2012-13 preview: 5 questions about Lakers ADVERTISEMENT
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BY KEVIN DING / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The Lakers began last season without the grandest expectations, an unfamiliar feeling. Phil Jackson had moved on after a failed title defense, Mike Brown had minimal training camp to install his system, and the Lakers' age figured to be problematic in a lockout-compressed schedule.
Any higher expectations would not have been met. The Lakers wound up exiting in the playoffs' second round, 4-1, to Oklahoma City.
The Lakers hope new center Dwight Howard's shot-blocking ability will help make them one of the best teams in the league for 2012-13.
ROSE PALMISANO, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTERADVERTISEMENT Now, however, limitless expectations are back in Lakerland after a veritable Hall of Fame class of talent and an upgraded bench were assembled by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss in the offseason. To meet all the renewed expectations, the Lakers – who open the 2012-13 season with media day Monday and their first practice Tuesday – had better answer five key questions in positive ways.
1. How will Dwight Howard fit in?
Howard comes to the Lakers somewhat humbled after his never-ending waffling and public-relations disasters in Orlando, also trying to recapture his physical dominance after April 20 spinal surgery marked the biggest injury of his eight-year career. The Lakers hope Howard's shot blocking in the paint and tremendous activity vs. pick and rolls will immediately make them one of the NBA's best teams at the less glorified end of the floor – despite limited athleticism elsewhere on the roster. Howard will also need to figure out an offensive role when Pau Gasol is a superior post-up player and better fit for the Princeton offense components the Lakers are installing.
2. Can Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash make each other better, not worse?
Neither NBA MVP has played alongside anyone in the backcourt who demands the ball as much as his new partner will. Historically an elite shooter from anywhere, Nash will have to thrive in spot-up situations at times instead of living off pick-and-roll sets, and the Lakers want his defensive effort to be dependable if he's not exerting himself so much on offense anymore. Bryant will certainly get some easy baskets courtesy of Nash's fancy passing eye, but it won't be as easy for Bryant to stand idly by at times just so that Nash and Howard can play the way they feel most comfortable.
3. Is Mike Brown cut out to be a championship-level coach with the Lakers?
In a rushed situation in his first season in L.A., Brown was given a pass inside the Lakers' executive offices for working hard but not possibly being able to have a team humming along in a familiar system the way Oklahoma City and San Antonio did in the West. There are no excuses now. There is a bolstered roster and a firmed-up coaching staff that includes Brown's mentor, Bernie Bickerstaff. If Brown's forte is defense and he was just hand-delivered the best defender in the sport (Howard), the Lakers had better be ready to throw a lot of blankets over a lot of scorers.
4. Do the role players know their roles (and can they still play)?
Championship teams invariably have glue guys who don't do a lot every game but do a little in very big games. The Lakers believe they have that again with an improved bench featuring free-agent signees Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. Jamison and starting small forward Metta World Peace don't have to produce the way they did when one of them was named Ron Artest, but in the Lakers' ideal world Jamison gets them big baskets and World Peace gets them big stops when they're really needed. Jordan Hill needs to keep up his energy in the paint after getting rewarded with a new contract, and either Steve Blake or Chris Duhon must be stable considering how many minutes will be logged by the point guard backing up creaky-backed Nash, 38.
5. Are the Lakers hungrier to win than Oklahoma City and Miami?
The Thunder came so close last season and fell short; the Heat finally understands how incomparable it feels to win it all. The Lakers' talent will be best served if it is teamed with a desire that even exceeds what Oklahoma City and Miami can bring this season. Howard and Nash are seeking their first championships, but then so were Karl Malone and Gary Payton in 2003-04. If Bryant and Gasol are more driven and united to be crowned again than Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were in '03-04, the Lakers will be awfully hard to beat.