What a roller-coaster ride for NBA fans! As an NBA super-fan myself, I feel like I've hit every emotion during this lockout. I've been on the players side, then the owners side, and then no one's side. I listened to the haters talking about how no one is missing the NBA season. I read reports from media experts about how this lockout will result in a loss of all of them momentum that the NBA had built up in the US and abroad over the last few seasons. And lastly, I wondered if the de-certification of the players union and subsequent lawsuits would really end in one big legal battle that lasted years.
And then it changed overnight.
Not only was the lockout over, but we're playing ball on Christmas! Talk about starting with a bang. The Lakers will host the Baby Bulls and Derek Rose, and America will get the see the Dallas Mavericks accept their 2011 NBA Championship rings on their home court against the MIAMI HEAT. Is this real life?
So it's back to reality, which means back to a very uncertain Lakers team. Surprisingly enough, the one thing I'm not concerned about it Kobe Bryant. Everyone's first story after the lockout ended seemed to be about Kobe and his age/health, and what that will mean for his 2011-2012 season. Here's what I know about Kobe: he'll be ready to play on game days, he'll take over games in a good way at times, he'll take over games in a bad way at times, he'll take more threes and more turn-around jumpers instead of driving to the hoop, he'll gamble way too much on defense but still be able to cover the other team's best guy in short spurts, and he'll work as hard as anyone and do everything he can to win a game and a championship.
Unfortunately, he's the only certainty with this current Lakers squad.
Here are five thoughts about the Lakers' upcoming 2011-2102 NBA season:
- Will the Lakers use their amnesty clause on Ron Artest?
The new CBA allows teams to essentially jettison one of their existing (usually horrible) contracts. With the Lakers, that clearly Ron Artest. It's not that they're really overpaying for Artest, but at this point, paying Ron Artest anything at all is overpaying. They can essentially cut him, and another team can put in an offer, with the highest offer signing him. If it's less than the Lakers are currently paying him, they'll pay the difference. If no one picks him up, they'll have to pay out his contract, but it won't count against he cap or against the luxury tax. In the Lakers' case, that's obviously an acceptable chance.
As you've probably guessed, I'm definitely for this. Artest is officially done as an elite player or an elite defender. He weighs the team down offensively, and his shooting percentages were atrocious last year. It's not that much of a contract to get off of the books, but it's entirely better than actually having him on the team. I'll always remember the 3 that he hit against the Celtics in Game 7, but it's time to go.
- Mike Brown's impact on a shortened season
As I've written previously, I'm not entirely sold on Mike Brown. Throw in a shortened training camp and no offseason team workouts, this year could prove to be a learning process for the players. If you're looking for a hope to hold on to, and I am, take refuge in the fact that he's supposed to be a great defensive coach. The Lakers obviously need to improve defensively, and we can hope that any defensive improvements will only help an already effective offensive game.
- Other roster changes
Mitch Kupchak has a lot of work cut out for him in a short period of time. Shannon Brown's status is still a mystery, the four draft picks need to be signed, stashed in Europe, or placed on the Defenders NBDL team, and there's still a few big men needed to be signed. Throw in a possible Ron Artest amnesty clause plus some trade rumors, and a lot needs to happen before Christmas.
It looks as though Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock will find a roster spot on the team, and might travel back and forth between the NBA and the NBDL depending on performance and injuries. As for the other draft picks, Majok will likely stay in Europe for a season or two, and Maduabum will be an NBDL mainstay. As for other roster additions, I only beg that Kupchak stays away from the Theo Ratliffs and Joe Smiths, and goes after some young big men. We need guys that we actually feel good about bringing off of the bench with Bynum, Pau, or Lamar is in foul trouble.
As for you conspiracy theorists and trade wanters out there, it looks like it is going to take a lot to get Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul. Rumors surfaced today that the Lakers "covet" Paul, and it would take the Lakers trading Bynum for Howard, and Pau for Chris Paul (or vice versa), which I don't see the Lakers doing. I can see the Lakers trying for one of those guys, but it's hard to tell if just Bynum or just Pau would land either of those guys individually.
- The point guard situation
The single most glaring weakness on this Lakers team. Derek Fisher is essentially finished, and would serve the Lakers better as an assistant coach. It's hard to tell if Mike Brown will start to move in a different direction, but I fear he'll stick with Fish for "leadership" reasons. Not that anyone behind him is any better, as we found out last year with Steve Blake. Darius Morris could be a rookie sensation at the point, but his shooting is a big weakness. It's obviously the reason that the Lakers covet a guy like Chris Paul, because they're used to him and every other point guard running circles around us.
With a shortened season, anything can happen for the Lakers. Less games could be a benefit for an older Lakers squad, or could be a detriment with a new coaching staff. There could be some carry over chemistry issues from how last season ended, and who knows what Mitch Kupchak has up his sleeve. At this point and with this group, a #1 or #2 seed in the West is a definite possibility, but the lack of guard talent and depth will prove their undoing in the Western Conference Finals against a team like OKC.
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