Lakers Facing Many Challenges as 2011-12 Season Approaches

Your eyes don’t deceive you folks. On Christmas morning, there will be NBA basketball to complement the gifts, the ugly sweaters and the joyous family gatherings.

The tentative agreement to end the lockout could not come at a better time as many writers have already pointed out, most Americans see December 25th as the unofficial start to the basketball season anyways.

Even a week later I’m still in awe that a deal has been struck. On a scale from one to 100, my optimism heading into the meeting that saved the season was at a negative five.

It had gotten to the point where I didn’t even bother keeping up with the labor updates anymore because it was the same old conclusion to every 15 hour meeting: Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher would deliver their statement to the press while David Stern and Adam Silver would follow. The message of both parties was that there was still no deal in place, just worded differently.

Now that we have a season, let’s talk about what’s going to transpire between the lines. More specifically, how the Lakers will fare in this upcoming 66-game season.

Since the boys in purple and gold were swept out of the playoffs six months ago, a couple minor tweaks have been made to the team that will affect them in various degrees.

For starters, Phil Jackson will no longer be roaming the sidelines. Instead Mike Brown is the new coach. Some were shocked by Brown’s hiring as they assumed long-time assistant coach and former Laker Brian Shaw was a shoe-in for the job.

Brown brings his defensive mentality to the Lakers, and has stressed he’d like to utilize the twin towers of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol more in the offense. However, Shaquille O’Neal has been quoted saying in his new book that Brown had trouble dealing with LeBron James’ larger than life personality in Cleveland; Shaq has also been quoted saying he believes Kobe will be in charge of this team not Brown.

For that reason alone, I believe the Lakers could get off to a slow start this season. So Lakers Nation, please don’t push the panic button too early if the boys come out flat against the Bulls in the home opener.

Also don’t forget that Bynum is suspended for the first five games for his “bush league” elbow on Mavericks guard JJ Barea in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. (His five game suspension will cost him 7.5 percent of the 66 game schedule.)

Before the season even tips off, the front office still has some work to do in finalizing the roster. They could use the new amnesty clause to cut Metta World Peace or Luke Walton’s contract. But if I had a say in things, and I certainly don’t, the number one priority is to re-sign spark plug Shannon Brown, who opted for free agency shortly before the lockout first began.

Speaking of the amnesty clause, rumor has it the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to shave Baron Davis from their cheque book, and the Washington Wizards are looking to do the same with Rashard Lewis. If and when the cuts are made, those two players alone would be suitable reinforcements for the Lakers bid to return to the finals. Especially acquiring Davis, since we all know the point guard is the Lakers’ weakest position by far; and who knows what kind of shape Derek Fisher is in after the grueling negotiation process.

When Bynum comes back and the team begins buying into coach Brown’s system, I forecast a deep run into the playoffs as we’ve come to expect from the Kobe and Pau led Lakers.

I’m a firm believer that the flameout against the Mavs was a product of exhaustion after the team had played from October to the end of June three straight years. No team has reached the finals back-to-back-to-back years since the early 2000’s when a young Kobe and a dominant Shaquille O’Neal were running circles around the 29 other teams in the league. The fly in the ointment is when the Detroit Pistons’ amazing streak of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals ended in 2008. By that time their veteran core was too old to contend anymore. Our fingers are crossed that won’t be the case this season with the Lakers.

Stephen A. Smith recently delivered some positive news regarding Kobe Bryant’s health: “[Bryant] went overseas to get some kind of surgery, I’m hearing that he’s jumping out of the gym…I’m hearing the dude looks younger.”

At the end of the day, this Laker team will only go as far as the Black Mamba will lead them.

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