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Nothin' but Net: A funny feeling about the Lakers

1:25 PM, Sep 5, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Los Angeles Lakers were the most disappointing, disastrous team in the NBA last season.

That is not opinion, that is fact. (It's opinion, but name another more disappointing team.)

They were old, horrendous on defense, poorly coached, fought internally and barely made the postseason. If not for a massive offensive from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers would have been lottery-bound.

So, how did the Lakers solve these problems in the offseason?

First, nothing you can do about age. Steve Nash isn't getting any younger. Ponce de Leon won't come calling for Pau Gasol. Age is a legitimate problem for L.A.

Defensively, the Lakers ranked 22nd last season in points allowed per game. In the summer swelter, Los Angeles lost both Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace. That pair accounted for four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards and one is now in Houston and the other will toil at Madison Square Garden regularly.

Taking away the two best defensive players, especially Howard, is a blueprint for further failure. World Peace may have lost a step, but on the Lakers, he was still lockdown. Howard patrolled the lane and protected the rim. He got plenty of opportunities to defend the rim with Nash, who is a dismal man-to- man defender, handling the point guards. Even Bryant, always considered an elite defender, lost some zip on the fastball defensively.

The Lakers replaced those two with Chris Kaman, who has the lateral movement of an elephant with bunions, and Nick Young, who has consistently displayed an indifference toward defense that resembles asking a scared woman to kill a spider.

Now that the Lakers should take a step backwards defensively - their true weakness - maybe head coach Mike D'Antoni can lean on his remaining and new guys to tighten up on the defensive end.

If Young's indifference to defense is well-documented, D'Antoni preaches his indifference in a neon plane hovering over the Super Bowl. His Phoenix Suns teams couldn't have stopped the Washington Generals.

Plus, D'Antoni is still D'Antoni. He will never be confused for Red Auerbach, or Phil Jackson, the rightful occupant of the big chair in L.A. His offense first style has won nothing and last season, he refused to put his personnel, as mismatched as they were, in the best spots to win games.

Then, there's that pesky torn Achilles' tendon Bryant suffered late last season. Recovery time was expected to be 12 months. Mamba thinks he'll do it in around six. He just turned 35 and history has shown that older professional athletes, especially ones who have 17 years of tread, respond much quicker than anyone else.

Not.

The Lakers' starting five next year, when healthy and total, should be Bryant, Nash, Gasol with most likely combination of Kaman, Young, Jodie Meeks, or Wesley Johnson.

So why am I not unilaterally dismissing the Lakers?

First, the expectation level is maybe, maybe the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers are not a championship contending team.

But many people have discounted the Lakers from the playoff mix. Howard is still the NBA's best center, but the only thing worse for Los Angeles than his tenure is the smog.

Howard ripped the Lakers apart on almost every level. On the floor, Gasol couldn't figure out how to play with him. Bryant fell all over himself trying to make Howard a huge part of the offense and D'Antoni had no clue how to integrate all of them. Howard had good numbers, but little impact.

Off the floor, Howard and Bryant never got along, no matter what they might say publicly. Howard wanted to be the man and Bryant wanted him to be the man ... in a few years.

It was a toxic mix.

With Howard gone, Bryant can reclaim the role of alpha dog without worrying about the future, or making people feel good. That Bryant is scary. Don't be confused, Bryant's 2012-13 campaign was awesome, but the old Bryant, who puts teams on his back without trying to be a facilitator, is still dangerous.

Can he be that Bryant? Probably, but later in the season. He still averaged 25.5 ppg before he got hurt.

Also, Bryant's in a contract year. Generations of the Bryant family will be fine financially, but Bryant won't want to go out as part of the group that destroyed the Lakers.

You should have enough faith in a motivated Bryant.

Gasol will be better than he was last season. He has to be. With the Spaniard being the only big-man offensive weapon, Gasol could actually thrive without Howard around to clog the lane. He's a capable passer, which made him excel in Jackson's triangle, and a solid shooter. Gasol will have a bounceback season.

You should have faith in a rejuvenated Gasol.

Nash looked bad last season. At 39, and with a bad back, Nash can't be relied on for his former MVP ways. But two seasons ago, he averaged almost 15.0 ppg. Plus, with Bryant and Gasol, Derek Fisher thrived as the point guard and he was never confused for one of the One Direction kids.

You can have a moderate amount of faith in an improved, albeit healthy, Nash. (Plus, Steve Blake is a more than capable backup.)

D'Antoni is a lot of things as a head coach, but he's also a brilliant offensive mind. The Lakers should be able to score the basketball freely. When he replaced Mike Brown, D'Antoni changed not only the structure of the Lakers offense, but the philosophy. Give him a full camp and a full season and the Lakers should be able to put up 100 ppg.

Have faith in D'Antoni at your own peril, but realize his team will score.

Kaman, Young, Blake and Johnson are not good on the defensive end, but all are above-average offensive players. That's what the Lakers will be this season - an offensive team.

An old offensive team, and yes, the Lakers are older than fire, runs a high risk for injury. There's nothing you can do about that. This is the Lakers team.

But between Bryant, as long as he comes back within a month, a full camp under D'Antoni and the ouster of Howard, the Lakers could be just fine. (I think Howard's leaving is HUGE for this team.)

They won't contend. Those days are gone unless the brass convinces LeBron James to be the next in the linage of Lakers superstars.

But, they aren't to be counted out quite yet.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- No shots at Lamar Odom. He needs help and apparently is getting it.

- I wish I had the opportunities Michael Beasley had in his life that he can afford to squander them. I can not imagine another team takes a chance on him after the Phoenix Suns released him conduct reasons.

- As much as I love basketball, I can't get into the EuroBasket tournament. Sorry.

- Movie Moment - As a Batman devotee, I urge caution before flying off the handle about Ben Affleck playing him next. First, Affleck has turned into a solid movie maker and wouldn't get involved in junk anymore. Secondly, we can't get it changed so live with it.

- TV Moment - I don't invest in shows in their first season. Risk is too high they won't find an audience, then I watch, then I get disappointed when it gets canceled. I will, however, on the drama side, give "The Blacklist" (with James Spader doing what he does best - be creepy), "Hostages" (I like shows with masks) a shot and comedy-wise, HBO's "Hello Ladies" (Stephen Merchant - funny collaborator with Ricky Gervais) a chance.

The Sports Network

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