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Highs and Lows: L.A. Lakers

By 10.28.08
Kobe BryantKobe Bryant (photo. Chris Sembrot)

The season is here. While we waited for the ’08-09 schedule to officially start, we went team-by-team, from 1 to 30, exploring where each team’s ceiling is for the upcoming season and where their basement is. In other words, what are the realistic best-case and worst-case scenarios for each squad?

Additions: PF Josh Powell, PG Sun Yue.

Losses: PF Ronny Turiaf, SG Coby Karl, SF Ira Newble.

Ceiling: NBA championship
Despite last spring’s Finals face-plant that included the biggest blown-lead in Finals history and getting embarrassed in Boston’s Game Six clincher, the Lakers roll into this season as the popular pick to win the whole thing. The strongest pro-L.A. argument is the return to health of Andrew Bynum, who was a beast in the first half of ’07-08 before a knee injury took him out. Seeing as the Lakers’ biggest problem in the Finals was getting dominated on the glass when it mattered most and not getting enough from Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol inside, Bynum’s presence should be the missing ingredient. On paper, Bynum and Gasol are already the best big-man combo in the game (although a motivated Shaq and Amare could lay claim to that title, and defensive Jazz fans will yell at you if you don’t at least mention Memo and Boozer), and when the L.A. duo figures out how to effectively play off each other, it’ll be a problem for the rest of the League. You know what you’re getting from Kobe Bryant: at least 28-30 points per, plus he gives you a chance to win every single night because he is the best player on the floor 90% of the time, and whether he chooses to play-act the whole “Smiley Mr. Fun Teammate” thing or not, he’s your best playmaker and passer. If Odom plays ball and accepts coming off the bench — which he says he’ll do — he’s a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who can pull down 10 boards a night if he plays a lot of minutes at PF. Worst-case scenario, L.A. has arguably the best player in the game, arguably the best coach, arguably the deepest bench, arguably the most versatile forward in the West, and arguably the best pair of big men. How bad can they be?

Basement: Second-round exit
Good as they are, Gasol and Bynum still don’t equal one In-His-Prime Shaq; no one is outright scared of them, and the opposition’s defensive game plan still revolves around Kobe 100% of the time. And as good as KB24 is, we saw in the Finals that the right scheme can neutralize him. There is high potential for the Odom/Phil Jackson dynamic to sink this team, if L.O. has ulterior motives (contract year) and Phil is steady trying to prove a point rather than trying to work it out. While the bench is deep, that’s more a testament to its strengths in the backcourt (Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic) and on the wings (Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza); the frontcourt depth leaves something to be desired, since Chris Mihm can never stay healthy, newcomer Josh Powell is nothing to write home about, and D.J. Mbenga is a YouTube clip and a not-hard-enough foul waiting to happen. And is the fact that Kobe refused to have offseason surgery on his finger — and that he’s coming off his longest season since the three-peat era plus the Olympics — going to come back and bite L.A. in the ass? And is Bynum really as great as everyone wants to believe? He still hasn’t been signed to the big-money extension he wants, so he’s got some Sulk Potential right up there with Odom. The Lakers should be good for at least a Top-3 seed in the West, but as strong as the conference is, every round will be a battle.

’08-09 NBA preview archives
10/27 — Boston Celtics
10/23 — Houston Rockets
10/22 — New York Knicks
10/21 — Denver Nuggets
10/20 — Philadelphia 76ers
10/17 — Dallas Mavericks
10/15 — Indiana Pacers
10/14 — Golden State Warriors
10/10 — Detroit Pistons

10/9 — San Antonio Spurs
10/8 — Chicago Bulls
10/6 — Oklahoma City Thunder
10/3 — Washington Wizards
10/2 — Utah Jazz
10/1 — Charlotte Bobcats
9/30 — Memphis Grizzlies
9/26 — Toronto Raptors
9/25 — New Orleans Hornets
9/24 — Atlanta Hawks

9/23 — Sacramento Kings
9/22 — Miami Heat
9/19 — Portland Trail Blazers
9/18 — New Jersey Nets
9/17 — Minnesota Timberwolves
9/16 — Cleveland Cavaliers
9/15 — Phoenix Suns
9/12 — Milwaukee Bucks
9/11 — L.A. Clippers
9/10 — Orlando Magic


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