2006 Pacific Division Preview: The Evil Los Angeles Lakers

As we continue to slowly plod through the division, we come to the always troubling Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are evil.

(Right here is where I'd like to thank my good friends over at McCovey Chronicles for the "[insert Los Angeles team name here] are evil" jokes that will follow. Their joke that I am now stealing. For proof, go ahead and Google "The Dodgers are evil." See that? Let's make it happen for "The Lakers are evil" and Sactown Royalty.)

(Also, I'm totally stalling for space to make it so the logo to the right doesn't bump against the blockquote box. I totally haven't figured out to work the spacing issue, so I'm mickey-mousing it. Sorry. Feel free to proceed to the next paragraph, or the next blog for that matter. Nothing to see here. Just stalling.)

For a no-nonsense, just-the-fact-ma'am look at the evil Lakers, I turned to one of the best hoopsbloggers out there (not to mention kind), Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold:

While everyone in the mainstream media is going to be talking about whether Kobe and Phil Jackson have lunch together and spend column inches trying to figure out what it says about their relationship that they both ordered the egg salad, that's not the key to what happens to the Lakers this season (they'll get along fine). Defense is.

Last season the Lakers scored plenty (7th in the league in offensive efficiency) but were 29th in the league in defensive efficiency). Chucky Atkins was little more than a matador out at the point waving his cape at driving guards and the front line was in no shape to do much about it.

Phil Jackson's teams play defense (last time in L.A. the team improved from 24th in the league to first in one season). He's got some good pieces -- two seven footers along the baseline in Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, plus Kobe is good on defense when asked to be -- the question is can he get them to meld and be focused night in and night out. The glaring weakness is at the point, where unheralded Smush Parker and veteran Aaron McKie are going to split time but both be asked to D-up as best they can and not complain when they get few chances on the offensive end.

The Lakers are being more aggressive on defense -- pressuring the length of the court, trapping, jumping into passing lanes. Last season the Lakers were dead last in the league at creating turnovers (just 12% of opponent possessions) and that was their biggest problem -- few empty trips for opponents. It's only preseason, but so far the Lakers are creating turnovers on 17.6% of opponent possessions.

Offensively the Lakers can score, although they will look much rougher at the start of the season than the end. At times in the preseason the "triangle" offense hasn't looked like anything you saw in geometry class. But there are moments, and things will smooth out in this read-and-react offense as the players gain experience.

That's particularly true of Lamar Odom. When he didn't have the ball in his hand last season he looked lost, so Jackson is giving him the ball as the offensive initiator (the role Pippen used to have with the Bulls). Kobe is in the Jordan/attacker role. Odom has the ball handling skills and instincts to do the job, but he needs to get used to all that comes with it, such as being buzzed by the league's small, quick point guards.

Then there's Kwame, who the Lakers are giving a second chance. The bottom line is we all know he can play when he wants to; the question is can a combination of maturity and Jackson's tutelage bring that side of him out night after night rather than sporadically. He's only being asked to be the third option (12 points, 7 rebounds a night would be good).

With Kobe and Lamar the Lakers are going to score. The questions are can they stop anyone and what happens if a major cog goes down with an injury? This is a paper-thin Laker squad and while Phil can deal with Kobe, he won't be able to deal with injuries.

In all seriousness, there's little I can add to this fantasticly thorough analysis, except that the Lakers are evil.

I feel I should be more worried about The Show than I am. The key thing hovering in my head leading to my dismissal of the team, though, is that they upgraded one position in the offseason, and that position doesn't play a minute.

There's little to no doubt that coaching matters a lot in the NBA. You saw it in Denver last season. You'll see it this year in Detroit (Flip is a good defense schemer, but a lackluster motivator and adjuster, it seems). You might see it in New York (if Larry Brown doesn't commit homicide first).

Rudy T. never had control of that team last season, and the Warrior-like leadership void towards the end of the campaign was truly mindblowing. Remember, that team tied for the division cellar. No small feat for a team coming off a conference championship.

Will Phil get that extra two pounds of defense while maintaining high offensive efficiency? I don't see why not - Aaron McKie should be loads better on D than Chucky Atkins was, and Kobe will be forced to regain some tenacity on that side of the floor. It could happen.

But there's going to be a learning curve on offense, potentially bigger than Sacramento's. The Lakers could have a very bad start to the season as everyone catches up.

It feels like I'm treading water here, so I'll shut up. I know if I was a Lakers fan, I'd be concerned about Kobe vs. Phil. That's a volcano waiting to erupt. I plan on reviewing the Phil book within a few weeks (having just finished it). By reviewing, I mean completely mocking.

TZ's Prediction: Crap. This team is the biggest question mark in the league. We've learned our lesson from Phil and Kobe before. Let's just go with: 43-46 wins, 3rd place in the division, and 8th in the conference. Destroyed by the Spurs in round one. Kobe plays 70 games. Kings take the season series 3-1.

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