Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Lakers Reloaded

"Lakers do not repair, they reload."

Yet again, the Los Angeles Lakers have done exactly that in this past off-season. The last season started, flowed and ended so bad that the players, staff and fans knew that the team needed something else, something that would bring the team back on track. The condensed, extremely suffocating season that ended took a toll on the not-so-young Lakers starters, on the not-so-fit starters and it also showed the lack of depth the team carried through the season.

Lakers' bench was a joke everywhere it went. Lakers' perimeter shooting was extremely poor, and equally bad was perimeter defending. New offense meant Lakers' offense also contained a huge number of turnovers. There were hardly any blowout victories going Lakers' way. Any win was hard to come by. And atleast half the games they lost, were lost in the last minute. Mid season trades brought many an emotional goodbyes, and happy surprises. The playoffs were forgotten before anyone could be ready for it.

"Oklahoma City Thunder mid-range the Lakers to death." appeared on my face often, and that was the end of Lakers in 2011-2012 season, which ended in the hands of the Miami Heat.

Jim Buss, having taken over from Jerry Buss, carried the load of expectations of millions of fans to revamp the Lakers back into contention after two very forgettable years. The Lakers don't compete for a playoff spot and kick back. Lakers are hungry for titles. Every. Single. Year.

The off-season started with fans wondering whether the Lakers would like to keep Andrew Bynum or go after Dwight Howard. Would Ramon Sessions opt to stay with the Lakers another year? What is the plan for Pau Gasol?

Jim Buss made a big move. And that move mushroomed into Mitch Kupchak announcing Steve Nash as a Laker. STEVE NASH. Lakers. The former Laker show-stopper is a Laker. HOW IN THE WORLD!!!?!?!

The Lakers Reloaded.

Lakers have a knack for adding the guys who pester the Lakers into the Lakers. Recent examples - Matt Barnes, Ron Artest. Kobe did want Raja Bell on the Lakers too. This time, it was Steve Nash. Nash took a pay cut to be on the Lakers so he could stay close to his family (Phoenix). Jim Buss had asked Mitch to pursue Nash's position in the market several times. Nash's agent requested, Jim and Mitch agreed that Kobe should talk to Nash about it. Kobe talked, and wooed Nash to the Lakers. Even spoke strategies. Steve Nash was satisfied with it. Raptors and Knicks took the bullet. Nash became a Laker.

Steve Nash instantly became the second best Point Guard in the Lakers history. Steve Nash makes everybody else around him better. Kobe wouldn't have to handle the ball all the time. He showed in the Olympics and in the practice and pre-season that he is willing to let go of the ball to somebody else. That helps his wrists, and maybe keep his health better in the career ahead.

I was totally happy. Nash and Gasol on the same team. Bynum too? Pick and roll would destroy everybody in the league. Another thing that made me happy during the off-season was that Metta World Peace was there at the gym and practice court everyday. He trimmed down and looks fit. That is completely not how he was a season ago. And, he was making his shots, which was even better. Metta had put on a new name and lost his offense last year. This time, though, he has got it back. Or so we believe.

Lakers then went on to add Antawn Jamison, who is still having good scoring seasons. Jamison is no youngster. He is a veteran of 14 years in the league. Lakers hope to find in him what they had in Lamar Odom two season ago. Jamison also had played a short while under coach Mike Brown at Cleveland.

Right. Are we ready for the season? Sure.

I was enjoying my vacation, when I wake up to a news. A news that would make me jump, and etch a smile that wouldn't fade so easily. The "Dwightmare" had ended. And it had ended in the City of Angels, with the Los Angeles Lakers. (Andrew Bynum would leave. Amazingly, Pau Gasol did not have to leave. Mitch Kupchak is a genius.)

The Lakers Reloaded.

Over the past season and half or even more, Dwight Howard held the whole league for ransom when he jumped from one wish to another, putting off almost every GM and owner and coach in the league. He was so rumoured to be landing on Nets, Rockets, Lakers, Mavs, Hawks, and many others. Even staying in Orlando. As for the Lakers, the trade talks between Lakers and Magic fell apart multiple times. Howard even went on to say that he didn't want to come to the Lakers. He would then say that if he were traded to, he would leave as a free agent after his contract ends and go to the Nets (Deron Williams) or Mavs (along with Deron Williams).

But then, he came to Los Angeles for medical treatment and recovery from the back injury he incurred last season. He loved the city, he loved how people loved him. An old lady told him that the Lakers would be good for him and that they would love him. A Persian lady invited Howard for dinner, and he totally enjoyed it, and was taken aback by how much people cared to have him amongst themselves, like someone of their own, like family. Howard likes the LA Dodgers too! Probably all of these played a good role in Howard coming to the Lakers. It was a trade, yes. but I guess he would have liked this trade. He did say that he liked it. Of course he does. He's family now.


Lakers offense will now be injected the mantra of Princeton Offense. Coaches were brought in just for that. Also, Dwight's coach from Orlando was here, while Lakers' staff who had seen George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal came to Howard and taught them everything they had seen in the previous Laker legends who played Center. It was like they were waiting for Howard.

Lakers drafted center Robert Sacre in the last pick of the drafts, and bought from Mavericks guard Darius Johnson-Odom. (Who wouldn't like to have a kid with that name on the Laker team, eh?)

Other additions - Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark.

Lakers were swept in the pre-season 0-8. The starting 5 we are expecting played for 29 minutes together, and outclassed the opponents, Kings, while they were on the floor. The Lakers hardly ever attempted to win any of those games. It was about trying to figure out rotations, and infuse the offense in match-practice. There were ups and downs. Adjustments were made. The 3rd string bench and others were allowed minutes to show themselves to the door. But yes, it would've been nice to win a couple of those games, but who cares, 82 games lie between pre-season and playoffs....the 16 wins that DO matter.

The starters for the Los Angeles Lakers are :-
PG - Steve Nash
SG - Kobe Bryant
SF - Metta World Peace
PF - Pau Gasol
C  - Dwight Howard
Showtime again?

I'm no technician of the game, but I will try to put forth as much as I could make of it.
The Lakers offense is going to be a mix of Princeton Offense (predominantly), pick-and-rolls (Nash) and trails of the Triangle (Tex Winter, Phil Jackson). The Princeton Offense involves a lot of passing. Nash, Kobe, Gasol can move the ball very well, all are good passers of the ball. Metta can do the passing too. He used to carry the Houston offense in T-Mac's absence too. Dwight can pass too. He was the focal point of the Orlando offense which had him at the center and four range shooters waiting on the perimeter. So, if Dwight got double teamed, he would kick out the ball to the free man on the floor. Of course, Princeton Offense would mean a different kind of passing, but just saying that he can pick the open man.

Princeton Offense also means more running off the ball. It might be one of those places where the Lakers miss somebody like Matt Barnes, who used to cut to baskets well. It will also be the role Devin Ebanks would look to adapt to. The ageing Lakers starting line up will look to reduce the running to efficient movements, while emphasizing on moving the ball and opening up easy shots.

Metta, Kobe and Nash can burn you from range. Metta has been improving his radar in the off season and that has shown in the pre-season too. Kobe smoked 9-11 in one quarter of a game. Nash is a good shooter from range. Pau Gasol is great at low post, high post and mid-range. He also has gifted ball handling abilities, having grown as a point guard in his childhood. He can feed the guys on the perimeter, or to Dwight Howard at the post (as you would have seen being done to give Dwight's first bucket of the pre-season).

The Lakers always have the option of Nash going to play Pick-and-Roll with either Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard just in case the offensive system doesn't work great. Nash played with Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez, and made those guys look imposing. And to think of it - Marcin Gortat was the back-up center at Orlando behind Dwight Howard. AND, Dwight Howard is a better Pick-and-Roll player than Marcin Gortat. I had long ago wished that if Dwight was coming to the Lakers, it would be nice (wishful thinking, but...) if he came with Jameer Nelson. Pau can hurt you at the post, or from high post. Nash can speed under your bigs or make the FT line jump shots, or kick it out to someone else for an open jump shot.

Kobe Bryant not handling the ball himself, would make him more efficient scorer. He doesn't have to jack up the shots now. He would be given the room, and the rock. He has a deputy to take a call, a deputy who has instilled fear into the most solid opponents. Kobe is quite good as a spot-shooter, and can quickly lock in. I'd love to re-live those "4th quarter Mamba" days again.

The bench will have to keep this fluidity alive. And the bench this year looks better than last season's. Jordan Hill is back to the line-up after getting injured in early phase of the pre-season. He will keep the defensive intensity going. Steve Blake has worked hard on his role as a passer, and as a spot-shooter. It will be important for him to play well so as to save Nash's legs. Jodie Meeks will be the back-up SG. Meeks will bring along with him a good 3pt shooting %, something that the Lakers sorely missed last season. He has been shooting them well so far. Frankly, the 3pt shooting % was the one thing apart from blocks that the Lakers did not suck at in the pre-season.

Devin Ebanks will likely come in as the back-up SF, or sometimes as the back-up SG. Ebanks has improved his shooting and defense over the off-season. The Lakers franchise always saw Ebanks as Ariza's replacement. Ebanks will want to make a name for himself now. He has been good in the pre-season. Consistency included, he would be wonderful off the bench for the Lakers. Antawn Jamison is the veteran on the bench. Lakers are looking for good numbers from him, something that he has not yet brought out in the pre-season. Jamison can score well from mid and far, and would back up PF and SF positions.

The guy on the bench I am looking forward to the most is the rookie Robert Sacre (he'll remind you of his Gonzaga senior and former Laker Ronnie Turiaf). He may not get many minutes just ass yet, but he took the opportunity to play hard in practice against Dwight (while Dwight was not yet cleared to play in pre-season games) and played well in the pre-season games too. That is what guys like Steve Nash could do - make everybody feel and look good. Sacre was almost headed to China, and now he finds himself on the brink of playing hard earned minutes for one of the most stacked franchise in NBA history.

Duhon, rookie Johnson-Odom, sophomore Morris, and Clark make for the rest of the bench. Andrew Goudelock, who showed much promise last season, was waived before the start of this one.

At the defensive end of the floor, Mike Brown would handle the coaching mostly. In Kobe and Metta, the Lakers have two great perimeter defenders. Up till now, the system that was in place had either of them reaching out to the inside to double up as help at the low/high post. That left a man open outside, and that was a major reason why the Lakers got hit by a lot of outside shots and mid-range shots. This time, with Dwight Howard on the inside, a much larger defensive presence than Andrew Bynum, the perimeter defenders can have more faith in the post players and hold on to their own man. If that goes on right, then the Lakers' defensive rating is bound to improve over last season. Mike Brown is happy with even Steve Nash's efforts at the defensive end of the floor. I guess that is how hungry Steve Nash is for a ring! I don't worry much about the defense. Dwight can submit any big man in the league and Metta can shut down most guards and small-forwards in the leagues. Transition defense is what the Lakers' old legs would be wary of now. Hopefully, the minutes are managed well for that to not be a worry. That will need the bench to do well.

So, there you are. Your Los Angeles Lakers.
The expectations are high. It's Hollywood. Now, to shoot for the title.
Coming up in 10 hours' time, Lakers' first game of the season- hosting the Dallas Mavericks.

Lakers don't repair. They just reload.

1...2...3... CHAMPIONSHIP!

(Image courtesy OC Register. Thanks to the dozens of information sources and Lakers beat writers, fan blogs and fans for helping me gather words for the post)