Team Preview 2013-2014: Los Angeles Lakers

Best Case Scenario: 46-36

How it could happen:

Father time won’t go undefeated this season. Not quite.

Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are coming off of a season that was obviously frustrating and privately embarrassing. Gasol was asked to come off of the bench by Mike D’Antoni and had a suitcase packed all season for what appeared to be his imminent departure. Nash broke down physically and lost the confidence that made him a two time MVP once upon a time.

A big part of their struggles was the uncertainty in their roles and status within last year’s roster; they were lost in what was supposed to be the egomaniacal transition from the Kobe era to the Dwight era; but now, all of that has changed and these two aging veterans are going to be thrown back into the fire with the pressure of anchoring a dreadfully undermanned team.

And then there is Kobe, who is chugging spinach soup on a stationary bike in a dark room, with walls covered by Lebron James championship posters and a surround sound system blasting the Rocky “Gonna Fly Now” soundtrack on a loop, as he watches highlights of the 2004 NBA Finals, 2006 game seven vs. the Suns, and of course Shaq’s notorious performance of, “Kobe, Tell Me How My Ass Tastes?”

The fire to relentlessly train to be the best in the world burns out over the course of a long career for most athletes. Kobe’s fire only seems to burn hotter and deeper. Injuries tend to take their toll on older athletes, forcing them to concede defeat to father time. Tearing his achilles tendon only seems to have emboldened Kobe, making him even more defiant within the jaws of father time.

He might not be back on opening night, but when he does return (before Christmas) you can expect the Black Mamba to average twenty five a night, with impossibly heightened intensity and urgency as his legendary tale continues on, one night at a time.

If these three guys can somehow stay healthy enough to suit up, forty eight wins would be the maximum win total I can imagine, landing them flush in the middle of the race to make the western conference playoffs.

Worst Case Scenario: 32-50 

How it could happen:

Backing up their aging core of hall of famers, the Lakers supporting cast consists of Chris Kaman, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, and Nick Young; an off-broadway casting job to say the least.

If Gasol and Nash fail to produce at a high level, this team could suffer an extended stay in the cellar of the NBA, even with Kobe in Mamba mode. If Kobe is sidelined, the nosedive from perennial championship contender to utter mediocrity will be complete.

To avoid being awful, Lakerland better hope for health and big production from their old dogs. I wonder if Steve Nash has the phone numbers of the Phoenix Suns majestical training staff…

Likely Reality:  44-36

Why it should happen:

This projection is romantic and personal, hence the proximity to the “best case scenario” record. On paper, this team offers little depth and a core that is breaking down before our eyes; but the respect I have for these old school stars lingers in the pit of my NBA Fanalyst soul.

Nash and Gasol have an opportunity to make Lakerland forget that D-12 Rocketman bounced out for Houston and to remind the NBA world of their legacies. Nash is a two time MVP. Gasol is a two time NBA champion and gold medalist. Ballers with that type of cachet never envision their careers fizzling away without throwing a couple of haymakers on the way down.

And then there is Kobe. His athleticism will slip and his help has diminished, but his spirit endures, and said spirit has always been far and away his greatest and most distinguishable weapon. People should expect less from Kobe than ever before, which is precisely why people should expect more from Kobe than ever before; maybe not in statistics or wins, but certainly in grit and grind.

Beyond the romanticism of three hall of famers giving it one last go together, there is a practical side to how this season will unfold. These guys need help from the bench, inspired play from Kaman and Blake, and perhaps most importantly, for Mike D’Antoni to find a dictionary and look up the word defense.

This squad isn’t laced with scorers, so defensive intensity is absolutely critical. D’Antoni ball feels like an impossibility considering how old and slowed down the three best players are (which is especially ironic considering the rationale behind hiring him over Phil Jackson was that his style fit the roster best).

If the Lakers do manage to squeeze into the playoffs as an eight or seven seed, it would be fantastic to see them matched up with the Clippers. For all of the hype the Clippers are getting, there is probably no one the Black Mamba and company would rather see and school on the NBA’s playoff stage.

No matter what happens, Kobe’s nightly quotes are getting more brutally authentic with each passing night. Sit back and enjoy.

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