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World Champs. Back to Back Titles. Three peat. You can throw around a lot of great words when you’re a Laker fan. Here’s one I haven’t heard in a while:
Believe it or not, LA is the underdog. The city of Las Vegas is home to the tackiest architecture and interior design the world has ever known. It’s also home to millions of cigarette smokers who have made it their billion-dollar business to predict the outcome of sporting events. When Las Vegas came out in favor of the Miami Heat, my ears perked up. What do they know?
For the Lakers, it works out perfectly because Las Vegas odds alleviate some of the pressure. However, Laker fans understandably swoon at the news. They show up, armed at the ready, to defend their squad. Don’t worry, Laker fans, Uncle Neil’s here to make it all better.
This Laker team will be good. Very good, by all accounts. They could be great. All they need to do is listen to my instructions below…
Steve Blake. I’m gonna list Steve here a couple of times for effect. Steve Blake. Steve Blake. Without question, Steve Blake was the biggest addition to the champs. There’s a reason why this guy came off the board to LA right away. He’s going to be a crucial piece this season. You’ve read it before, but Blake is a perfect triangle guy. He facilitates the offense. Creates shots. Has the respect of the team, already, and he’s a scrappy defender who isn’t afraid to mix it up.
My only question is, will they let Blake replace Fisher in the starting lineup? They should. Fish is a proud player, a great Laker, and 100% necessary on this team. But Derek Fisher needs to move into the Robert-Horry-on-the-San-Antonio-Spurs portion of his career. Be the team leader. Be the ice-cold, dead-eye shooter. He’s just not a starting PG in this league anymore. You can argue Fish knows the triangle best, but by January, Blake will catch him.
Three things to consider with Blake v. Fish: 1.) Blake is the better defender at this point. 2.) You love Fisher now, but can you imagine Fresh Fish for the Playoffs? Haven’t seen it in a while. It’d be fantastic. 3.) I suspect it plays out this way - Fish starts at the beginning of the season. By January, it’s an even time split, and by the Spring, people are writing stories about how perfect a fit Steve Blake for the Lakers.
Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff are no small additions themselves, especially with the oft injured Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum. Both have the ability to change the complexion of the Lakers from a beautiful, offensive squad, to a low-down, defensive nightmare.
Barnes is in LA because the Ron Artest gamble just paid off. Now they’re doubling down on the crazy. Do the Lakers need Barnes to win the West? No. Do they need Barnes to beat the Celtics, Heat or Magic? Probably. Having a fresh defender, at all times, on Pierce, Lebron, Wade and Vince Carter will be a huge advantage. Also, Phil’s known for unleashing players instead of reining them in, so here’s hoping Matt picks up the triangle, so we can watch the fireworks.
DJ Mbenga was a lot of fun, but when Theo blocks 3 shots in 15 minutes of play, you’ll know why the Lakers are deeper than they have been in 30 years. I like LA’s rookies a lot, frankly, but they probably won’t get much burn on a PJ-coached team. Any run they do get is a positive for the future.
We know Bynum is on the shelf now, and I’m pretty sure he’ll get knicked up or knocked out down the road again. The even bigger concern for the Lakers is Lamar Odom. I don’t know if he’s ever played deep into a season (winning the ‘09-‘10 title), then followed it up by playing international ball (winning the ‘10 World Championships), with only a 2 week break before training camp.
I can’t really call him the hardest worker in the league, and I’d be remiss to say his diet is on track. Lamar plugs all the holes on the Lakers - 6th man, rebounding, ball handling, passing, team leadership. If he goes down from wear and tear, or burns out before the Playoffs, LA’s in some trouble.
Here’s a certifiably stupid, downright cockamamie idea that makes ALL THE SENSE IN THE WORLD TO ME:
Sit Bynum until mid-January. Make him rehab, strengthen his core, work on his vertical leap. Bring him back for late January, all of February and all of March. He’ll hit his stride just as the Playoffs start mid-April, and LA’s chances of having Drew at 100% go up exponentially. They can win the West without him, and nobody’s gonna beat the Heat for home court advantage throughout anyways. Why doesn’t this make sense?
It’d be pretty great if the Lakers stayed in tune and mentally engaged all year, in what could be Phil Jackson’s last season. Don’t hold your breath.
With that said, other than getting and staying healthy, this year will fall upon the sun-kissed, Spanish shoulders of Pau Gasol. He needs more touches, and he needs to step up big time. If he continues his trajectory of season by season improvement, and plays as the best power forward in the league, the Lakers will be in the catbird seat out West.
And to think, I got all the way through this Laker Season Preview without one mention of you know who. You know, the guy that brings it every night of every season. Don’t want to say his name now, and ruin this streak I have going…
(Check me out at Got ‘Em Coach)
I hope Lamar tweets about how upset he is when Adam Morrison steals his sixth man position on the Lakers cause Morrison in between epic bong rips (with a Pantera soundtrack!) is in the gym working his ass off right now. Kevin Garnett probably turned his basement into some bizzaro, creepy Clubber Lang esque gym and is going insane right now.