NBA 2013-14 Western Conference Preview: Los Angeles Lakers, no. 11

With the 2013-14 NBA Season just around the corner, Ball So Hard is bringing you the definitive ranking of every NBA team, counting down each conference from 15-1. Think we’re wrong? Let me know in the comment section below.

Image: Robyn Beck

Image: Robyn Beck

Western Conference no. 11 – Los Angeles Lakers                                                                                         

Players Added

Rookies: Ryan Kelly

Free Agents: Jordan Farmar, Elias Harris, Xavier Harris, Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman, Marcus Landry, Shawne Williams, Nick Young, Dan Gadzuric

Trades:

Players Lost

Free Agents: Earl Clark, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison

Waived: Metta World Peace (amnesty)

 

The Story So Far

This time last season the league was quivering in fear after the Lakers hijacked Dwight Howard’s move to Brooklyn and had seemingly assembled the next super-team. Everybody assumed that the quartet of Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash all but assured LA another trip to the finals.

But after a season of clashing heads with Bryant, struggling with injury, and balancing the collective weight of every NBA fans hatred on his shoulders, Howard finally got his revenge and delivered a backhanded slap to the face of Los Angeles by signing with the Houston Rockets in the offseason.

Suddenly the deal that was supposed to turn the Lakers into championship contenders has them destined for the lottery less than a year later.

Jim Buss has tried his best to scrape together something resembling a competitive team, adopting the Mark Cuban strategy and signing an entire temporary team of one-year deals.

This season is about recovery for the Lakers.

First and foremost, the fate of LA’s season rest on Bryant’s literal recovery from the achilles injury that saw him miss the playoffs last season. As has been the case for the best part of two decades, the Lakers will only go as far as Kobe can carry them.

The Lakers ego also took a bruising in the offseason. No free agent has so brazenly said “no” to an offer from the Lakers boardroom, and everyone from the front office to the playing group and the fans should feel slighted by Howards decision. For the first time in recent memory, somebody told Los Angeles, “You are not good enough”.

While LA anxiously awaits Bryant’s return, the core of the team will be built around Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Both are entering the twilight of their careers, but still remain effective players, if not the dominant perennial All-Stars they used to be. The success of the duo rests entirely on their ability to stay healthy.

The addition of Chris Kaman gives the franchise a capable replacement for Howard. He should work well with in tandem with Gasol because he doesn’t command the ball as much as Dwight.

Steve Blake will also be an essential part of the rotation, especially when Nash is rested, and Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams will need to step up in the absence of Bryant.

Normally, even at the beginning of the season, Los Angeles has the finals in their sights, but this season is all about righting the ship after a turbulent offseason.

Next season, the Lakers only have Nash and Robert Sacre on the books, and with a superstar crop of free agents and blockbuster rookie class on the way, the Lakers will be hoping they can regain the allure they used to hold over out-of-contract players.

In the meantime, the Lakers are just making up the numbers.

The Big Question

Will Kobe Bryant’s return be enough to push the Lakers into the playoff picture, or will the Black Mamba be simply gunning for scoring records?

As much as the Lakers seem off the pace in a strong Western Conference, no player in the league has the combination of ability and desire that Bryant has. Last season he literally broke himself dragging his teammates kicking and screaming into the playoffs. If anyone can carry this year’s motley crew into the postseason, it is Kobe Bryant.

But what happens if the workload becomes too much, and no matter how hard Bryant pushes forward, his teammates pull him further back?

Kobe is at the point in his career where the only goals to shoot for are championships and legacy securing records.

Bryant currently sits in fourth on the all-time NBA scoring list, only 675 points behind Michael Jordan, 5311 short of Karl Malone and 6770 adrift of the first placed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If Kobe is any chance of retiring as the leagues all-time leading scorer, he needs to average roughly 27.5 points per game for the next three years. And while that seems unlikely, with his ability to play through injuries, it isn’t too farfetched to imagine him playing into his 40s.

If Kobe plays 60 games this season and can average at least 30 points per game, he would only need to average 17.75 points per game over the next four years, playing 70 games a season.

There is no other great scorer on this season’s Laker squad, and we have seen what Bryant is capable of when he is just chucking shots on a bad team.

Not to mention that MJ averaged 21.1 points per game over his two seasons with the Wizards at age 38 and 39, and you can guarantee Kobe will want to prove he can as well.

If the Lakers struggle even with Bryant in the lineup, don’t be surprised to see KB24 become trigger happy.

 

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