The Los Angeles Lakers have assembled a starting five the likes of which seemed impossible under the current collective bargaining agreement. The Lakers are still paying Kobe Bryant $27 million this season, a hangover effect of CBAs gone by. And yet this team still exists. Steve Nash was acquired using a trade exception and draft picks. Two-time MVP, denier of age Steve effing Nash. The Lakers turned balky-knee Andrew Bynum into Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard, one of the most dominant defensive presences in the league, and a guy who isn't a black hole on offense. Oh, the Lakers also still have Pau Gasol! That's right, three other NBA teams got together with the Lakers and found a way to give Dwight to LA without requiring that they give up Gasol! Rounding out the starting five is Ron Artest/Metta World Peace. Artest is no longer the player he once was, but as the fifth starter? Unreal.
This is terrible.
Of course, there are pitfalls. Dwight Howard is coming off back surgery. He's looked just fine in the preseason, but back surgery at 26 is no laughing matter. It could cause issues down the line. Steve Nash turns 39 this season, and no longer has the benefit of the brilliant Phoenix Suns training staff. The Dallas Mavericks, as you may recall, allowed Nash to leave in free agency because they didn't believe his back would hold up much longer. He beat the odds in Phoenix, but who knows how long it can continue. And then there's Kobe. He enters the season with health concerns, but has stated today that he's 85% sure he'll play in the season opener. Of course he's going to play in the opener. But you have to wonder how much more Kobe can play through.
Another issue for the Lakers is their bench. Have you looked at their bench? The big bench acquisition was Antawn Jamison. Jamison is like this wonderful joke that everybody in the league gets, except Lakers fans. I love it. He's not good. Of course, this is the Lakers, so queue up his resurgence. Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks are the key back court reserves. I'll leave it at that. The depth is bad. Really bad.
And finally there's coaching. Mike Brown did little to remove concerns about his ability to manage the Lakers roster. The last time the Lakers had 4 Hall of Famers, even Phil Jackson couldn't manage it to a title. I have questions about whether Brown can pull this off. I think he gets a bad reputation, he's certainly not terrible, but I think he may be out of his league here.
But realistically, barring major injury, the Lakers are going to take the Pacific Division. Even still, how bad is this team if one of the big four goes down? Let's say the Lakers need to roll with Kobe, Pau and Dwight for a month. Or Nash, Kobe, and Pau. Or Nash, Pau and Dwight. It doesn't matter. They'll still be better than most of the teams they'll face.
I think they're a team that will easily make the playoffs, and be even more dangerous in the playoffs. Every team shortens the rotation in the playoffs, and the depth will be less of a concern. I think the Lakers and Thunder will make for an incredibly entertaining Western Conference Finals. I'd like to put money on the Thunder emerging on top, but I wouldn't be very confident. I do think the Thunder match up about as well as anybody, though. Perkins can give Dwight fits. Ibaka can put up a fight against Pau. Westbrook can keep step with Nash. Durant can match Kobe. The Thunder are the West's best hope to stop this team.
As someone who openly roots against the Lakers, I worry the most about if the Lakers get to the Finals. I don't know how the Heat (or the Celtics or any team from the East, really) would match up against Dwight and Pau. We'll hope it doesn't come to that.
As a fan of beautiful basketball, it will be impossible not to appreciate this Lakers team. Even if I hate them, I can appreciate them. But they'll go through struggles just like any other team. And maybe it won't work out as planned. Maybe they'll struggle. Maybe they'll stumble. Maybe.
This is terrible.