COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers face an uphill battle in 2013-14 as the season is set to begin on Oct. 29.
With major question marks like Kobe Bryant's return from injury, the sustainability of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol's health, and how a host of newcomers will jell within head coach Mike D'Antoni's system, they have few expectations.
It's understandable why no one outside of the locker room has high hopes for this team, especially after losing superstar Dwight Howard via free agency in the offseason. These Lakers have a lot to prove, and it figures to make things interesting heading into the regular season.
Here are 10 reasons why this season will be better than advertised:
1. Angry Mamba
Kobe Bryant changed his Twitter avatar to include the numerals "1225." ESPN picked the Lakers to finish 12th in the Western Conference, to which he responded in typical Kobe-like fashion with the following tweet:
-- @KobeBryant, Oct. 1, 2013
Similarly, ESPN and the True Hoop Network ranked Bryant the NBA's 25th-best player.
That suggests these numbers are indicative of these two instances is merely speculation, but the answers will reveal themselves during the course of the season.
Bryant, one of the most driven players in the world, has more fuel than ever to motivate him. With that in mind, he could be poised to turn heads once he returns to the floor.
Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said in his 30 years with the team, the 2013-14 squad has the best chemistry of any he's seen. Before anyone says anything negative about a trainer's opinion, he or she should know that Vitti is not just one of the best in the business at his job but also well-respected as a basketball mind around the organization.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni has a substantial contingent of shooters and roster full of players who fit his system after general manager Mitch Kupchak gave him a vote of confidence. With the benefit of a full training camp and the backing of management, they should get off to a much better start.
Hat tip to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com for the find.
3. Dwight's gone, but there are still characters
Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre bought an entire cow for the purpose of eating. These guys are interesting and now without other distractions, Lakers fans will get to know the two most interesting Lakers not named Kobe Bryant.
4. Only one ball?
Nick Young and Bryant will likely share the same backcourt at some point. That's worth the price of admission alone given the fact that they're two of the most prolific shot-takers in the league. There's only one basketball allowed on the floor at a time, so the dynamic figures to provide some entertaining moments.
Speaking of Young, the L.A. native was outspoken, calling it disrespectful when the Los Angeles Clippers announced last week that they would cover up the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys this season, providing another compelling narrative for the ongoing Lakers-Clippers saga.
6. A Spanish resurgence
Pau Gasol could return to All-Star form after a 2012-13 season marred with injury, controversy and distractions -- one in which he went from being a vital part of the offense to playing second fiddle to Howard.
7. Houston: He's your problem now
The Dwightmare is the Houston Rockets' problem now. Losing the league's leading rebounder for the 2012-13 season will hurt, as will the void he'll leave on defense, but the sideshow left town with him. Now, the focus can be on actual basketball.
8. Eliminating the worst Lakers fans
The most annoying segment of Lakers "fans" may defect to the Clippers' side of the house, which is a welcome occurrence for the real Purple and Gold faithful.
The Lakers have always been easy to hate for a variety of reasons. In 2013-14, a lot of that rhetoric will go away. They don't have a superteam by any stretch. Instead, the Lakers' roster consists of retreads, likeable veterans and youngsters out to prove they belong.
That's a team that's easy to root for, but at the same time won't attract the fair-weather Southern California fans who claim to be Lakers diehards when it's time to hang another banner, yet expose themselves as frauds in grandiose fashion on national television.
9. They're underdogs for a change
Las Vegas said the over/under for the Lakers win total is 33.5, meaning that the odds makers think they'll be in consideration for lottery pick. Even if they "lose," they'll actually win by acquiring a high pick in a 2014 draft class ripe with talent.
The Lakers aren't buying it.
Along those lines, there should be no question as to the type of effort this team will give on a nightly basis, which was a problem for even the best Lakers teams in recent memory. Watching any team play hard is a welcome sight for any fan.
10. Filling a major void
The Lakers added athletic wing players for this season, which they were sorely missing in recent years. Everyone on the coaching staff knows full well that the defense needs to improve in order to win. Younger, faster players will naturally help in that critical area after they finished 19th out of 30 teams in defensive rating with 106.6 points per 100 possessions allowed.
Assistant coach and former Lakers champion Kurt Rambis will aid in that area as well. Offensively, this group could bring some element of Showtime back to L.A. with their (marginal) ability to run the floor better than last year's group.
That's what Dr. Jerry Buss intended when he hired D'Antoni over Phil Jackson, and it could start to come to fruition as soon as this season. It won't likely translate into a substantial playoff run this year, but it will be fun to watch.
Catch up with the author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was Yahoo's 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and also contributes to SB Nation.
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- Kobe Bryant
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