This offseason, the LA Lakers magically transformed from a fading Western Conference power into a team built to challenge Miami and OKC for the NBA title. However, this team has undeniable issues they will need to correct before playoff time rolls around to prove they can actually contend.
- Will Kobe Coexist?
Kobe Bryant is probably the greatest Laker of all time. You can make a case for Magic, Kareem, West, whoever, but it is hard to argue with five rings. The thing is, he might not even be the best player on his own team anymore.
Last year’s Lakers crucial flaw was that everything ran through Bryant and he was expected to produce at least 30 points per game for the Lakers to compete. This year, he is going to have to learn to play off of new acquisition, PG Steve Nash, and accept a diminished role in the offense, now that Dwight Howard can dominate the post.
Kobe’s been the go-to-guy on the Lakers for well over a decade, but for the Lakers to play efficiently he will need to learn to pick his spots and play within his team.
- Can Metta World Peace Control Himself?
After last year’s blatant cheap shot to James Harden’s skull, Metta’s got to know he could not be on thinner ice this year. One more violent outburst and David Stern might lay down the law, maybe even going as far as expelling him from the league.
We all thought he had changed his ways last year, but look what happened. If Metta loses his mind, the Lakers could well be without their best defensive matchup when it comes time to play Kevin Durant and Lebron. I doubt very much Devin Ebanks or Earl Clark will be able to do much to stop them. Which brings us to…
- Embarrassing Lack of Depth
Have you seen the Lakers’ bench? Aside from Antawn Jamison it can be characterized in one word: weak. Jamison can still bring it, but you have to wonder at 36 how much more quality basketball he’s got left in him. In the last five years he has managed to play over 70 games once, though the hope is that as a 6th man, he should be able to avoid nagging injuries and stay fresh.
Past him, the rest of the bench is heinously awful. Their next best bench player is Jodie Meeks, you know, the guy who did not average double digits despite starting 50 games for Philly last year. Yes, the Lakers pulled off a coup in the Steve Nash trade, but behind him is a platoon of Steve Blake (terrible) and Chris Duhon, whose best moment from last year was a well-timed dance on the sidelines following a Danny Granger travel. Yikes.
- Will He Stay or Will He Go?
Dwight Howard’s past year has basically amounted to a huge hissy fit in which his former coach and GM got fired, he held his city and franchise hostage at the trade deadline, only to sign a one year deal, which he then forced his way out of with a trade.
There’s no guarantee he will sign a long-term extension with Los Angeles and may opt for greener pastures come 2013, specifically Brooklyn or Dallas. As the year progresses, this is likely to become a bigger and bigger issue and if this Lakers team somehow falls drastically short of expectations, another Dwight Howard trade saga could arise.
- Will He Shut Up and Play?
Howard did some pretty irrevocable damage to his personal image throughout this whole saga, and he has become as equally hated in Orlando as Lebron was/is in Cleveland. But, if there’s one thing 2012 taught us, nothing revives an image more than an NBA Championship. D12 can go from villain to hero quickly if he supplies Kobe with ring number 6.
This could easily prove to be the biggest distraction surrounding the Lakers this season. Mike Brown received a fair amount of criticism last year but a run to the Conference Semi-Finals put all that behind him. This year there is no excuse for failure, and the Lakers’ management will be expecting championship number 18 and demanding a run to the Conference Finals at the very least.
With the new additions, Mike Brown has to win, or it will be his job on the line. If the Lakers get off to slow start, do not be surprised to hear Phil Jackson’s name surface. Jackson has publicly said he won’t return to coaching any time soon, but you have to imagine a couple years of serious title contention has to be enticing, right?