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Los Angeles Lakers: 7 Potential Starting Lineups for 2013-14

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Los Angeles Lakers: 7 Potential Starting Lineups for 2013-14
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Will Steve Nash stay healthy enough to lead the Lakers at age 40 next season?

COMMENTARY | To say the Los Angeles Lakers have a lot of questions surrounding the team heading into the 2013-14 season is an understatement.

After the way things ended with an embarrassing playoff exit in the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs and an offseason that saw Dwight Howard bolt for the Houston Rockets, they are in a transitional year.

When it comes to starting lineups, that's a good thing in terms of flexibility, because there's really no sure thing when it comes to which group will take the floor to start the season. The Lakers sought out and signed players who fit head coach Mike D'Antoni's system better than last year's personnel. Specifically, they got younger and more athletic and added some perimeter shooting.

With a diverse group of newcomers, there are a several different directions D'Antoni can go in when it comes to the players on the floor at the opening tip on Oct. 29 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Obviously, there are many more combinations possible, but these are the ones that deserve to be addressed due to probability, intrigue or to provoke some thought.

With that said, here are seven projections, along with predictions on whether or not they'll come to fruition:

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Wesley Johnson

PF: Jordan Hill

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

This is the baseline for a number of reasons, the first being that it's the most talented group among the Lakers' roster and every player is fitting into their most natural role. That's important because last season, Gasol, a player who will be the key to any amount of success, struggled and looked out of place when a disproportionate number of his looks came from mid-range and beyond. In this scenario, he moves to center, and the inside game will flow almost entirely through him on offense.

Drawbacks & limitations:

The wild card here is at the three spot, where Johnson has the ability to come in and reinvent himself or continue to fall below expectations. If he can capably fill the void Metta World Peace left when he was amnestied, then the Lakers will be as good as they can be. This lineup also assumes that Bryant's progress to this point is a trend, not a mirage, and he is active on opening night. That's still a tall order considering the nature of the injury, but why would anyone doubt him after he's made a career of proving people wrong?

Likelihood: Very likely. Gasol and Hill should complement one another perfectly, and Kaman would serve the third big man role well.

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Nick Young

PF: Jordan Hill

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

The basketball gods hath smiled upon Laker-land once again! Young and Bryant could potentially share the same backcourt and by golly, they could actually start together! Imagine the possibilities -- literally trying to split the basketball in half so they could both get a shot up, coming to blows when they realize that's impossible -- the sky is the limit.

The best thing about this is that it could really happen, and that should make any Lakers fan, especially season ticket holders, smile. Young will be out to prove himself and be motivated enough to give effort defensively in hopes of landing a big contract, and Kobe will be Kobe.

Drawbacks & limitations:

Obviously, defense is a concern when looking at the wing positions. Bryant may be a step slower on defense and Young is Young.

Likelihood: Also very likely, thank goodness! Our dreams (and the coaches' nightmares) of seeing the Black and Suede Mambas together on the floor in a starting capacity could really happen. Get your popcorn ready.

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Wesley Johnson

PF: Pau Gasol

C: Chris Kaman

Why it makes sense:

Chris Kaman is sort of the anti-Dwight Howard. He can stretch the floor and knock down shots outside the paint and allow Gasol to get more looks in his comfort zone. In 2012-13, Kaman shot 52 percent from 16 ft. to just inside the 3-point line, a good sign in a system where the bigs often play away from the basket.

Drawbacks & limitations:

The Lakers' biggest issue last season was being too old and slow to defend well in transition and on the wings. In this instance, the anti-Dwight moniker works against Kaman, because while he can shoot a higher percentage from outside the restricted area than Howard, he's nowhere close to as athletic. That's a problem for a team that needs to improve dramatically on defense to be competitive.

Likelihood: Probable. Kaman and Gasol would give the Lakers a major size advantage, but they'd have an issue when it came to athleticism and transition defense.

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Elias Harris

PF: Jordan Hill

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

Harris just signed a multi-year deal with undisclosed terms to join the Lakers for the foreseeable future after an impressive Summer League showing where he averaged 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 27.0 minutes. He could parlay that consistency into a starting role at a position that should have a wide open competition during training camp. If he earns it, he could provide some scoring versatility and defense at the wing.

Drawbacks & limitations:

He's probably not going to beat out Wesley Johnson since he hasn't proven he can knock down shots from the perimeter at the NBA level. According to executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss, Johnson was knocking down shots all over the floor when they worked him out before he signed, and he is probably the safer choice since he has more experience.

Likelihood: Possible. The Lakers have shown through their actions that they like Harris -- a lot. It's conceivable that he gets a shot as a starter.

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Nick Young

PF: Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

I wrote extensively on why seeing Bryant and Young on the floor at the same time would be worth the price of admission into Staples Center. Neither has ever met a shot they don't like, and only one of them should actually be taking them. That'll make for must-see TV if this gloriously manifests itself in the starting lineup.

This lineup would be possible if the Lakers decided to further D'Antoni's system. The Lakers drafted Ryan Kelly at pick No. 48 in 2013 to be the stretch four that D'Antoni covets. He could get a look early as he's an excellent shooting big man with 3-point range.

Drawbacks & limitations:

This lineup isn't taking advantage of the Lakers' new-found athleticism. Without Jordan Hill's energy, Kelly's shooting ability would have to make up for likely size disparities on the interior. The former Duke Blue Devil is plenty long enough to match up with other bigs, but at 6-foot-11 and just 230 pounds, he'll give up a lot of size inside. Kelly is also coming off a foot injury that could hinder his ability to run the way D'Antoni would like.

Also, defense be damned! Young has never shown any real interest in defending on the perimeter, which again, is an area of great need for the Lakers.

Likelihood: This could be fun to watch, but don't count on it. Kelly will likely need more seasoning before he can crack the starting line up given Hill's strong showing last season before he suffered the hip injury.

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Blake

SG: Kobe Bryant

SF: Wesley Johnson

PF: Jordan Hill

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

See something missing? Nash is going to be 40 years-old before the end of next season, and to ask him to be a starting point guard at that age is a lot. It's even more to ask him to get those tired legs up and down the floor like it's 2006.

He could preserve his body in a reserve role and allow the younger players a chance to take on more responsibility in running the offense. More importantly, he could be fresh for a potential playoff run.

Drawbacks & limitations:

D'Antoni loves Nash for good reason. The pair had their best seasons in the NBA together as player and coach while with the Phoenix Suns. Nash knows his offense as well as anyone and can run it to perfection. Plus, the Lakers are paying Nash to start, so to relegate him to bench duty wouldn't work from a financial standpoint either.

Besides, it would be a bad look for a point guard who was brought in to be the savior and looked upon to lead this group on and off the floor.

Likelihood: Almost impossible, but just one injury could make this happen by accident

Projected lineup

PG: Steve Nash

SG: Nick Young

SF: Wesley Johnson

PF: Jordan Hill

C: Pau Gasol

Why it makes sense:

Kobe is coming off a devastating Achilles' injury that will hinder his explosiveness. He could pull a Derrick Rose and choose to wait until he's comfortable coming back, which would give Young the nod here. He's sort of a poor man's Kobe Bryant anyway, except for the whole winning-multiple-titles-and-being-the-face-of-a franchise-for-over-a-decade thing.

If Bryant sits out, the Lakers will have even fewer expectations and could land a high draft pick for the loaded 2014 NBA draft. They'll have plenty of space to sign potential stars to play alongside any talented newcomer after having an actual first round pick to speak of.

Drawbacks & limitations:

Honestly, the entire above scenario is only throwing a bone to keep the conspiracy theorists engaged, because not surprisingly, there are actually Lakers fans who believe that Bryant should sit out the entire season and that the Lakers should instead "tank" and play for 2014-15.

That's not going to happen for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the fans, organization and especially the Black Mamba won't tolerate mediocrity -- even with limitations on the personnel side and the odds stacked against them. They may not win in bunches, but the effort to do so won't be in question.

Likelihood: #CountOnKobe. But don't count on the outrageous notion that he won't do everything he can to be back as quickly as possible. It's not just a hash tag or fruitless campaign. It's the way he's wired.

For more on the Lakers and the NBA, follow this author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.

Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist covering the Lakers and the NBA and was the 2012 Yahoo Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports.

Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.

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