What are the expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers next season? Hard to say, but even if Kobe Bryant & Steve Nash are at 100% healthy, while Pau Gasol start playing like the guy from two and three years ago, just reaching the postseason should be regarded as a success.
That is what happens when you make an expensive bet and lose. Adding Dwight Howard to the mix turned out to be something that didn’t really upgrade the team last year – he played his worst basketball in years and never really got along with Bryant or D’Antoni, while Steve Nash and the contract he got seem like a terrible decision at the moment, as age has finally caught up with the two-time MVP winner.
Kobe Bryant is what it all hinges on now. A 34-year old player, coming off an Achilles tendon tear, expected to play like the best shooting guard in the NBA. He averaged 27.3 points per game last season, but it doesn’t mean him scoring and shooting so much (20.4 attempts per game) is that good for the Lakers. He needs to play that well without hurting others’ performances in order for the Lakers to make the playoffs, which they barely did last year.
Pau Gasol, now the lone big man worth anything left on the roster, and even though he didn’t really thrive or seem to fit in the D’Antoni system (another probable and expensive mistake), not having to compete with Dwight Howard for possessions in the post might be some sort of a career reviving moment for him, after averaging 13.7 points and shooting a career low 46.6% from the field last season.
What’s left? Metta World Peace, no longer the defender he once was, who can only help the offense by making open three point shots, and he makes $7.7 million. The rest is quite thin – Jordan Hill, Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks. Hardly any quality or depth in more than one position, especially when it comes to the frontcourt.
The Lakers still have a mid-level exception they can use, which makes someone like Zaza Pachulia, J.J. Hickson and Brandan Wright look a lot more tempting than before. With $77 million tied up next season ($30.4 of them to Kobe Bryant) there isn’t much the Lakers can do.
The only real hope of having a relatively quality team, although still with too many questions on defense, is for Dwight Howard to insist on getting a maximum deal. If does that happen, the Rockets will be forced to make some sort of sign & trade, which means they’ll probably have to give up both Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin (the Lakers will try to demand for them both), giving them a strong starting five, a quality backup in Lin and still the option to sign someone with the MLE.
Above all things, it’s health that seems like the main issue for the Lakers next season. With no depth and no defense to count on, if Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash or Pau Gasol go down for a significant amount of time or struggle to remain healthy for too long, the word lottery and Lakers will start showing up in the same sentence quite often.