The Los Angeles Lakers is a basketball franchise with a rich history of championships and many hall of fame players. Today, that tradition of winning is still alive, being led by the likes of future hall of famer Kobe Bryant. Since winning their last championship in 2010, the perception of the Los Angeles Lakers had become that they did not have enough to be formidable favorites to win the championship anymore. This culminated by being swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs and losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games in the 2012 playoffs. It quickly became evident that the Lakers did not have enough to win a championship with the way the roster had been constructed. This forced many followers of the franchise to wonder what management could do to make the Lakers championship contenders again.
While most teams rely on the draft to build their team, the Lakers always find a way to get some of the best players on their roster through trades and free agency. In the last 20 years, they have traded for and signed the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. In the 2011 off season, The Lakers made news once again when it seemed they acquired all-star point guard Chris Paul. However, the trade was rescinded by NBA representatives as Chris Paul was traded to The Los Angeles Clippers instead. It seemed then that the Lakers lost a great opportunity to acquire an all-star player to go along with Kobe Bryant.
Public perception of the team got worse when Lakers management traded then 6th Man of the Year Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a trade exception. Many people wondered why the Lakers would give away one of their most productive players from their 2009 and 2010 championships for no player in return. However, in the 2012 offseason, the Lakers management used their trade exception to help get future Hall of Famer Steve Nash.
The move to get Steve Nash was one that surprised many people who follow the NBA. Steve Nash played for the Phoenix Suns, who are division rivals to the Lakers. Trades between division rivals is uncommon in any sport. With the acquisition of Steve Nash, the Lakers received a major upgrade in point guard and one that would ease the role of Kobe Bryant’s play-making abilities. The talk in the NBA quickly became, if adding Steve Nash was enough to consider the Los Angeles Lakers championship contenders once again.
As the 2012 off season went on, the main story for several weeks had been where Dwight Howard would be traded. The short lists of teams interested in acquiring him were the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, and The Los Angeles Lakers. It seemed that the likely place for Dwight Howard to land would be the Brooklyn Nets, when reports came out that Dwight Howard favored playing in Brooklyn the most. This quickly changed as Brooklyn put their offers for Dwight Howard off the table and extended center Brook Lopez’s contract. This quickly shifted things to Los Angeles, since the Lakers then became the most likely destination of Dwight Howard if he was to be traded. After several weeks of negotiation, The Lakers traded Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard. This acquisition was not surprising since this rumor of the Lakers trading for Dwight Howard had been alive for a long time. What surprised many people is the fact that they still kept their all-star power forward Pau Gasol. In a span of several weeks, the Lakers turned a trade exception to acquire Steve Nash and traded Andrew Bynum to get Dwight Howard. Now the chatter became if the Lakers did enough to become favorites to win the 2013 championship.
There is no question that if healthy, The Los Angeles Lakers have a great opportunity to win the championship next season. There are probably only two teams on paper who are talented enough to beat them in a 7 game series: Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. Perhaps the biggest questions for the Lakers are if their bench is deep enough to contend with the best teams and if their new acquisitions will fit with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Never in Kobe Bryant’s career has he played with a point guard such as Steve Nash. Steve Nash is a pass first point guard who can hit the open 3 pointer and manage the speed of the game. With Kobe Bryant getting older, Steve Nash can handle most of the ball handling abilities on the Lakers and make it easier for everyone else to score. Steve Nash’s biggest responsibility will be to make everyone on the team happy with shot attempts. Steve Nash has three other all-star caliber players around him who all want their share of offensive touches. If Steve Nash can distribute the ball effectively and stay healthy for the playoff stretch, the Lakers will be a force in the postseason.
With the new acquisitions around him, in theory, Kobe will have to do less for the Lakers to compete at the championship level. For Kobe to make this work, he will have to keep his shot attempts per game much lower than he did last season. He shot only 43% from the field last season on 23 attempts per game. Kobe this year will have to work on getting smarter shots and using his teammates to do so. Kobe has a great opportunity to win a 6th championship if he utilizes the talent around him.
Pau Gasol will probably benefit the most with the new Lakers acquisitions. With Steve Nash, he can play the pick-and-roll and get easy scoring opportunities on the court. Pau Gasol has the ability to post up and get points on the lower block while still being able to spot up for mid-range shots. Look for Steve Nash to make Pau Gasol’s scoring abilities much easier than the past few seasons. With Dwight Howard at the 5, he has perhaps the best weak-side defender in basketball playing alongside him. If Pau were to get beat in a 1 on 1 situation, they would still have to get past Dwight Howard to attack the rim.
If Dwight Howard wanted to play for a contender right away, he could not ask for a better situation than this current Los Angeles Lakers team. Unlike many seasons in Orlando, he does not have the burden to carry the team both on offense and defense. Orlando’s strategy in past seasons revolved around Dwight Howard getting doubled in the post to set up spot up shooters. With this Lakers roster, Dwight won’t have the burden to even be the team’s top scorer. Playing with Steve Nash, he will get easy opportunities around the basket as Nash knows how to make his big men better. Dwight’s biggest role on the team will be what he does best; block shots and rebound the ball. Mike Brown will love having Dwight being the anchor of this Lakers defense next season. Opponents of the Lakers will have a harder time attacking the basket with Dwight Howard now protecting the lane.
The biggest story about the Lakers this year is the 4 stars in the starting lineup, but they will only go as far as the other guys take them. Players like Metta World Peace, Jordan Hill, and Steve Blake will have to be a key if the Lakers want to make a championship run. However, through free agency, the role players will receive much help with the acquisitions of Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks, and Antawn Jamison. The biggest weakness in the Lakers lineup last season was having the worst ppg from an NBA bench. With Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks now with the team, the Lakers have a few more guys to put up points when the starters are not in the game.
How Good is This Lakers Team?
This Los Angeles Lakers Team is one of the few teams on paper with enough pieces to win the championship next season. The biggest question for them is how well the new pieces will fit together and if everyone can stay healthy for a long playoff run. Steve Nash has had back problems for the past few NBA seasons and Dwight Howard is coming off of back surgery himself. We will know the answer to these questions in May and June when they play the other great teams in the playoffs. The Lakers may not be the consensus favorite to win next season, but they are definitely in the conversation. It should not shock anyone if they in fact win the 2013 NBA championship. Only time will tell.