to recognize how much pressure he has to perform at a high level this season.

Bynum isn’t alone to should the burden however. Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, and Ronnie Turiaf all looked poised for solid contributions this season as well. Turiaf looks especially fit and has gained a new level of quickness and explosive lift that should prove valuable on the boards. Brown has cut his hair and focused in on gaining some consistency, while Mihm has rehabbed well and looks to have improved his range.

2nd year point guard Jordan Farmar also looks as if he’s improved dramatically from last season. The accuracy on his jumper has increased and the speed at which he’s running plays belays a maturity in the young guard beyond his years.

Depth Chart:

[c]courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Figure represents NBA offensive percentile rank[/c]

Strengths:

The Lakers enjoy excellent frontcourt depth and are a well-seasoned bunch with plenty of familiarity with one another. Bryant may be the lone all star currently, but Lamar Odom is coming off one of his finest seasons. Odom is now returning to his natural small forward position in order for the team to accommodate its frontcourt depth.

Moving Odom back to the wing will give the Lakers tremendous defensive length and rebounding out of their frontcourt. A starting lineup with Bynum, Brown, and Odom should make it extremely difficult for the opposition to penetrate the lane and get clean looks at the basket. The potential for defensive help against strong interior scorers should force opponents to use more ball-reversals and motion to create better looks.

Odom also allows super-glue guy Luke Walton to transition back to the bench where he should serve as one of the top 6th men in the league. Walton is well complemented by Turiaf and Maurice Evans on what should be a formidable 2nd unit. Farmar’s rise and Mihm’s return should make this one of the deepest team’s Bryant has played on as well as one of the most versatile.

Weaknesses:

Much has been made of Bryant’s demands and the perception that the Lakers are rebuilding on the fly. But the team has good depth and is a Bynum breakout away from taking a major step forward.

The major weakness on this club comes from the distraction and uncertainty that Bryant’s demeanor may bring to the team. Bryant is the focal point of the team and the keystone to its offensive attack. The younger players look up to him and the older players must feel that he is with them or they won’t be able to focus on the task of winning ball games. As of now, the team is a group without a clearly defined direction or objective, despite the public stance of solidarity.

Everything isn’t roses simply with an on-board Bryant though. Andrew Bynum’s assent to eventual all star status is still the lynch-pin in moving the Lakers into a Western Conference contender. Bynum doesn’t have to get there this season, but a jump up in his development to a solid-starter level is key. The team is also relying on some x-factor performances from Brown and Farmar to really push the club up the standings. Overall, the team has an excellent supporting cast, but they need another star before they become more than a solid club.

Outlook:

The Lakers had an excellent first half to their season last year before Odom and Walton went down and the team became Kobe-centric offensively.

Bryant got very little support offensively from his surrounding cast in the second half of last season and the loss of his two most effective teammates threw off the rhythm of the club entirely. As such, the off-court static surrounding Bryant grew and the team splintered mentally as their record plummeted to a pedestrian two games above .500 for the year.

This season, the team may not be built for a title, but they have excellent depth at every position and have a few up-and-coming players who should be highly productive within Bryant’s prime. The team has two guaranteed seasons left with Bryant and a little bit of strong leadership and authoritative direction from management may be able to re-sell this team to its super star.

If the Lakers can get on the same page and focus on competing on the court as a unit expect last season’s start to carry through for a full 82 games. The team has the talent to win 50 games with health and solidarity. But the team has more drama than even Hollywood can handle, so the organization has to re-write the script and get their lines straight before this team can take off.

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