COMMENTARY | It's not a secret that the 2012-13 season was an unmitigated disaster for the Los Angeles Lakers.
By now, all of the narratives have been told and retold repeatedly, from Kobe Bryant's Achilles' injury at the end of the regular season to the coaching change just five games in, not to mention everything else in between involving Dwight Howard and the litany of other injuries and chemistry issues.
The offseason saw Howard leave for greener (flatter?) pastures in the Lone Star State to the Houston Rockets. The Lakers responded by bringing in a host of young players like Elias Harris, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Nick Young on short-term deals due to salary cap constraints.
Experts aren't giving the team a chance, as Las Vegas has its over/under number at 33.5 wins, while ESPN's Power Rankings have it slotted at No. 21. All the odds are stacked against them, but, through it all, Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash are still standing.
At ages 35, 33 and 39, their mileage can't be ignored. But they know how to play the game and are arguably three of the smartest players in the NBA today. Despite their age and injury history, in addition to the questions surrounding Bryant's timetable for return, there's no question that they're the Lakers' "Big Three."
How they'll be able to carry the Lakers through the season is worth looking into.
Basketball at any level is about making the right adjustments, and in the NBA where the talent disparity among teams is relatively small, they can make a world of difference.
The intelligence of the Lakers' veteran stars will allow them to adjust their games to play at their best, and that means they'll ultimately be competitive assuming they stay healthy. Bryant's injury is going to force him to make changes to the way he plays once again.
But Bryant's been doing it for years as he enters his 18th season, while Gasol has the skill set to be an effective big man for years to come. Nash has some reinforcements behind him in the backcourt with the addition of Jordan Farmar and will be able to preserve his body with limited minutes. Last season, he broke his leg early on and was seen as the de-facto savior of the team when it got off to a poor start.
That won't be the case this year, and he'll be more efficient because of it.
Speaking of being more efficient, the Lakers will be just that from a team standpoint. That's because for the first time they'll have a full training camp under head coach Mike D'Antoni. Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis spoke about how important it was to have that as the baseline for any successful season at media day on Sept. 28 (via Sports Out West ):
"When a season gets underway, you don't have the practice time to kind of start over and open up something new," Rambis added. "You've got to do everything on the fly, and it's really hard when you look at games being played and travel. You can't beat the players up because they have to be ready for the next ballgame. So it's always an advantage for a coach to go through a full training camp."
A full offseason program under head coach Mike D'Antoni will allow the players to become familiar with one another under the same schematics. Last season, one of the storylines that surfaced all too often was the fact that the team underwent a coaching change in-season.
It's time to throw out the excuses.
General manager Mitch Kupchak has backed D'Antoni since he brought the former New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns lead man to Los Angeles. That means that for better or worse, and whether the fans like it or not, D'Antoni will have every chance to show what he can do when the personnel fit what he wants to do from a system perspective.
About that system -- the Lakers now have a team built to play D'Antoni's way (to the coach's credit, he did make in-season adjustments last year that yielded positive results). The floor spacing will be better with perimeter shooters, and they can play a more uptempo style with an infusion of youth and athleticism. Obviously, Gasol, Nash and Bryant won't be running up and down the floor like it's 2006, but they'll be able to find more comfort in a system where no one looked in synch with one another last year.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this season will be Gasol's transition back to the five position. With him playing center, he'll be able to find shooters due to his passing ability and provide versatility on offense. He can't bring the defensive abilities that Howard had at center, but team defense is something that a full training camp can help improve.
That's critical to any improvement the Lakers make.
With respect to defense, it's been the Lakers' biggest issue in recent years, and they'll need to get better collectively in order improve in that aspect. Even with Howard, they ranked 20th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive rating, which calculates points per 100 possessions, with a mark of 106.6.
Defense at the NBA level is less about on-ball defense (though it does matter), and more so about being in the right spots as a team, communicating and knowing the rotations. If one player isn't on the same page as the rest, it falls apart, and that was the issue a season ago.
The Lakers will be better than advertised, but how much better depends squarely on the shoulders of Bryant, Gasol and Nash.
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Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was the 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
- Sports & Recreation
- Kobe Bryant
- Dwight Howard
- Pau Gasol
- Steve Nash
- Jordan Farmar