By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:36AM
Really, it's not all that bad.
So the Lakers lost the coach they trusted ... and the successor they wanted ... and their friend and reigning Sixth Man of the Year ... to the team that embarrassed them in the playoffs ... without getting a player in return ... and a few days later watched Chris Paul go to the Clippers.
OK, so maybe it is all that bad.
Being a Laker means there are no such things as unusual circumstances, only new ones they haven't tried yet, but this season will be a unique test of mind and body -- even for them.
No Phil Jackson, no Brian Shaw as new coach as many players had hoped, no Lamar Odom, probably no Metta World Peace and maybe no Derek Fisher in the starting lineup, definitely no Paul and no rest in a schedule compressed by the lockout. In other words, all they have to do is be like before without actually looking like before.
Trying to re-establish themselves as the dominant team of the Western Conference and erasing the ugly image of the West semis playoff loss to eventual champion Dallas will have to come in this unpredictable transition period. Because that's what it is, even without any official designation as long as Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are around. Of course, Gasol was gone until David Stern wielded his veto stamp and Bynum could be the minute the Magic decide to re-open Dwight Howard trade talks, so no point in getting caught up in semantics.
That it all comes at the same time they're putting in the new Mike Brown system in a time crunch of a preseason, and then open with three games in three nights of schedule-on-the-run, adds to the challenge. All the Lakers have to do along the way is find the championship focus that turned into whatever that was in the playoffs, discover a new dependable sixth man out of nowhere and possibly make lineup changes at point guard (Steve Blake for Fisher) and small forward (Matt Barnes for World Peace, the former Ron Artest). No biggie, right?
World Peace's versatility, especially on defense, makes him a natural for the role of top reserve, but let's just say the dependability part has sometimes been elusive. Bryant could be losing his comfort-zone backcourt mate, though it's possible the tested Fisher will still play in the closing minutes of tight games and be better rested for the playoffs. Adding to the most lineup uncertainty in years, management has made no secret that it continues to pursue major deals, whether to send out current players or use a trade exception from Dallas to add a piece without having to move a matching contract.
The good news for the Lakers is knowing they have faced much worse before, within the last six or eight years alone, and lived to tell. (They are willing to talk about the distraction of trade rumors, lineup changes and unforgiving schedules, if only they could stop laughing long enough.) It's just that they have never confronted a challenge like this before, with questions from the Dallas series about their drive joined by a weakened bench joined by Bryant in his 16th season and coming off a 2010-11 when his body wasn't up to practicing.
The really good news for the Lakers: They're still the Lakers. Bryant's wear is offset by the other reality that he is still playing at a starring level on offense and defense, and certainly in passion. Gasol rightfully has a lot to answer for after the weak playoff showing, but this is also the power forward who was one of the best players in the league at any position the first half of last season. If Bynum is the third-best producer on a team and he's controlling the paint, that's a good team.
Besides, things could have been much worse. Imagine if Bryant and his knees played in Italy during the lockout, even in a short stint, rather than get this much rest. And consider the additional burden if the work stoppage pushed the start of the season into early-February instead of the Christmas tipoff, the way the schedule could have been even more compressed and been a greater burden to veteran teams. When the calendar was released, the early back-to-back-to-back jumped out as a potential problem for a team learning under a new coach, except the Lakers were handed only one such set and better to get it when freshest rather than later as games piled up.
There will be serious challenges, but there always are for the franchise under a constant spotlight. Some of them are even external. That's just the Lakers life, every season before and this one too.
1. Show up. The Lakers are still one of the best teams and obviously headed to the playoffs. The uncertainty is how far they go.
2. Attitude. The difference in focus and intensity between the Mavericks and Lakers was shockingly obvious as a prime storyline of the 4-0 Dallas playoff win.
3. Defensive rebounding. The Lakers get beat on the defensive glass too often. Eliminating all of those second-chance opportunities for opponents has to be a priority.
1. Phil Jackson had an unbending loyalty to Derek Fisher, choosing the leadership and connection with Kobe Bryant over the shortcomings. Mike Brown has no such loyalty.
2. Ron Artest. Check that. Metta World Peace. Metta World Peace will be under more scrutiny to produce than when he arrived as the lineup change from a title team.
3. The lockout will impact the Lakers as much as any veteran team. They have a change in coaching without the benefit of the usual training camp and a compressed schedule that could be taxing.
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LAST YEAR: 57-25, 1st in Pacific
FINISH: Lost in Western Conference semifinals
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
DEREK FISHER, POINT GUARD
6.8 PPG | 2.7 APG | 1.2 SPG
A pass-first guard who knows how to win, Fisher enters his 16th NBA season ready to prove he still has something left in the tank.
KOBE BRYANT, SHOOTING GUARD
25.3 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 4.7 APG
One may wonder if Bryant is slowing down after posting his lowest PPG since 2003-04 (24.0). But never doubt the heart of the Black Mamba.
MATT BARNES, SMALL FORWARD
6.7 PPG | 4.3 RPG | 1.3 SPG
Takes over the starting job for Metta World Peace. Barnes will be called on to provide defense, rebounding and an occasional 3-pointer.
PAU GASOL, POWER FORWARD
18.8 PPG | 10.2 RPG | 1.6 BPG
Gasol, who can play a tad on the soft side from time to time, remains a key contributor to the Lakers' offense and a defensive presence in the paint.
ANDREW BYNUM, CENTER
11.3 PPG | 9.4 RPG | 2.0 BPG
With him, it always come down to health and consistency. The Lakers need Bynum to be a factor on both ends to contend.
|Metta World Peace||6-7||260||F||Lakers hope likely reserve role will mean more consistent play.|
|Josh McRoberts||6-10||240||F||Free-agent signee will have an opportunity to play a lot.|
|Troy Murphy||6-11||245||F-C||Looking to bounce back from a forgettable 2010-11 season.|
ADDED: G Darius Morris, G Andrew Goudelock, F Ater Majok, F Jason Kapono, F Josh McRoberts, F-C Troy Murphy
LOST: F Lamar Odom, G Shannon Brown
JIM BUSS, EXECUTIVE
The son of owner Jerry Buss has had an increasing role for years, only now it has become more visible. This is not necessarily a good thing at a time when the Lakers are doing everything possible to wash away any connection to Phil Jackson and have made unpopular decisions (the Mike Brown hire, the Lamar Odom trade). If L.A. has the playoff run fans have come to expect, Buss is fine. If not, he gets a lot of the heat.
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