The offseason narratives surrounding the Purple and Gold have been stated and restated ad nauseam as the regular season nears tip-off on Oct. 29. Dwight Howard came and went, Kobe Bryant is injured, the other stars are old, and the players who aren't on their last legs are largely unproven.
And then there's the defense -- it's been mediocre at best to downright awful in recent years, and head coach Mike D'Antoni isn't known for his teams dominating on that end of the floor.
But with all of those obvious story lines duly noted, there is reason for measured optimism.
This season, the Lakers are positioned to surprise a number of experts who picked them to miss the playoffs. They'll attempt to do so without the distraction (circus? sideshow?) of Howard and the benefit of a full training camp. That's not to mention a roster full of motivated players who either have something to prove or are trying desperately to win in an ever-shortening window due to age.
[Photos: Chris Paul, Man Crush Monday]
The championship-or-bust mantra has clearly moved to the other side of the hall at Staples Center with the Los Angeles Clippers and their fan base. The Lakers are now the underdogs, and it's time to embrace it.
It's time to have some fun.
The Kobe factor
The Lakers are Bryant's team, whether he's injured, sick or dominating on the floor. This season's ability to be labeled a success or failure hinges largely upon his ability to return to some semblance of his former self. He's been measured in his recovery because he understands that this team's ceiling is a first or second round playoff exit and he can jeopardize his career if he rushes back.
It's in 2014 and beyond where the Lakers will retool and have the resources to add championship-caliber personnel.
There's little chance he regains all of his explosiveness, but we've seen Kobe surprise us all before, and it's not outside the realm of possibility. What's likely, however, is that he waits until he's fully healthy, comes back and uses his footwork and basketball I.Q. in order to create shots and keep defenders guessing.
Bryant will be back, and it's a matter of when, not if. Only a fool would bet against Bryant.
Hooray for athleticism!
The Lakers were aging and relatively slow even during their back-to-back championship seasons in 2009 and more so in 2010 -- losing Trevor Ariza from the 2009 team that season was a major loss in the hustle statistics and defensively. But in recent years, they lost even more of that element.
This season, they have some potential with the addition of athletic perimeter players Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry. All three figure to be key rotation players and Henry in particular was a pleasant surprise during the preseason.
Though the increase in youth and speed hasn't manifested itself into defensive production just yet, there's potential. Even serial shot-taker Nick Young has shown some dedication on that end, which is encouraging.
#LetShannonDunk, Part II?
All bets are off when it comes to how good this year's Lakers squad will be. From Las Vegas' insulting 33.5 over / under wins number to fans going as far as saying they're a lock for the No. 4 seed (thank you, Twitter, you amaze me every day), there are a wide range of possible outcomes for the season's finish.
But one potential win would be the return of high-flying former fan-favorite Shannon Brown. The guard is rumored to be on his way back to Los Angeles as first reported by Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld. If he clears waivers and joins the Lakers, it'll be just like old times again and Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Jordan Farmar will be reunited with their former teammate from their last title squad in 2010.
Brown is electric and a dynamic playmaker in the open floor who can bring the Showtime element back single-handedly after the team's ability to turn heads with highlight-reel plays has dwindled with collective age.
Will Brown alone be a major factor in wins and losses? Probably not, but he'll be a reason for fans to get excited again after last season's excitement gave way to dejection.
Embrace the unknown
This season is all about sitting back and enjoying the ride. Lakers fans have forgotten what it's like to cheer for a mediocre team, and that's what they'll be until they either overachieve or enter a free-fall into the NBA draft lottery. There are too many questions and not enough answers at this point, and as they reveal themselves, it'll be remarkable to watch.
Either way, they really can't lose, because the expectations are non-existent. That's a fitting situation for the No. 18 team in the rankings.
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- Kobe Bryant
- Los Angeles Clippers