Last year’s Los Angeles Lakers had the talent to go down as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. As a result of shoddy point guard play and another injury to starting center Andrew Bynum, they didn’t end up all over the record books (aside from coach Phil Jackson surpassing Red Auerbach’s mark with his 10th NBA title as a coach), but they were still good enough to win 65 regular season games and win the NBA championship. Not bad, methinks.
Heading into the offseason, the two big question marks around the champs were what would become of their two free agents, Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom. You likely already know what went down – Ariza’s agent was offended by the Lakers’ initial offer, so he signed in Houston and the Lakers replaced him with Ron Artest. Odom likewise balked at what the Lakers offered him at first, then the team then took its offer off of the table, and Odom flirted with the Miami Heat for awhile. Fortunately, the two sides came to their senses eventually and stopped the shenanigans, agreeing on a three-year contract with a team option on the fourth year, which could net Odom $33 million.
My views on the Ariza for Artest swapped mirror Kelly Dwyer’s. Artest is a good player, but he’s not at all the right person for the Lakers’ triangle offense. He shoots too often and too inefficiently, he breaks plays, and he doesn’t contribute enough when playing off the ball. Defensively, he’ll still be good, but Ariza is probably a bit better at this point. I’m not saying the swap means the Lakers can’t win a title this upcoming season, not by a long shot. Just saying that I would have rather seen both players stay with their respective teams.
You’ve got to applaud the Lakers for keeping Odom, though. I was terrified they were going to lose him and lose a huge part of their team. This guy was an absolute joy to watch last season. He’s perfect for the triangle and brilliant defensively. He’s an extremely versatile player whose impact is felt all over the court, in many aspects of the game. If he was gone, tremendous pressure would have been on Luke Walton to run the offense with the second unit and on Andrew Bynum to stay healthy for the entire year. Laker fans had to be extremely relieved when he finally re-signed.
Moving onwards to next season, I think these Lakers have to remain the favourites to win the chip. You don’t need me to tell you anything about Kobe Bryant’s game, but he’s turning 31 on Sunday and will still be in his prime this year. Pau Gasol’s in his prime too and he is the best power forward in the game. Same goes for Odom, who is without a doubt an elite player despite his inconsistency. Andrew Bynum, who will still be only 22 when the season starts, is one of the best young big men in the league and if he stays healthy he’ll make the Lakers an even stronger team than they were last season. That is scary.
This isn’t to say that the Lakers are entering the season without question marks. Ron Artest is obviously the biggest one. After that, it’s the point guard situation. Nothing has been done yet to address this weakness, so we have to assume the Lakers think that Jordan Farmar’s regression last year was a fluke. I’m not sure that I’d want to bank on him and Derek Fisher for another season if I was the Lakers, but they managed last year, I guess. The competition should be stiffer, as the Celtics, Cavs, Magic, and Spurs all look like legitimate threats now. I’m certainly not saying it’ll be easy for the Lakers to win it all again. Still, with Bynum returning to this ultra-stacked team, would you bet against this group? I wouldn’t.