Can the Los Angeles Lakers get a third NBA championship in a row, like they did at the beginning of the century?
It's an old adage that you have to experience adversity to eventually achieve your goals. A cliche, to be sure, but judging from the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009-10 season, it's one that rings true. At the end of the day, the Lakers won their second straight championship, defeating the Celtics in a classic seven-game series to repeat, but the road to the title wasn't easy, and there were many, many doubters along the way.
The doubters were loud even before the season started, when general manager Mitch Kupchak made the risky decision to sign Ron Artest instead of re-sign Trevor Ariza, a key cog in the 2009 title team. Once the season actually got going, star big man Pau Gasol was hurt. Kobe Bryant finally showed his age, slogging through multiple finger injuries to post his worst regular-season in a decade. Artest struggled at times to fit in, Andrew Bynum again struggled with injuries and Derek Fisher showed his age. The Lakers ended up finishing just 15-14 down the stretch in the regular season, and many felt they were too old to go through a tough Western Conference.
But despite all those bumps in the road, the Lakers persevered. They held off the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in a great series, swept by the shorthanded Jazz, held off the Suns and outlasted the Celtics. Along the way, Bryant regained his touch (except in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, of course), Gasol shed all the doubters of his toughness once and for all and Artest provided the lift the team hoped they'd get when they signed him. It certainly wasn't a textbook run to the title, but the adversity made the Lakers stronger. They fed off it and used it as motivation on their way back to the top.
This summer, the Lakers plugged some holes by signing Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff. SB Nation's Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll believes they made out like bandits with those signings.
Looked at on a like for like basis, it seems like an improvement at every turn. Blake fits the Lakers need for a "point guard" much better than Farmar did, Barnes as depth at small forward (in case Luke Walton's back injuries continue to hamper his career) over Adam Morrison is a no contest, and Ratliff provides experience off the bench that neither DJ Mbenga nor Josh Powell could muster. And the rookie haul is especially impressive when you consider that the Lakers seem to have found two keepers when they had only a mid and late 2nd round pick. On top of all that, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown were re-signed for continuity, so the Lakers now have a roster that is theoretically much deeper (and more mature) than last year's version.
Forum Blue and Gold agrees, also writing that the Lakers' biggest strength is their ability to play every style.
But, I will say that the biggest strength that this team has is its ability to adapt to any style of play due to the combination of size, length, and versatility in the front court while also having Kobe Bryant on the wing. By having the ability to play Kobe in a line up that features both Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers can put size on the floor that few other teams can match. And because both Bynum and Gasol show the ability to control the paint on offense and defense, the Lakers have a nightly advantage where they make other teams take inefficient perimeter shots while getting high percentage shots of their own against the opposition. When you throw Lamar Odom into the mix, the dynamic then changes again where pace is increased, spacing improves, and both Kobe and Gasol (or Bynum) have more room to work on the floor on the offensive side of the ball. This makes double teaming more difficult and opens up lanes for slashing and offensive rebounding by players on the weak side. On defense, Odom also allows the Lakers to play more of switching defense without being hurt by as much by quicker guards penetrating or on the offensive glass because of Odom's ability to stay with guards on the perimeter while still recovering to the paint to rebound with Gasol (or Bynum).
It's a great point. For all the talk about the Lakers' long frontline, Bynum and Odom essentially split minutes up there. It's the ability to go from big to small effortlessly that makes the Lakers so tough.
One weakness that's pointed out by both Silver Screen and Roll is the three-point shooting. The Lakers were just 24th in the league in that category last season, and that's a problem because the post-oriented Triangle offense requires proper spacing for it to work effectively. If there isn't much three-point shooting, that spacing is tough to generate, because defenders will play off the perimeter players to double-team inside. That's one reason the Lakers, despite all their talent, finished just 11th in the league in points scored per 100 possessions.
To quote Forum Blue and Gold:
This lack of consistent shooting means that the Lakers can at times struggle to generate the proper spacing to give their post players room to operate on the low block and then fail to make opposing defenses pay by making shots when perimeter defenders help down in the post or shade to the middle of the floor to cut off passing and driving lanes. Last year, the Lakers were able to overcome this by making timely shots and/or getting hot at the right times but this lack of consistent shooting remains a concern coming into this season.
As for goals, clearly, the goal is to three-peat, though both Silver Screen and Roll and Forum Blue and Gold pointed to smaller goals like performing better in the regular season. The obvious challenger to that quest are the Miami Heat, but NBA Tipoff, for one, isn't that concerned about them.
Miami is the big topic among many this summer. Yes, they added some great players this summer, but the hype is too much. Though they will be a tremendous squad that is built to win a title soon, they are a year away. The team needs to find an identity for itself and learn how they would like to execute. With all the new guys, it will take most of next year for them to get fully in sync. Surely this is a team that will win, but the time is not this season. Soon after--now that's another story!
That's a lot of confidence that I just can't get behind, but hey, confidence is good. Speaking of confidence, how do the bloggers think their team will do this season?
- Silver Screen and Roll: 64-18
- Forum Blue and Gold: 62-20
- NBA Tipoff: 58-24