New-Look Lakers Locked And Loaded, But Do They Have Enough?

Contrary to how the final score of Sunday’s pre-season opener vs. the Golden State Warriors may have ‘felt’, I was left with a great deal of satisfaction from the way many of the main players performed. Count me in as a confident member of Lakers Nation not willing to overreact to the 30+ point run the Warriors (starters vs. LAL’s camp invites) went on in the second half. Of course, as a fan and loyal supporter of the organization you never want to see a run or stretch of futility of that manner, but let’s not base our outlook on the season on one bad stretch of the very first pre-season game. For those actually calling for Mike Brown’s head, I can only feel sorry for what is certain to be a frustrating season for you.

First of all, barring an all-out catastrophic season, the Lakers are not about to just fire a coach midway through trying to implement a new offense and get players acclimated towards one another. In fact, I almost cringe at having to mention this, but the contract length and monetary figure attached to Brown make it all but a guarantee he will be here throughout (at the very least) this season and next. I say “cringe“, not because I am anti-Brown, but because I shudder to think of what the Twitter and sports radio reaction(s) will be throughout a season that is certain to have a couple rough stretches as the team gels and molds.

Secondly, just because NBA2K13 permits us to instantly place such talent together and dominate the likes of the OKC Thunder and Miami Heat doesn’t make such an idea an instantaneous reality. Although ‘patience’ may be considered a bad word in today’s “give it to me NOW!” society, we are simply going to have to utilize some in terms of supporting these Lakers.

Trust me, it will be well worth it if the team is given the opportunity to come together.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, injuries and health will play a vital role in the success of this team. As disheartening as the initial reports of backup PF/C Jordan Hill being out indefinitely with what was called a herniated disc (back) may have been, some solace can be taken in the reports that have since followed of it being a precautionary measure with his likely return somewhere later this month. As we breathe a collective sigh of relief, never has the importance of health been more evident.

Upon learning of Hill’s injury, Eric Pincus of reminded us of the remaining mutual interest between the Lakers and free agent PF Kenyon Martin. Granted, this was with the initial report of Hill being out of commission for months, but I still wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of securing some added depth in the front court.

In fact, as I sit here listening to the “garbage time” portion of the second pre-season game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers in the background, I’m also reminded of the potential necessity of a legitimate backup at the point guard position. Between Steve Blake and Chris Duhon, the Lakers are going to need someone to assert themselves as the definitive leader of the second unit.

Last year, acceptable excuses could be made for Blake, as he was placed in a position of the sole (viable) ball-handler and most dependable scoring threat on a unit comprised of nonathletic journeymen and  rookies. No such exceptions will be made this year, as the Lakers have gone out and acquired serious scoring threats and dependable shooting prowess in Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.

Between Blake and the defensive minded Duhon, Brown (and his staff) will certainly be looking for one of the veterans to step forward. If neither can separate from the pack, could the Lakers take another look at free agent G Leandro Barbosa? 3rd-year backup SF Devin Ebanks (recently re-signed) is also a player the organization has high hopes for. Although MWP is in the best shape of his life, this is a golden opportunity for Ebanks to step forward and assert himself as a 20-25 minute per game force at his position. Having displayed several positive defensive stretches, one would hope Ebanks has continued developing his overall court and game/situational awareness to merit extended minutes with this talented roster.

Even though Kobe Bryant was a last minute scratch from the game vs. the Blazers (another loss), reports are that he is looking better than ever. Always in great physical condition, do these look like the legs (hops) of a man in his 17th season?

Dwight Howard, whom you can also see taking part in the 5-on-5 drills in practice, has been widely reported as ‘ready to return’ to action. In fact, during a recent interview I conducted with Metta’s brother and trainer Daniel Artest (who attends practices), I was told Howard looks “110% ready, and could start playing right now.”  At a later part in the interview, Artest went on to say:

As a Spurs fan, I’m kind of afraid…(of Dwight) he’s dunking everything…what he brings to the table is totally different from what y’all had last year. The Lakers can be a running team now, because Dwight can run the floor. Non-stop.”

Artest went on to discuss the surprising chemistry between Gasol and Howard, being impressed by the work ethic and demeanor or Nash, and even weighed in on the Howard vs. O’Neal. Artest’s reassurance combined with the fact that Gasol is not playing time at the center position leaves me very confident in a Howard return being imminent. In fact, even though Lakers reporter Mike Trudell has mentioned that Howard is not expected to play on Saturday, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see Howard and Bryant both in the lineup when the Lakers return to Staples Center to face the Utah Jazz.

Either way, this pre-season won’t be about the final score of games for me, rather it will be about watching for chemistry and progress.

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