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Assessing whether the Lakers will win the 2012 NBA championship

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Through every drama-filled and roller-coaster season, the only thing that matters is the ending.

Sluggish performances, numerous off-field distractions and never-ending doubts on whether a happy ending awaits only make the Lakers' season more tantalizing and exciting. But Laker fans will only embrace that recurring soap opera if confetti drops at Staples Center. The Lakers must douse each other in the locker room with champagne. And city officials must reroute traffic in downtown L.A. to make room for the championship parade.

Will that script play out in the 2011-2012 season? Las Vegas oddsmakers are already casting doubt on that, listing the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City with better odds than the Lakers. But as Jay Kornegay, director of the Las Vegas Hilton Race and Sports book, made clear to me earlier this week, the bookmaker's role entails predicting how the public will bet their money rather than actually assessing whether that prediction will pan out. The public right now still remembers the Lakers' four-game sweep in the Western Conference semifinals as if it happened yesterday.

But as Laker fans can attest, it has already been a long off-season. They've witnessed a coaching change from Phil Jackson to Mike Brown. They've had to watch the rest of the NBA playoffs with no rooting interest (with the exception of hoping the Heat would fail, of course). And they anticipate plenty of time to kill during a lockout that's only two weeks from becoming official. But don't worry. We'll still have plenty to talk about, with today marking one of those many days we debate the Lakers' chances of returning to that championship level. Below the jump I'll assess whether the Lakers will win next season's title (assuming there is one, of course).

Why the Lakers will win: Forget blowing this team up and forget following the advice of Magic Johnson, who tweeted that the Lakers need to call the Orlando Magic and then deleted that message moments later. Yes, the Lakers have personnel issues. Yes, there will be a transition period under the Mike Brown era. And yes, other teams around the league will continue improving. But one can't overstate the significance of what a long off-season will do for this team.

Think the Lakers lacked hunger last season? I doubt complacency will settle in after being humiliated in the playoffs. Think the Lakers' heavy basketball mileage caught up to them? A long off-season will help rest those weary legs. Think that still won't be enough? The Lakers' "core" didn't win two consecutive championships by accident. 

Add all those factors up and the Lakers should look different even if their $91-million payroll from last season limits their off-season moves. Kobe Bryant and Matt Barnes will have time to strengthen their right knees. Pau Gasol will use the European championships to prove last year's playoffs were just an aberration. Andrew Bynum will build off last year's impressive campaign in both production and health. Lamar Odom will return to his regular-season consistency. And  Derek FIsher, Ron ArtestSteve Blake and Shannon Brown will remain open to adjusting to their game. 

Even if Brown's philosophy proves different than Jackson's, it won't take long for them to at least buy into the his defensive concepts, something that largely went into the Lakers' 17-1 start after the All-Star break and then collapsed against Dallas. For all the issues the Lakers will have to iron out on offense (more on that later), the Lakers' rightful approach in focusing on defense will instantly create offense anyway. 

Why the Lakers will lose: The Lakers' playoff loss provided a clear sign that changes need to be made. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their team's resources, uncertain CBA and long-term contracts will likely prevent that from happening. It's conceivable the Lakers will appear more motivated and well rested, but that's not going to fundamentally change the reality of the Lakers' roster. Bryant will forever need to monitor his health and mileage. Artest and Fisher no longer have the same abilities they once had. And it's uncertain that the current bench will improve. 

Then there's the whole issue of how the Lakers will adapt to Brown's presence.

Brown laid out a few principles on offense in his introductory press conference, including advancing the backcourt to the frontcourt in the first three to four seconds of the shot clock, reversing the ball with paint touches and having the proper spacing. He invoked the Spurs' offense when he was an assistant from 2000 to 2003 that featured the team giving Tim Duncan and David Robinson looks in the post through spacing, reads and ball movement. And Brown added that the Lakers remain Kobe Bryant's "team" and that the offense will ensure he finds shots in his "sweet spots."

But how will this play out on the court? Bynum has already indicated he wants more of an offensive role, while Bryant immediately countered he has to "fall in line." Fisher's role will surely change since the Lakers will only run a "sprinkling" of a triangle. But how will Brown convince Fisher of that change, particularly when he needs him to ensure a good relationship with Bryant. And even if the Lakers buy in right away for the sake of the team, will they feel as unified when adversity hits? Likely, some will immediately second guess whether Brown, who hasn't won a championship as a head coach, will have better answers than the players themselves.

Verdict: Cue the part in "Old School" where Vince Vaughn instructs his son to wear "earmuffs" so he can swear at will. I'll tell the same thing to Laker fans so I'm not pelted with vegetables and popcorn while being booed off the stage.

For the reasons I've already mentioned a few paragraphs above, the Lakers' 2011-2012 season won't end with the confetti falling, the Champagne popping and the parade rolling. It'll end with tangible evidence that the transition period from the Phil Jackson era won't be a joyful thing to watch. 

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Kobe Bryant stands on the scorers' table at Staples Center after the Lakers defeated the Celtics to win the 2010 NBA title. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (21)

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MM doesn't even know what the Lakers roster will be to start the season and he's already declared them losers.

Master of prognostication, you'll need to put the earmuffs on to shut out all of our mocking when the Lakers win the championship in 2012.

Premature much? I agree with LTLF, let's set the roster and then assess.

Morning Folks,

Good thread MM, and yes seems like you already declared the Lakers to loose huh? we'll I like you strategy, The more we say they will loose the more chance we have of them actually winning!

MM - "It'll end with tangible evidence that the transition period from the Phil Jackson era won't be a joyful thing to watch. "
s
---

Thanks for ruining my buzz!!!

Just kidding.

It's too bad the Grizz are in the West. I'd love to see the Gasol Bros. re-united on the Lakers. Less sulking by Pau, no shot/touch demands from Marc, sibling synergy that reprises or exceeds their best for the ESP national team; complementary skills & strengths though both are excellent passers; Pau/Marc a better Twin Towers facsimile than Pau/Drew based on skills/ball IQ alone; plus the possibility of packaging a quality guard from Memphis depending on the numbers in Marc's new (sign-and-trade) deal. ZBo loves Marc but Drew for Gasol+ X could be one of those rare intraconference trades where both teams end up w/ better fitting pieces.

LA fans riot after winning a championship - 1.5$ million

LA fans celebrate the Parade - 1$ million

Vancouver fans riot when their team looses - PRICELESS!

Realistically speaking, it's hard to predict the Lakers to be better next year than they were this year. The saying has always been that if the Lakers are healthy, no one can beat them.

Kobe, Gasol, Fisher, Odom, and Brown all played all 92 games this year. Artest missed the one game for a suspension. Once Bynum came back from his long summer, he played in just about every game. The only significant injury at the end was Matt Barnes and even he was healthy enough to suit up even though he was not close to 100%.

They could certainly do it next year but losing this year makes next year look even harder. If a healthy team with a chance to threepeat and send Phil off in style couldn't win, what aspects of the team make them more likely to do it this year? We'll wait and see.

"For the reasons I've already mentioned a few paragraphs above, the Lakers' 2010-2011 season won't end with the confetti falling, the Champagne popping and the parade rolling. It'll end with tangible evidence that the transition period from the Phil Jackson era won't be a joyful thing to watch."

MM is right about one thing.....The 2010-2011 season didn't end with the confetti falling, but it will in 2011-2012.

Not only is this premature, it insinuates that the Laker vets are not going to be professional and it undermines Kobe’s greatness. Like Nugget and others have said; until we know the parameters of the new CBA, this is all speculation. This post is just negative speculation that undermines everyone in the Laker’s organization, it is vague and assuming that other contenders don’t have issues of their own. Not one team in the NBA is completely solid with no holes or “issues”; this is so premature that even Dallas at this point only has half of its team under contract.

"Soft as a rock" that is what says "Slam" about Gasol on July number. Five pages with the true about one of the best NBA players.

I don't think you can determine if the Lakers will win the championship
until you see 3 issues:

1. Health
2. Commitment of the players.
3. Coaching scheme.

Number 1 should be obvious.

re: 2
In light of the debacle that was the playoffs, I'm surprised that this isn't talked
about more. Maybe *I* am one of the few who likes to talk about the truth
regardless of if it's positive or not.

These are the issues of #2 as I see it.

1. The commitment of Bynum. Can we now fess up? Pushing back the
surgery to go to the World Cup was a mistake.

2. Reality TV shows, clothing lines, perfumes, & charities should be addressed
in the off season not during the regular season. [ PSP/RSP, don't hurt me. ]

3. Players have to know their role and be content in their role. So far, Bynum
has not shown either. Artest *seemed* to know his role, but seems unhappy
because his offensive value is dubious at best. Pau is confused. He seems
to be working on clearing up his confusion.

re: 3

This is critical. Does Mike Brown's coaching schemes take advantage of the
attributes of the Lakers? Will it make them successful?

These are things that are unknown. If he tries to run something like the
Spurs ran with Robinson & Duncan ... I don't think we'll win. Why? Because
we don't have either of those players. Robinson was soooo much more
mature than Bynum. He was also more of an offensive threat than Bynum.
Both Duncan & Robinson bought into defense & I'm not sure that Bynum
does. Pau is obviously less physical than either Duncan or Robinson.

Finally, will out players actually run for 48 minutes. If we're talking about
Bynum, I have no reason to believe that the answer is yes. I'd like it to be.
If we're talking about Pau, the answer is maybe. Can't give you anything
more right now.

before LakerTom loses his mind,


http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/robinda01.html

Dave Robinson averaged 21/10 on 14.4 shot attempts per game.
Blocks come in at 3.0

Maybe one should look at the college accolades of Robinson and how
those translated into performance in the NBA, before one starts to call
me a "Bynum Basher". David Robinson was an awesome center.

It'll depend upon a lot of things including what our roster is. Still, I'm not amazed that Mike Brown is our new coach.

He's not that guy.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

full house today, pretty amazing!
everyone showed up!

Looks like Ricky Rubio is going to be a Wolf, Timber that is...

and Rambis is job is also in question!

Seriously MM?

Isn't this the type of article to put out just before the season starts?

Before the CBA is done, before anyone knows what the Lakers roster, or any other teams roster will look like for sure, you can already proclaim the Lakers won't win next year.

Do tell, who will be in the Finals next year?

Sometimes, not publishing a new story would be better than something like this, unless the motivation is to just agitate the readers and generate responses.
If that's the case, ok, fine, it worked.

The Pau-Minnesota third team shuffle got me thinking.

Even if Minne isn't willing to give up both Kevin Love and the #2 for Pau, might they be willing to give up Love and the #2 pick for Pau and the #4 pick?

Cleveland is reportedly trying to trade off the 4th pick (possibly along with Sessions or JJ Hickson) to get a young veteran to put on the floor with Kyrie Irving. In other words, they'd prefer to add one high-potential rookie and one known quantity rather than two high-potential rookies (which don't always live up to their potential).

Would they consider Michael Beasley good enough? Or maybe Beasley and any player from Minnesota other than Love or Rubio?

For example, if they like Beasley and Webster (or Wes Johnson or Flynn or Tolliver or Milicic or whatever) enough to part with the #4 pick.

If so, then maybe a deal like this could be worked out:

Lakers send Pau & Caracter [& possibly Ebanks] to Minnesota

Minnesota sends Kevin Love (& maybe either Randolph or Tolliver) to the Lakers

Minnesota sends two players that Cleveland likes to Cleveland

Cleveland sends trade exceptions to match the players to Minnesota

Cleveland sends the #4 pick to the Lakers.

The #4 pick would still be high enough to draft either Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker - in fact they could make the trade contingent upon that being the case.

That deal actually works out even better for the Lakers. The #2 pick in the draft will have a salary starting at just under 4 million. The #4 pick in the draft will have a salary starting at 3.2 million.

So instead of 16 million, the Lakers would save 17.4 million in salary and taxes next season. Or if Cleveland prefers to dump off Sessions as part of the deal (since they're drafting a PG and have 2 other PGs on their roster), then the Lakers would still save over 9 million in salary, and would have this roster for next season:

C: Bynum, Tolliver
PF: Love, Odom (or Odom, Love if you prefer)
SF: Artest, Barnes, Walton (maybe Ebanks)
SG: Kobe, [maybe Brown if he re-signs]
PG: Fisher, Brandon Knight, [Sessions,] Blake

I'm not sure how the guard rotation would work out. It would depend on if Sessions was included and whether or not Brown re-signed. Mike Brown probably wouldn't start a rookie PG, but I bet he'd give him more minutes than Jackson would have.

If Sessions doesn't come to the Lakers in the deal, maybe Martell Webster does, in which case he could be the backup SG.

It would get them their PG for the future (and a PF who would last a lot longer as well), but I'm still not sure it's an improvement for the team NEXT year.

Sorry - last post was a bit mixed up.

The premise is that Minnesota might be willing to give up a package with Love but NOT the #2 pick, and that Cleveland might be willing to give up the #4 pick for their choice of two players other than Love or Rubio from Minnesota.

If both of those were the case, then Pau for Love + the #4 pick would serve the Lakers about as well as Love + the #2 pick.

@ Bay to LA: "... If a healthy team with a chance to threepeat and send Phil off in style couldn't win, what aspects of the team make them more likely to do it this year?"

You saw the glass half full. I see it as half empty. This current Laker team SERIOUSLY underachieved precisely because of the fault of the coaching staff mainly because of a lame-duck Phil Jackson who was either UNABLE or UNWILLING to properly motivate and prepare the team.

Just by changing coach alone from a moribund and half-dead Jackson to an energetic Brown will improve Lakers 50% from this year's debacle. Defense is the poor man's route to success and if it's true LAL's main emphasis for the next season is to win with defense, instead of offense then it will be much easier to achieve.

Just look at the Mavs as an example. They are neither that much younger or more athletic or speedier than the Lakers. They certainly are older and less athletic and slower than the Thunder and Heat. Yet they had a very, very good defensive scheme and their players hustle to compete. They were able to contain both Thunder's and Heat's offensive power.

There is no reason LAL cannot be as good as Mavs if given 1) a better defensive scheme than Phil Jackson's joke of a defense and 2) more motivation and commitment from the players.

Maybe it's too much to expect LAL to win a championship in coach Brown's first year but I'm sure they'd do better than a 0-4 humiliation exit in the second round like this year.
---------------------------------------------------------------
-PsyCorp

@ Art


hahahaha

Psy, good points. My wonder is whether the players will be receptive to being coached in a new direction and told what to do. With Phil, it was more of a "figure things out for yourselves" approach and a lot of issues with trust and accountability were present. Now that they might actually be told to do some new things that they weren't used to doing, do they go with the flow or do they resist and instead stick to current habits?

@ Bay to LA: I would say they have no choice but go with the flow. The pressure to win is now BACK ON! Whatever their preferences or likes or invididualistics they now have to set all that aside and work together with the new coach and a new philosophy to win.

What happened after winning two straight championships was that players (and coaches) became lackadasical and distracted, all with their own non-basketball worries. No more. Now they will be under TREMENDOUS pressure to trust each others and new coaching staff as well as accountability.

That is why the public and we fans MUST kept up the pressure.

This is LA. This LA Lakers basketball. The pressure to win and win all the time 24/7 must be RELENTLESS.

Nothing in the past counts. What have you done for me lately? Failure is NOT an option.

Guys, I know things will develop with the CBA and the any roster changes. But if Vegas is already giving out odds, it's not a leap to talk about their chances next season


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