Monday, October 19, 2009

The Los Angeles Lakers

Coach: Phil Jackson
Last Season: 65-17, NBA Champions
Key Additions: Ron Artest (Free Agent, Houston)
Key Losses: Trevor Ariza (FA, Houston), Sun Yue (waived)

Offseason: After ending a 7 year championship drought, the Lakers’ main offseason goal was keeping the squad intact. However, when Trevor Ariza declined a 5 year, 33 million dollar offer following his breakout campaign, the Lakers instead used their mid-level exception to sign Houston’s free agent, Ron Artest, for that exact deal. Ariza then signed with the Rockets for, ironically, 5 years, 33 million.

Though the Lakers swapped Ariza for a much bigger name, they might have gotten the shorter end of the stick. With all due respect to Ron, he just doesn’t seem to be a good fit with this team, especially considering the player he’s replacing. Unlike Trevor Ariza, who was perfectly content with his role player status, Artest has been (or has viewed himself as) a star his entire career. However, he just isn’t that good. He doesn’t seem to care that he is an extremely inefficient offensive player - jacking up 15-20 bad shots a game. Where are those touches coming from? You know that Kobe won’t give them up. Pau already got way too little touches during last season's playoffs. If Artest doesn’t figure out his new role, he could turn the Lakers’ offense into chaos.

In addition, Artest just isn’t the defender he used to be. He can no longer guard elite swingmen. He is much slower and heavier than he used to be – he even had trouble staying in front of Corey Maggette during a preseason game. Artest may return to his top notch form and prove me wrong, but according to last season, the Lakers lost their best defender (Ariza) and replaced him with a far inferior one.

It seems to me that signing a player as volatile with Artest – probably the owner of the most infamous off-court track record of the past decade in the NBA – is enough of a gamble as is. But when pairing that with the fact that Artest might not even be an improvement over his predecessor, it’s a gamble that’s not only dangerous, but unnecessary. And even though Phil Jackson is probably the coach best equipped to deal with Ron – remember, he harnessed Dennis Rodman – the team would have been better off sticking to what they know.

Apart from the Ariza-Artest switch, the Lakers had a quiet offseason basketball wise, resigning their other two free agents – Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom. However, off the court, it was drama galore, with Odom’s extension taking several weeks to complete. However, despite the long saga, Odom seems very happy in LA, claiming from the get-go that he has no intention to move. Odom starred again later in the summer, with his much publicised marriage to Khloe Kardashian – I will not elaborate on that, as I find it boring and unrelated to basketball. My apologies to gossip-maniacs. I do, however, find it important to mention that the Lakers waived Sun Yue – probably the most universally loved athlete ever to roam the earth.

-Point Guard: Apart from Artest, who is clearly the biggest X-Factor this squad has, for all the reasons explained above, the Lakers’ most burning concern personnel wise is at the point guard position. Derek Fisher manned the position for the past 2 seasons, but at 35 has noticeably lost a step. Despite a strong showing in the Finals (11 ppg, 50% FG, 44% from 3, and two huge threes during a crucial game 4 overtime win), Fisher was bad throughout the regular season, and downright terrible in the Western Conference Playoffs (35% FG, 23% from three). Not only that, but Jordan Farmar, who had a very promising sophomore campaign in 2007-2008, hit a wall last season, shooting only 39% from the floor, putting up an absolutely atrocious 9.9 PER, and raising questions regarding his ability to inherit Fisher’s spot. The Lakers’ third Point man, Shannon Brown, showed some promise last season after arriving from Charlotte via trade, and was re-signed to a 2 year, 4.2 million deal. However, he has yet to prove that he can play at a high level throughout the season.

The Lakers had major trouble guarding opposing point guards, specifically small and quick ones. Their defense on this Point Guard prototype was so bad last postseason, that Houston’s Aaron Brooks torched them during their second round 7 game series, scoring 18 ppg, on 46% shooting. If the Lakers have trouble with Aaron Brooks, what are they going to do against world class, small, quick point guards such as Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Jameer Nelson? Their ability to guard this position will go a long way towards guaranteeing them a repeat, but if they can’t, I don’t see how they can get past the Spurs in the West.

-Motivation: The 2004 Lakers, probably one of the most talented squads of the last decayed, imploded with inner drama and stories. Last season’s squad managed to avoid the drama, but will they still be friends now that they have that title? After every single person on that team gave everything for that ring, and they got it, will they put aside squabbles for the second consecutive season or will egos explode? Will Pau Gasol complain about touches? Will Lamar Odom want to start or will he be willing to remain a 6th man? Will Phil Jackson still be motivated to lead this squad now that he passed Red Auerbach on the all-time title list? Is he even capable of motivating them? It has always been said that defending a title is harder than winning one. The Lakers need to prove that they still want it.

-Kobe: Last season, Kobe Bryant finally got rid of that monkey on his back, and won a title as the alpha dog of his team. Now that he has silenced the critics, will he still be fully committed to that goal? Will he still involve his teammates, or will he revert to get-my-own-stats-Kobe? Also, Kobe is 31, and has played over 200 games the past two seasons, including the Olympics with Team USA, all of this with an injured finger. Basketball players all reach a stage where their body breaks down; has Kobe reached this stage? Kobe is such a competitor, that he’ll probably stay focused on getting that 5th title all throughout, but it should still be pointed out that with Kobe's history, it isn’t a given.

-Andrew Bynum: The past two seasons, Bynum displayed borderline all-star form before succumbing to injury, returning far from full strength in the playoffs. If Bynum can play to his potential, the Lakers have the best frontcourt in the league. But if he’s injured, then Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are pretty much alone up front, unless you are a huge Josh Powell/DJ Mbenga fan. The Lakers were able to win without Bynum at his best last season – but with all other contenders stacking up during the offseason, they need the young big man in order to repeat.

Prediction: Despite my doubts about Artest’s effect on the team, the Lakers are still pretty much the same squad that won last year’s championship, and must be considered the favorite to repeat until we see evidence to the contrary. If drama/injuries don’t catch up with this team, they should finish atop their conference during the regular season, fully prepared to meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. It will be very hard to count them out. 61-21, 1st place in the West.


  1. I couldn't disagree more.

  2. Well, in retrospect, the Lakers seem to have things figured out so far this season. But I still think that some of the problems written above could hurt them come playoff time

  3. We cannot use the phrase "in retrospect" until a certain amount of time has elapsed. As I was reading this, it felt as though I was reading a Bill Simmons article. Don't get me wrong, I love Simmons, but that isn't a compliment because the way he pegs the Lakers is rarely spot-on. A rough estimate would say that 60-70% of analysts and experts agreed with your opinion on the Artest acquisition. Fans of the Lakers were over-joyed, while fans of Boston and Cleveland were irate. Seriously, I read their forums after the trade; it was mini-Heaven as a Laker fan.

    Artest and Fisher bring the same intensity that Kobe does every night. They are also the only two players that are every bit as tough, if not tougher, than Kobe. The Lakers have an edge with him now. Also, as Plaschke pointed out, Ariza can't defend like Artest can. Ariza is long and quick with a knack for the ball, while Artest invades your space, AS A DEFENDER, can body you up, and has some of the quickest hands outside of anybody that isn't a boxer. You used the Maggette example (just like Simmons), but look at the other examples. When Kobe was watching Joe Johnson go for 20 in a quarter in LA, Artest stepped in and showed 'em what's for. Also see Kevin Durant's struggles against Artest. That extra bit of crazy is something that I love to see as a long-time Lakers fan.