Ball Don't Lie - NBA

As the NBA preseason comes to a close, Ball Don't Lie looks at all 30 teams, outlining off-season transactions, projecting win totals, spinning tracks, and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Next, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last Season: 57-25; lost in the Finals to Celtics

Key Players Added: Josh Powell (free agent, Clips), The Monkey King Sun Yue (draft)

Key Players Lost: Hyphy Ronny Turiaf (free agent, Warriors), Ira Newble (free agent)

Kelly Dwyer's Endless Grey Ribbon: Nearing the end of a whole litany of team previews that apparently have come off as more pessimistic than people had expected (all these games have to add up, dammit. Not everyone can win 60 games), this Lakers preview will probably serve as the most cautiously pessimistic version of the bunch. And I still have them down for a league-leading 57 wins. Or tied for it, at least.

Let’s start by saying that, while I don’t think this team’s defense is nearly as good as some of the all-time greats, or even that of their contemporaries, the potential for this team is limitless. If Phil Jackson could just work with skill alone and not have to deal with the brains and egos of this group of talents, then this team could be well on its way to 69 or 70 wins. And I know what it takes to pull out 69 wins in 82 tries. I’m familiar with the long haul. So’s Jackson, you might remember.

And the idea that Jackson tends to be sort of useful when it comes to massaging egos and working around brain cramps? Shake and shudder.

The depth, versatility, scoring punch, passing acumen, rebounding potential and overall talent of this team is scary, to me. Knowing what we know about Jackson’s offensive schemes, you can’t help but be giddy at the idea that Jackson is finally working with a cast and crew that fits the triangle offense perfectly. Assuming the players are on board, of course.

This Laker team is much more suited for the triangle than even the 1999-00 outfit, which featured heady players (Ron Harper, A.C. Green, Brian Shaw, Rick Fox) working alongside willing triple-post neophytes (Kobe and Shaq), and working around someone who obviously didn’t fit nor care to fit in Glen Rice. If the personalities decide to do the right thing, then the Lakers could romp.

But that’s a tough assumption to make in October. Injuries hit this team hard last year, in a way that went well beyond Andrew Bynum’s knee issues. Lamar Odom is a linchpin that hardly anyone can trust, Jackson’s gone all Horace Grant on the forward, and only time will tell if the tough/smarmy love approach will work with Lamar.

Kobe has been playing non-stop basketball since August of 2007, and he’ll be expected to be at peak form in June of 2009. And there’s always the fear that, after working to make great strides in 2007-08, youngsters like Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar might get a little overconfident and falter a bit. There’s nothing in those two that would leave me to believe that this is in the offing, but it happens a lot in this league, and any reasonable observer would have to be wary.

Then there’s the Pau/Bynum/Odom conundrum. I’ve been on record since about a few seconds after finding out Pau was a Laker in favor of bringing Odom (whose game I’m still smitten with) off the bench so that he can have the offense run through him with a mix of starters and reserves, instead of being a perimeter observer as a starter. Odom’s relented thus far, to a certain extent, and Jackson’s offensive guru Tex Winter is already wondering aloud as to whether or not a PaunBynum frontline can work.

My question is, since when did Pau Gasol become a center? Sure he had to play the pivot with Bynum out last year and Kwame Brown in Memphis leaving the Lakers thin up front, but this guy has been a power forward his entire career, and now we’re worried about how well he’s going to play … power forward?

Everyone else’s question is, since when did half a season turn Andrew Bynum into a Hall of Famer?

My answer? It wasn’t a half a season. If you were paying attention, it was his entire career up until last winter.

Bynum’s development has been so off the charts for years that I had him listed as a Most Improved Player candidate a year and a half ago, even in a year that saw him average eight points and six rebounds. Now, he made a bigger than expected jump in 2007-08, but it wasn’t that huge of a jump. I wasn’t surprised, at least.

His production in limited minutes has been so good, so quickly, that he’s earned every accolade he’s gotten. Not from the people you’ve probably heard them from, though. Those guys were only watching for that one month last season, when he came out of nowhere (to "those guys") to turn into a force. For those who have been watching his per-minute stats since the beginning, though, 2007-08 was almost entirely expected. Bynum is that good.

Or, "was that good." I have no idea how his knee will respond to whatever the hell it went through last winter, and spring, and summer. Remember, this guy was supposed to be back by the end of the regular season, and the rehabilitation process dragged on and on and on. This isn’t even something like an ACL tear, where we can ably predict just how long it will take him to return to form based on history. I have no idea how he’ll turn out.

But if he turns out just as 2005-to-January of 2008 projects? Scary. The kid turns 21 today. He’s got eight years to go before he’s even at his peak.

So, 57 wins. Just to be safe. Just to keep me grounded while I think of Kobe putting up an efficient 25, 7, and 7 while everyone around him works as a viable decoy (maybe they can even rest him!). Something to ponder while wanting to ponder Trevor Ariza running the baseline in that offense. Something to keep me in check while Pau Gasol checks for cutters before going with either hand, over either shoulder, on either block. Something to muse over while Odom fills in all the holes.

Or, the team starts slow, they take a while to get used to each other, Kobe has to carry things in November and December; and by the time things are sussed out (whether that means the team learns how to play alongside each other, or the front office learns that moves have to be made), Kobe is dead-tired.

I’m going to go with the half-full approach, as evidenced by my album choice, and not my win total. This coaching staff, and these players, have a chance to do something really special this year.

Expected Record: 57-25


Mean Machine:

Real Talk, Blog Talk (aka excerpts from other blogger team previews):

Deadspin: "There was very little turnover from a team that went to the NBA Finals. Kobe should still be in MVP form. Andrew Bynum is back to add muscle, rebounding, shot-blocking and those nifty little jump hooks. Thanks to Bynum's return, Grand Theft Gasol should get to spend significant time at PF instead of C, which better suits his marshmallowy goodness skill set. Derek Fisher oozes veteran leadership and, of course, hustle: Fish lead the league in drawing offensive fouls last season (54). Lamar Odom can do a little bit of everything and now gets to operate under the Kobe/Gasol/Bynum three-way safety umbrella (which is good, since Lamar tends to wilt under the bright lights). They're motivated after last season's Finals Fail. (Said coach Phil Jackson: "There's still a little angst and anger there.") They're pretty deep, with Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton and Chris Mihm all coming off the bench. [...] Let's face it, the Lakers can transmute lead into pure gold and transform evil into beautiful woodland fairies."

Hardwood Paroxsym: "Farmar's likely in for a breakout season. The way they've brought this kid along, consistently, slowly, no rush but no retreat, has been brilliant. They drafted him, sent him to the D-League, called him up, and worked him in. They brought in Fisher, and that gave him someone to take the pressure off. Now, he's starting to bring it all together, and he provides something very important. A point guard who can defend. There are very few of those in the league."

Sparty & Friends: "The Lakers will have one of the biggest front lines in the league with the 6-10″ Odom, and the 7′0″s Pau Gasol and  Andrew Bynum ... the trio avaeraged around 37 points per game last year, but they never played together as a unit. We all witnessed Pau Gasol moving to the basket and blowing by every big in the West during the Lakers Wester Conference run last year ... what will it be like to have Bynum either A.) Clearing the lane even more for Gasol, or B.) Giving Gasol someone to dish to for the high percentage dunk as defenders collapse on him. Odom, Gasol, and Bynum all out reaching everyone else for offensive and defensive boards alike. The possibilities down low are endless."

Lakers' Tats:

Associated Wax: Steely Dan, Countdown to Ecstasy

Michael Bay's Twitter Season Projection:

michael_bay: Here's a tip, Philip: its not about yelling harder. Its about yelling smarter. Try it with Lamar.
09:03 AM October 18, 2008 from web

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