Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Last season was brutal for Lakers fans who expected to compete for a title after adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard via trades in the offseason. Instead Nash broke his leg, Howard struggled (by his standards) coming back from back surgery over the summer and clashed with Kobe Bryant and coach Mike D’Antoni before bolting to Houston in the offseason. Kobe and Pau Gasol, the incumbent stars, didn’t fare particularly well either. Gasol had knee trouble and was forced to play power forward, which left him shooting jumpers in lieu of using his once-devastating post game on offense and chasing much quicker players on defense.

Bryant actually had one of his best offensive seasons, first thriving in Mike Brown’s Princeton-style offense and then doing pretty well in D’Antoni’s pick and roll attack. Unfortunately he went down with an Achilles injury at the tail end of the season and L.A. was unceremoniously dispatched by the Spurs in four games.

Under the surface layer of alleged feuds and concern about the offense lied the actual problems for the team: no depth and bad defense. It turns out that a recovering Howard wasn’t enough to cover for the defensive apathy of Bryant and inability of Nash and Gasol. This season the bad defense from last season could turn truly comical as the loss of Howard and amnesty of Metta World Peace was answered with the signings of Nick Young and Chris Kaman.

The depth issue wasn’t exactly answered either, although the return of Jordan Hill should help a bit up front and the Jordan Farmar signing at least provides a bit of insurance in the backcourt.

It’s not immediately clear when Bryant will return, or what kind of shape he will be in after returning, but what is clear is that other players are increasingly unwilling to join his team. Somehow watching Kobe dribble around and allowing him to “teach you how to win” doesn’t appeal to players who have already seen success elsewhere and are no longer guaranteed to compete simply by joining forces with Bryant.

That leaves some tough questions for the front office to answer going forward. This season, however, seems fairly clear. Nash can still shoot and Gasol should get some benefit from posting up a bit more, but that duo will be disastrous defensively, as will almost any other combination the team can put on the floor. Oh, and Bryant will either love or strangle Nick Young. Sadly, that may be the most exciting storyline for this Lakers team.

They should be playing for next season, and might if the team gets off to a bad start, but for the time being the front office seems stuck on the idea that they can play out this season and make the playoffs, then turn around and re-sign Bryant and pick up a star free agent in the offseason. That has worked in the past, but the increasing shakiness of the front office and Bryant’s presence may be enough to short-circuit that plan and leave L.A. mired in a rebuilding effort for years.

Predicted Finish: 35-47 | 3rd place in Pacific Division | 11th place in Western Conference