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Sunday, November 16, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 17. Los Angeles Lakers

Overall Win/Loss Record :  27-55  fifth place Pacific Division

2014/2015 Projection: 44-38, third place Pacific Division, ninth place Western Conference

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 103.2 (11th)
  • Points Allowed: 109.2 (29th)
  • Team FG%: .450 (14th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .468 (26th)
  • Team FT%: .757 (17th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .381 (3rd)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.0 (25th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 49.0 (30th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.8 (24th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.5 (21st)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Nick Young (17.4)
  • Rebounds per game:  Jordan Hill (7.4)
  • Minutes per game: Wesley Johnson (28.4)
  • Assists per game:  Steve Nash (5.7)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Jordan Hill (.549)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Steve Nash (.920)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Nick Young (.386)
  • Steals per game:  Wesley Johnson (1.1)
  • Blocked Shots per game:   Wesley Johnson (1.0)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Last season can be considered by many as a horrifyingly deep and physically deforming scar on not on the Lakers, but professional basketball as whole as one of the +NBA's most storied franchise suffered its most humiliating experience.  It almost seemed as if the whole sporting world went off balance as it saw the historic purple and gold trudge and stumble through the regular season finishing with its worst record in franchise history; sadly, however, despite the relative shock felt by sports fans worldwide, it was an inevitability that it would happen.  It was only a matter of time that the Lakers would crash and burn after two straight ho-hum seasons which saw them get embarrassingly swept in the playoffs.  Once +Dwight Howard left the Southern Californian sunshine choosing to sign with the +Houston Rockets followed by the sudden deterioration of Steve Nash's body upon arriving in L.A, it was a forgone conclusion that the once proud Lakers who had no rival in the City of Angels will lose it title as the Hoop Kings of Hollywood.  In spite of the dire predictions and lowered expectations, no one even fathomed that this once mighty titan in the world of professional sports would fall so low; nonetheless, even with the rather depressing finish last season, at least there were some positives that gave even the most discouraged Laker fans a glimmer of hope.

For starters, here was a team that had been decimated by injuries to a point where it only had eight players dressed in games and had so much turnover with players popping in and out throughout the season; yet, it still managed to perform rather efficiently rate offensively ranking among the top teams in the league in scoring, field goal percentage, and three point shooting.  Their defense was admittedly atrocious and they simply got abused on the boards as well, but the Lakers still managed to stay within six points of their opponents despite allowing the most points, rebounds, and field goals in the league last season.  Thus upon looking at the past evidence, it is safe to assume that had the Lakers not been so greatly handicapped by its rash of injuries, they would not have had that unsightly blemish on their rather proud and pristine legacy; nonetheless, even if the Lakers managed to squeak into the playoffs last season, it still would not have satisfied its fans always lofty and often unrealistic expectations.  After all, this is a city where the people have grown accustomed to hoisting championship banners at the start of every season on a regular basis and anything short of a NBA Finals appearance is considered a failure.  So even with the significant upgrade in talent and depth of the roster, this season will still be deemed as a complete letdown because with the way the league is now, there is simply no way that the Lakers can contend for a title now or anytime soon for that matter.

The city that it once claimed as its own has now been hijacked by a group of upstarts who had been at one time considered as nothing more than an afterthought and teams that had once cowered at their feet have now risen and surpassed them as well.  Teams such as the +Los Angeles Clippers, the +Golden State Warriors, and at one time or another the +Phoenix Suns  were considered either as compete laughing stocks or at their best, a poor facsimile that could not even hold a candle to the Lakers; but now the tables have turned and now a once proud noble now finds itself among the peasants fighting for scraps.  Not only have the Lakers been shut out of the Western Conference elite with the Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, +San Antonio Spurs+Oklahoma City Thunder, and +Portland Trail Blazers essentially clogging up six of the West eight playoff berths, they have to contend with facing six other teams that essentially match them in every way for the final two spots and all that will entitle them to is a short and forgetful playoff run.  Both the +Dallas Mavericks and the +Memphis Grizzlies remain significant obstacles as they both barely made the playoffs last season with regular season records that would have earned an Eastern Conference team home court advantage in the playoffs.  In addition to the Mavs and Grizz, the Suns earned a record that would have qualified them in third place had they been in the Eastern Conference, but were forced to sit the post season out missing the cut by just one game.

Now the field has become even tighter with the ascension of two teams that have spent the last few years in the shadows while a third, similar to the Lakers, have returned with a healthier and stronger lineup, but are still desperately trying to cling on to whatever little leverage it still has in an increasingly widening gap between the haves in have nots in the Western Conference.  Both the +Sacramento Kings and +New Orleans Pelicans look to be teams on the rise with players who had a rather successful run in last summer's +2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup while the +Denver Nuggets will come back with a healthy and fully loaded roster and all of them will be looking to use the Lakers as a stepping stone to get within a step closer of being relevant.  There is especially optimism in Sacramento as it will see the return of team's leader in almost every statistical category +DeMarcus Cousins as well as +Rudy Gay, who can be considered one of the best players to have never been selected to an All Star team.  After a rough couple seasons that saw not only his efficiency and productivity drop, but also him being shipped to three teams in just one season, Gay bounced back to have one of the best seasons in his career and will look to be even better after a stellar summer performance and the chance to work with his team during the preseason.  New Orleans will also not only be welcoming future Hall of Famer in the making Anthony Davis, but also a bevy of young talented players consisting of a former all star in +Jrue Holiday, and two other young guns in Eric Gordon and +Tyreke Evans who can explode for 18 to 25 points at any given time.

It seems almost pointless for the Lakers to even try to compete because the best the team can look forward to is either a slim chance of making the playoffs just to be ousted as quickly as they arrived, or finish just short to make the cut thus having to settle with a low lottery pick. Nonetheless, give GM Mitch Kupchack credit for turning lemons into lemonade as he filled in the gaps in the roster with low cost, low risk and high reward acquisition during the off season; however, regardless of who is on the roster, it is still not enough for this current Lakers teams to make a dent into the Western Conference.  He strengthened the Lakers' front court by picking up veteran and two time all star Carlos Boozer off waivers from the +Chicago Bulls and signing bruiser Ed Davis who had previously played with the Grizzlies and the +Toronto Raptors.   Boozer will certainly give the team much needed scoring in the paint along with a strong presence on the boards, but the biggest surprise will be Davis who could might just be the biggest steal in free agency.  What he lacks in polish and fundamentals, Davis makes up for in his athleticism, energy and effort and as the season progresses, he might just edge Boozer out of the starting lineup--not bad for a guy that was just signed to a measly two year 2$ million deal.

Kupchack's next big off season move was the acquisition of a player that has reached near folk hero status after his monumental introduction to the league, but has sadly failed to live up to the huge expectations that were placed upon him.  After the 2012 Season, otherwise known as the "Year of Linsanity," Jeremy Lin had fallen off the NBA radar after signing a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets as he was simply unable to recreate the sensational performance that brought him into the worldwide spotlight.  In a desperate attempt to free up as much cap space as possible to lure marquee free agents, the Rockets shipped off Lin's expiring contract to L.A for virtually nothing and added a first round pick thus giving the Lakers an offer that they simply could not refuse.  Unfortunately, Houston's efforts proved to be for naught as they failed to attract any interest from marquee free agents and in losing a solid point guard in Lin, but also their pick in next year's draft and with Steve Nash announcing his retirement, Lin will have plenty of opportunity to make even bigger fools of the Rockets for letting him go.  Even if he does not bring back Linsanity, Jeremy Lin is still a good bet with his expiring contract and the first round pick that Houston so unwisely gave away thus giving Lakers not just one, but two assets come the off-season.

From a glance of the current roster, it would seem that the Lakers are looking more towards the future than the here and now because most of their contracts are either short term inexpensive ones or on the verge of expiring by the end of the season.  Many criticized the Lakers for signing a 36 year old Kobe Bryant who had just come off a surgeries to a two year 50$ million dollar deal, but come season's end, his will be the only contract on the team's books.  And with the salary cap ballooning to about 80$ million next season, the Lakers will have up to 55$ million in cap room to attract the likes of marquee names such as +Rajon Rondo+Kevin Love, or even Greg Monroe, who all will be unrestricted free agents come the off season. Even if they come up empty handed this upcoming off-season, there will always be the next one where the likes of +Kevin Durant and +Russell Westbrook will be soon available among other and it is not as if the Lakers are in any rush to return to relevancy anytime soon.  With the way the Western Conference has taken shape, it will literally take years for Los Angeles to build into the championship contender it once was and save for a miracle, the Lakers have little or no chance to even make the playoffs, let alone contend in the West.

This is probably one of the few times in Laker history where there are absolutely no expectations put upon them whatsoever because they virtually have no chance to return to championship glory anytime soon.  Even Kobe Bryant, to some extent, has essentially disregarded any chances of returning to the NBA Finals as he is primarily his focus on cementing his legacy as the greatest Laker to ever play the game by spending his twilight years chasing for the all time scoring leader. As a player, he has nothing else to prove with already five NBA Championships and two MVP trophies so he can easily coast for the rest of the season and for the tail end of his career as both he and his team are both on the verge of fading away in the annals of history.  It is not even worth it to even try to make the playoffs because it is a huge gamble that will reap very little rewards and the Lakers would probably be better off simply tanking the next couple of seasons and build through the draft; however that is not going to happen.  The organization, its players and their fans have too much pride to allow such a sacrilege to occur, so expect to see a lot of guts in this Laker club, but not too much glory.