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2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers Roundtable

Law Murray, Matt Padavick, Russell Simon, Sareen Tavidian |
October 28, 2013 | 10:00 a.m. PDT

Sports Staff

Kobe Bryant will return, but when and with what capacity is still up in the air. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Kobe Bryant will return, but when and with what capacity is still up in the air. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
It's a strange season for the Lakers. They lost Dwight Howard to Houston in free agency, and replaced him with Chris Kaman. They still have Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, but the former has fought injuries since touching down at LAX while the latter has yet to announce when he'll be back in uniform. The 2013-14 Lakers are a puzzle yet to be solved, so we asked our panel some key questions about what to expect from the Purple and Gold this season. 

1) The elephant in the room is Kobe Bryant. When do you think the "Black Mamba" will return to the court, and how much of a drop-off do you expect, in both minutes and production (27.3 PPG in 38.6 MPG in 2012-13)?

Law Murray: I wouldn't be surprised if Kobe Bryant is able to come back before December, but he shouldn't rush back to play for this team. It is not worth it this year, and it is not worth a setback or aggravation. Remember, Bryant is in the last year of his current deal - it literally pays for him to wait until he's as close to full health as possible. That said, I don't see a major drop in production. His 2010-2011 numbers are a good benchmark (reduced minutes) for when he returns (25 PPG, 34 MPG).

Matt Padavick: I see Kobe returning late November/early December, with Christmas as the latest. He has made tremendous progress in a short amount of time, and has been looking good running up and down the court recently. I think we will see a reduction in minutes, especially with so many young, athletic guards on this Lakers roster. As far as production is concerned, I don’t see much of a drop-off. I believe the Mamba will still be in the Top 5 in the league in scoring. Let’s not forget this guy is used to playing through injuries.

Russell Simon: A week ago, Kobe told reporters that he still cannot fully push off of his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon. Considering how the Lakers look going into this season, it is going to be a blessing that Kobe will not be available until perhaps Christmas. Kobe is taking his time on his recovery, meaning there will be less time for Mike D'Antoni to run Bryant into the ground like last year. When he comes back, Kobe should be free to jack up as many shots as possible because there’s no one else on this team that can handle the load offensively. Thus, I don’t think his offensive numbers will drop that much once he does return.

Sareen Tavidian: The Black Mamba has had a really tough offseason while recovering from the Achilles injury he sustained last spring. However, he’s optimistic about the future, even if he does have to shed some minutes from his average playing time. Bryant himself has made it clear that he won’t be playing as much once he’s recovered, so 30 to 32 minutes is a reasonable expectation. From what I can see, he probably won’t return to the court until late December or early January. With such a strong ego, it might be difficult for him to accept his current situation. However, he knows his abilities and what’s best for him, and for now all he needs is rest. We shouldn't underestimate his scoring abilities once he gets back. Bryant loves to impress with his talents, and he'll be taking more jump shots than usual and average around 22 points with his reduced playing time.

Mike D'Antoni is sticking with his fast-paced system, at least to start the season. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
Mike D'Antoni is sticking with his fast-paced system, at least to start the season. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
2) Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni maintained last week that he wants to continue his fast playing style, staying in the Top 5 in the NBA in pace. Do you think the Lakers will be able to run as D'Antoni says? If not, what kind of adjustments do you see him making in the offense to optimize the Laker roster's strengths and weaknesses?

Murray: I'm debuting a new term this season: "basketball special teams", highly influenced by football special teams. I feel it is a good way to evaluate free throw shooting (kicking game), fast break (return units), transition defense (coverage), pace (tempo), and depth (personnel). I gave the Lakers a "B" in this category. PG Steve Nash will take another leap past his prime, but there are more guards and athletes on this team, and Metta World Peace is in New York. The Lakers will be inefficient offensively (RE: Nick Young and Shawne Williams as starters), so they should run more often than not.

Padavick: There is a difference between being a fast-paced team and being a run-and-gun team. D’Antoni wants to maintain a nice pace that will keep the offense fluid rather than trying to mimic the Suns' offense years ago. The young additions of Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson will help maintain this fast-paced style.

Simon: It takes a special type of coach to willfully ignore the strengths of every single player on his team in order to press forward with a doomed strategy.  Steve Nash is 39 years old and Kobe Bryant has played in 1,239 NBA games. This team should be crawling up the court. However, pushing the tempo is 

Tavidian: It’s very smart of D’Antoni to keep his fast place playing style, especially with Bryant out for the beginning of the regular season. He knows that the team might not be as fast and strong as he really wants, however it will be faster than last year. This year's Lakers are younger and quicker than last season's, and have the potential to well-handle this approach. 

The Lakers are building towards the future, and whether that includes Pau Gasol is yet to be seen. (Howcheng/Flickr)
The Lakers are building towards the future, and whether that includes Pau Gasol is yet to be seen. (Howcheng/Flickr)
3) The 2013-14 season is beginning, but the Lakers have to be looking ahead to the summer of 2014, where only Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young will be under contract. Even with the potential return of Bryant, the Lakers will have money to spend. That being said, how do you think that affects their strategy this season? Do you see any major players being dealt, or do you think the Lakers keep their roster intact until next summer?

Murray: This Lakers team reminds me of the 2009-2010 Miami Heat - the "pre-Decision" team that was set up to let the entire roster be free agents outside of Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. That team made one trade all season, and it was very minor (seldom-used point guard Chris Quinn to New Jersey). Young has a player option, so he'll want to ball out and decide whether he should opt in or cash out. Unless the season gets really bad (that Heat team went 47-35), I'd be surprised to see major moves made by the Lakers before the summer.

Padavick: If the right deals pops up, then the Lakers will capitalize like they have in the past. That being said, with players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Chandler Parsons leading the 2014 free agent class, it is going to take an irresistible offer to sacrifice the money saved for next summer. The trade would have to make the Lakers championship contenders, otherwise I don’t think it gets done.

Simon: What the Lakers should have done prior to this season was trade Pau Gasol, fully bottom out, and set their sites on landing Carmelo Anthony to combine with a high lottery pick-Kobe Bryant pairing that may have happened in 2014. Instead the Lakers are stuck in the middle; too good to get a high lottery back, but not good enough to contend.

Tavidian: Over the past couple of years, the Lakers have made many groundbreaking changes to their roster, including the acquisitions of Nash and Howard last season. Contrary to what many believed though, those trades didn't do the team any good. The prospects for this season don't look much better. The Lakers should stick with what they have and prepare this offseason for another run in 2014-15. 

Jodie Meeks stuck around, but most of the Lakers' supporting cast is new. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
Jodie Meeks stuck around, but most of the Lakers' supporting cast is new. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
4) The Lakers signed a concoction of players this offseason who floated around in recent years. Who do you think will be the biggest surprise among Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, and why?

Murray: I'm not a Nick Young fan for a variety of reasons, but it's alarming that a 6-foot-7 starting wing can be as allergic to rebounds as he is (16 total rebounds this preseason). I am already surprised that Xavier Henry might have a chance to play meaningful minutes this season, but his assist-to-turnover rate was scary bad this preseason (4 assists, 18 turnovers). Wesley Johnson was outplayed by both of these guys. That leaves Jordan Farmar, who was out of the league last year. He'll battle Steve Blake for good clock all season for the right to miss corner threes.

Padavick: We already know what Farmar and Nick Young can do, so I don’t think there will be much of a surprise there. Johnson (4th) and Henry (12th) were both top draft picks that haven’t really proven themselves in the NBA. If the preseason is any indicator, it looks like Henry can surprise a lot of people and become a crowd favorite a la Shannon Brown.

Simon: The NBA flotsam that has congealed in Los Angeles this year will not blow anyone away. I can’t wait for the first time Nick Young bricks a transition three while Kobe Bryant glares at him from the bench in street clothes. If I had to pick one player to surprise, I’d go with Wesley Johnson. He'll get the most opportunities to get significant minutes, giving him the best odds of positively surprising. 

Tavidian: Xavier Henry is about to surprise us all. Preseason play has allowed him to show off his talents, and with Nick Young by his side, Henry has the potential to grow and possibly dominate. Especially with Kobe out for the beginning of the regular season, Henry will be challenged and forced to push himself beyond his limits. 

When Steve Nash left Phoenix, he probably anticipated competing for titles, not playoff spots. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
When Steve Nash left Phoenix, he probably anticipated competing for titles, not playoff spots. (Scott Mecum/Creative Commons)
5) What is your prediction for the Lakers' 2013-14 season? 

Murray: Kobe Bryant's health now. Pau Gasol's mindset (contract year) later. Steve Nash's age all season (he turns 40 in February). After last year surpassed even 2004's disappointment levels, this team looks like the 2005 model that missed the playoffs. Even if Bryant, Gasol, and Nash put in 70 games each, they're relative sieves defensively, and Chris Kaman isn't Dwight Howard (right, Dirk?). Last year's team won 45 games with Bryant/Howard playing 70 games together. 41-41 sounds optimistic. The playoffs don't. They won't finish in the Pacific cellar (RE: Phoenix and Sacramento), but they are the West's 12th team.

Padavick: This is a tough call, especially not knowing if there will be any moves before the trade deadline. With the roster they have now, I see the Lakers surprising a lot of people and finishing 7th or 8th in the West with a 44-38 record. That being said, a first-round exit will likely be the fate of the team as assembled.

Simon: This team has plenty of issues. There's the aging Nash, missing Kobe and lack of defense and rebounding in the front court. Bryant and Gasol will put up some points and provide entertainment, but the Lakers will go 37-45 and miss the playoffs. 

Tavidian: The Lakers are going to be a fun and competitive team to watch, but they’re going to face many challenges. The new guys will have to learn to play efficiently with Nash and Gasol, and it could be a rough adjustment at the onset of the season. But, their success is ultimately dependent on Bryant and how he performs once he returns to the court. The Lakers won't be pushovers, but they'll finish 9th in the West and out of the playoffs for the first time in 9 years. 



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