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Lakers a popular choice in summertime forecasts

September 9, 2009 |  9:44 am

Crystal ball ESPN.com has over the past couple of weeks published a variety of predictions and prognostications pulled together from a cast of 53 of their finest basketball minds- listen to us lament our lack of inclusion here- in preparation for the upcoming season. They were the overwhelming choice among the panelists to win their third straight Western Conference title. On the Grand List of Bold Predictions, this ranks relatively low, between "Mad Men will win multiple Emmys this year," and "McDonald's will sell a fair number of burgers."

Yes, the Spurs, Blazers, and Nuggets should all be taken very seriously and have the talent to unseat the purple and gold atop the conference... but assuming good health for all involved (won't happen, but in forecasting I've always found it best to judge by a team's best possible roster), it's tough to lay odds on any other team but the Lakers.Not with my money, at least.

Of course, the locals don't simply want another W.C. banner (no point, since they don't hang 'em anyway), but another Larry O'Brien. To that end, there's more variety in the ESPN ranks. Still, 19 of the 53 voters (36%) think they'll get it. A smattering of reasons provided by the voters:

"...Two words: Phil Jackson. He's never won a championship without winning two more in succession. He's the master of the unique challenge of keeping his team both motivated and refreshed while defending a championship...

"...If you were choosing a squad to play pickup ball in Bed-Stuy or to win an NBA championship, and you had to choose between Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest to have on your team, who would you choose? Which one would damn near guarantee victory? That's what I thought, too. That's what the Lakers thought. That's why they'll repeat..."

"...Behold the Lakers. Kobe Bryant -- say no more. Phil Jackson -- ditto. But also Pau Gasol, who has solved the riddle of producing versus NBA playoff physicality, the big-hearted Derek Fisher, promising Andrew Bynum. Not only are they the presiding champions, but I'm in the camp that suspects they got vastly better by essentially trading Trevor Ariza for a hungry and motivated Ron Artest. Be afraid..."

"...Having witnessed first the assassin-like focus of Michael Jordan in the '90s, I see the same glare in Kobe's eyes. No question he's got the talent, but he's also got that intangible "killer instinct" that maybe LeBron James doesn't have..."

And one comment about why they won't. Like most of the concerns about LA's dreams to repeat, it centers around how well Artest will fit as a replacement for Ariza. Namely, that he won't:

"...Anyone who has watched Artest closely over the last few years will attest to the following; he's not nearly as strong an on-the-ball defensive player as he used to be, specifically defending dribble-drives (he's still good at chasing shooters around screens). And he has voluntarily taken more poor perimeter shots than almost anyone in the NBA. Life always gets more dramatic when he's around. Maybe Jackson and Kobe can get him to fall in line, but if they can, they'd be the first to be successful at it in a long time..."

Among those not going the way of Kobe and Co.,18 (34%) think LeBron James and his Cavs will dethrone the Lakers. San Antonio (8 votes), Boston (5), and Orlando (3) round things out.

All in all, if this crowd has any wisdom, it's safe to feel good about the '09-'10 season (if you weren't already). Nearly 80% of ESPN's pantheon of experts has the Lakers in the Finals, 36% say they'll win the whole enchilada. Obviously none of it really matters until games actually start, but wouldn't you rather spend the summer dreaming another title, realistic and achievable, as opposed to, say, the '10 draft lottery?

A few more thoughts on this and other items:

  • I meant it when I said the Lakers will have some competition this year. I like the Jefferson move for San Antonio- considering what they gave up to get him, it can't make them worse- and love what they did for their depth in Antonio McDyess and DuJuan Blair. Portland won't win as many games as the Lakers, but are getting better and still provide all sorts of matchup questions.
  • I can see both good and bad regarding how Vince Carter fits in Orlando, but assuming it goes well, all three E.C. titans have improved. Keeping Marcin Gortat was a luxury, but gives the Magic serious frontcourt depth while adding Brandon Bass helps as well, filling a role they didn't really have last season. My guess is once again they'll be third in the hearts and minds of media types when breaking down the E.C., but could very well be back in the Finals come next June. I think Rasheed Wallace fits like a glove in Boston, and believe the addition of Shaq makes Cleveland better, while adding role players like Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon gives the LeBronaliers more versatility and plugs holes. Bottom line, all three teams are viable Finals choices, though I like Orlando and Cleveland more than Boston.
  • The qualifier above notwithstanding, can you really assume good health for San Antonio? Is it even worth the trouble? Are they the exception to the rule? Fortunately for the Spurs, it only really matters if they're healthy in April.
  • The LA Times language related blue laws make it impossible for me to link to the ongoing feature, but if you happened to Google "NBA Logo Rankings Project," I'm willing to be you'll be entertained.
  • All I need is speed, height, jumping ability, handle, larger hands, a general boost in athleticism, a buddy to jump over, and my own ball, and then I could totally do this.
BK

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