Lakers fans overwhelmingly predict a three-peat, but believe Kobe Bryant won't win a league MVP
These poll results shouldn't come as a surprise. The Lakers are back-to-back champions. The poll respondents are Lakers fans. And I recorded similar sentiments just before the preseason.
I surely expected an overwhelming number of Lakers fans in the poll to predict the team will three-peat (95.88%). I anticipated few would make a big deal out of training camp results, as only 2.54% found the Lakers' 4-4 preseason record worrisome. And I reacted with a shrug and a yawn when I saw that 62.43% listed a litany of factors -- including talent, experience, offseason acquisitions, the coaching staff and the team's superiority to other teams -- as reasons that the Lakers will three-peat for the second time this decade.
Nonetheless, the poll results provided interesting revelations in the Lakers' subplots as they open the season Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets. For example, 74.34% of the fans in the poll said they believe Kobe Bryant won't win the league MVP, and only 16.73% proclaim that he's the best in the league. This revelation isn't as much a knock on Bryant as it is that 50.36% of the fans predicted that Bryant won't have to carry the team because of his strong supporting cast. Still, 23.98% said Bryant's injuries are also going to limit his effectiveness. But Lakers fans aren't completely writing off Bryant. Even though 26.23% found his 24-of-85 shooting clip (28.2%) to be the most troublesome sign during the Lakers' exhibition season, 46.87% said they're not worried about his rehabilitation efforts for his surgically repaired right knee.
The optimism doesn't exactly carry over to center Andrew Bynum. In the poll, 60.21% expressed concern whether Bynum will be 100% this season, with 23.53% saying they think that Bynum may be injury-plagued all season. Considering the uncertainty surrounding Bryant's and Bynum's rehab efforts, Lakers fans are in agreement with the coaching staff that others need to be ready to fill possible gaps.
Most point to Pau Gasol, with 34.33% saying he's most responsible for leading the team, and 45.9% saying they think he'll be able to hold the fort when Bryant is limited. Others (20.49%) think Lamar Odom is more suited to the task. A bit over 62% of those responding to the poll said they believe that Odom will be able to sustain the conditioning and production he provided in the preseason, including a 10.9 points and a team-leading 10.7 rebounds in a team-leading 31.7 minutes per contest. And then there's they 30.3% who peg the entire team for the responsibility, with 51.95% predicting that Ron Artest will maintain his mobility on defense and a 43.8% shooting percentage, 45.36% believing the Lakers bench will remain consistent and 44.76% predicting they'll play a huge role. The optimism regarding the Lakers' bench appears strong, considering that there's somewhat of a split on who will be the best bench player among Odom (38.7%), Steve Blake (32.6%) and Shannon Brown (18.49%).
Amid all the optimism regarding the Lakers' personnel, however, fans in the poll acknowledged some insecurities, with 85.85% saying injuries could prevent the Lakers from the three-peating. There's plenty of worry (57.25%) that Oklahoma City could give the Lakers a scare again this season after the Thunder's youth and athleticism forced the Lakers into a six-game first-round playoff series. There's a sizable majority (69.82%) that worries about the Boston Celtics, and a fair number that dislikes Boston (50.15%) more than the Miami Heat (21.41%). More fans in the poll would prefer a Lakers-Celtics Finals rematch (52.56%) than seeing how the Super Team would fare against the defending champs (20.18%). How other teams fare apparently hasn't consumed the Lakers, as explained in the video below.
The Lakers clearly would just like to worry about how they will do, which will first be answered tonight. Even if fans aren't completely sure how the secondary story lines will pan out, such as whether this is truly Phil Jackson's last season or if Luke Walton will be able to stay healthy, both the team and their fans are locked into the bigger picture. And that involves gearing up for another championship season.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers celebrate their Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals at the Staples Center in June. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times