After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
There is an NBA mania, and it usually resolves itself with overrating the Los Angeles Lakers. Yours truly does it all the time, creating high hopes in the past for Phil Jackson’s offense, Kobe Bryant’s shot selection, Andrew Bynum’s ability to score efficiently, or the ill-fated pairing of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash. I understand that injuries, age and effort got in the way, but let’s be honest – last year’s Lakers should have contended for a championship. The coaching and play selection should have been better, and had the bodies and minds held up that team could have done some fantastic stuff. I still believe that. I’m not overrating the potential of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers in the slightest. It was those guys that screwed up, not me.
This year’s model? Sure, I’m probably overrating the Lakers. Expecting anyone on this team to have the slightest clue defensively, or for Steve Nash to play half as well this year as he did in his final season in Phoenix? Expecting Kobe Bryant not to reverse his efficient turn from last year and gun away? Expecting coach Mike D’Antoni to actually follow through on his promise to let the ball go through Pau Gasol in the post? These are dangerous things that I do because, silly me, I tend to look at this glass as half-full.
And I’m stupid and thirsty because of it.
This doesn’t mean that the Lakers can’t be a fantastic group to watch, before and after Kobe returns from his Achilles tear. You’ll certainly have your chances, America, as they’re on national TV a ridiculous 29 times this season. If D’Antoni truly submits to the sort of offense that is best suited for this club, and allows for Gasol’s abilities from the low post (as opposed with letting the ancient Nash and recovering Bryant penetrate the defense with a dribble), then the Lakers will house an efficient, entertaining offense that should keep them in most games.
That sort of offense would be a departure for D’Antoni, but this is where his team is at right now. Mike’s squads in Phoenix were underrated defensively, despite those lofty per-game numbers, which allowed Nash to push the ball and his finishers to finish. These Lakers don’t have that MVP-era Nash, and they certainly don’t have the sorts of corner-three guys and above-rim finishers needed to run with abandon. No, this team is Chris Kaman, facing up. It’s a pick and pop. Nothing to offend.
And defensively? This squad is going to be a laugh riot.
Kobe fanboys won’t enjoy hearing this, but it’s possible that the Lakers will field five of the worst individual defenders at their particular position once the team returns with its expected starting lineup in December. In Bryant, Nash, Gasol, Kaman (and less so with Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams, to be kind), the Lakers have intelligent defenders that do what they can, but smarts can’t get in front of someone. This squad will be awful on that end, while working under the guise of a coach that seems ill-fitted to try and squeeze every last bit of defensive know-how out of his lacking rotation. D’Antoni did good work in Phoenix and in his last year in New York on that end, but he’s going to need a miracle to keep the Lakers afloat this time around.
Why, then, the mediocre prediction?
I can’t explain it. The Lakers lost the league’s best center, even if he didn’t play like the league’s best center last year, and they’re working with an injury-plagued backcourt that may never return to full health in 2013-14. The front office is clearly looking forward to the summer, when it can attempt to secure a free agent to play alongside a re-signed Bryant, and their coach seems as exasperated as ever.
Something about penciling in the Lakers for 25 wins, though … it doesn’t seem right. So we won’t.
Projected record: 37-45
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Lakers for … a lower-concept plot that could produce a more satisfying, if less explosive, drama.
This year’s Lakers won’t be as massive, sweeping and all-consuming a train wreck as last year’s model, a big-budget flop akin to “John Carter” (sorry, Riggs) that felt overbearing and underwhelming from its first frame through its disappointing ending. L.A. enters 2013-14 without its two leading men, without its comic relief (and arguably steadiest performer) and without more than half its cast from a season ago. This year, top billing goes to a pair of talented character actors, a cast of career bit-parters eager for more screen time -- many of whom are working for scale -- and an embattled director hoping that a bit more quiet on the set will help him make a bit more noise ... and maybe a lot more, if the A-lister into whom this production sunk half its budget can offer more than a cameo.
That said, it’s also unlikely that this year’s Lakers will match last year’s success; sure, 2012-13 was a failure in context, but the Lakers still won 45 games and made the playoffs despite spending the better part of four months at or under .500. If you thought last year’s offense could be inconsistent and maddening, enjoy splitting Kobe Bryant’s 39 minutes a game among Nick Young, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks; if you thought last year’s defense could be obscenely permissive and flagrantly inattentive, have fun replacing Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace with Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry. Our expectations, so ludicrously high a year ago, must be tamped down.
That’s the funny thing, though; expecting less of the Lakers could help us enjoy them more. We’ll get to watch, for maybe the first time since L.A.’s last title, an offense intent on maximizing the contributions of Pau Gasol, who’s reportedly as healthy as he’s been since the London Olympics. We’ll get to see D’Antoni attempt to reassert the value of his floor-spacing, spread-pick-and-roll system with a roster that seems to fit it, with ball-handlers (a “good enough to go” Nash, apparent starter Blake, re-signed Jordan Farmar), athletic wings who might be able to shoot (Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry) and stretch fours (apparent starter Shawne Williams, second-rounder Ryan Kelly). We’ll see a bunch of likable enough characters, many of whom profile as reclamation projects desperate to show they can be somebody in this league, trying to create something greater than the sum of their parts rather than merely live up to pre-production hype -- trying to write a new story, not just follow a stale old rebuilding-year script.
It will be rough at times -- I think it’s more likely that L.A. finishes with a bottom-five defense than a middling one, and scoring enough to cover for that could be tough if the 40-year-old Nash can’t be more than a part-time player. But this team should intrigue in a way that few of its predecessors have, because for the first time since Smush Parker “walked on,” the Lakers are a very clear underdog. Figuring out whether they’re the Bad News Bears or just plain bad news ought to make them a compelling watch.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
The Lakers’ luck this season depends on the health and aging process of their three most high-profile players: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. All three are used to playing at an All-Star level, have struggled with injuries in the past calendar year, and have had their ability to contribute at their accustomed levels questioned heading into 2013-14. These issues have been discussed enough that anyone reading this preview is most likely keenly aware of them, and maybe even a bit tired of the whole spiel.
The sad reality of this Lakers team is that a few injuries will rob them of all potential intrigue. If Bryant proves hobbled, Nash misses extended time, and Gasol fails to return to his former form, then this team is going to be downright awful. So bad, in fact, that fans are going to have to spend a lot of time watching some sub-prime players jog up and down the Staples Center floor.
One of those players is Los Angeles native Nick Young, a shameless gunner who achieved brief moments of grandeur while playing for the Clippers during the 2012 playoffs. While Young has earned a devoted internet following of fans apparently drawn to a player who carries himself as if he were doused in FDA-banned cologne, he is best experienced in small doses. The possibility of Young actually having to take on a substantive offensive load for one of the league’s marquee franchises is downright depressing, maybe even a low-budget version of what Knicks fans had to experience during the worst days of the Isiah Thomas era. In a way, we’ll know how successful the Lakers have been by looking at Young’s stats at the end of this season. The mere fact that I had to type that sentence does not portend well for the team’s chances.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Houston Rockets • Memphis Grizzlies • New Orleans Pelicans • San Antonio Spurs • Minnesota Timberwolves • Oklahoma City Thunder • Portland Trail Blazers • Utah Jazz • Golden State Warriors • Los Angeles Clippers