Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 20008-2009 Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

How far we've come.

We understand the Lakers a lot more now. They've evolved to a point that is infinitely more interesting, if no less obnoxious, than it had been for years past. They now have this conglomeration of players that are mathematically, philosophically, and pragmatically supposed to be dominant, to be incredible, to be the next great team assembled. Yet, they suffered through losing slumps, let the Jazz hang around, and got their faces kicked in by the Celtics for most of the Finals. But then, they were in the Finals. Does that not validate them? No, of course it doesn't. Because Kobe Bryant is their franchise. And when Kobe Bryant is their franchise, no success will ever be enough.

Due to the insurmountable number of media attention directed towards the Lakers on any given nanosecond, Corn has elected to give your opening preview in a non-HP traditional format, electing to let the amalgam of cliches, generics, and optimism wash over him like a tide. Join him.


It's always sunny in Los Angeles (except for Clippers fans). Yet another mighty wave of awesome is cresting along the banks of the Staples Center and surfing the Zen center of that whitewall is Phil Jackson. It has been a long, arduous road full of duds, suds, fights, blights, bricks and pricks, but Jackson (along with a few deft moves by Mitch Kupchak) has brought the Lake Show full circle. Back to the summit of the League. And no matter how much we (meaning Matt and I and everyone else that pays attention to any minute particle of the NBA that is not a Lakers fan) might hate and resent that re-ascension, it is here and it is now. So (Celtics beat down aside) we are looking at the hungriest, most complete team in the league. One that is my pick to win it all (yep, that was definitely some vomit hitting the back of my epiglottis).

The frontcourt depth for the Lakers is the best in the league. We all got a taste of how versatile and dangerous Pau Gasol can be when he is motivated and has capable, professional basketball players around him. His deft ballhandling, quick feet and insane length will be a monumental asset for the Triangle this year. Despite his obvious defensive deficiencies and softness (yes, we all remember you eating him alive, El Tigre), Pau is a terrific, multi-dimensional weapon.

Oh, about that defensive albatross -- welcome back Andrew Bynum. If (and its a BIG IF - sorry for the pun) Bynum is healthy, we could be looking at half of the best, most dominant center adversaries since the Dream and Ewing (AB and Oden). If you doubt the praise I want to bestow upon young Andrew, check out Ziller's bio over at Fanhouse. A youngun' with amazing size, agility, power and tenacity, he is the perfect compliment to Gasol down low. Bynum should be a game changing shot blocker, rebounder and defender. If he is less than his best, the ceiling is significantly lower for this team.

Behind the main two in the frontcourt, Vlad Radmonvic brings even more creativity. Keying in on defenses that succumb to the Lakers dip and drive, VladRad turned himself into a dead-eye target from deep. Although he doesn't enjoy beating and banging, he is a cagey defender with quick, active hands that help on both ends of the court. Luke Walton does anything that is asked of him and will continue to be a Jackson fav. Another adept ball handler and tricky rebounder. Now that the stalker situation is all cleared up, Lil' Luke should be focused solely on filling his role off the bench. For super ultra secret protection, D.J. Mbenga was signed in the offseason. Scrub minutes only, but anyone can be thrown in against the big time Laker scoring machine and hold their own.

The wings provide the drama for the Lakers this year. The latest plot twist has Swiss Army knife-like Lamar Odom coming off the bench. This could be a giant coo (ED. NOTE: You know, I thought about correcting this typo of Corn's. I really did. But I feel like it adds to the banal generality for him to somehow, magically misspell coup as in coup d'etat as "coo." I can only smile and remark that this is what happens when you let North Carolinans out of their shacks.) for the second unit. If Odom accepts his role, he could quarterback that increasingly deadly second unit and be the primary scorer, which he has always wanted to be. Plus, his fantastic ball handling skills will allow second teamers like Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic to sit on the perimeter and knock down threes. So, with Odom on the bench, that leaves the oft-injured, but highlight reel aerobatics of Trevor Ariza to run with the starters. A better, more dogged defender than Odom, he can also operate better on the perimeter than Odom, which leaves the lane open for Pau and Andrew. Locking down on the other team's best wing (something Odom just flat out cannot do) will conserve energy for the other starters and his driving ability on offense will open up the perimeter and the low block game. A deadly, deadly tandem.

The backcourt with be as consistent as last year. Derek Fisher will man the point in key situations, even if Farmer is able to usurp the starting position. Though he has lost a step on both ends, DFish is still a dead-eye 3-point marksman and great leader. He can disrupt most opposing point guards enough to not be a defensive liability. When the younger, more irascible Lakers get uppity and hyper, he is the calming influence and the guy to get them back into the Triangle.

The aforementioned Farmer will quarterback the second unit. The best perimeter defender on this squab, he dogs his guy and creates havoc with his on the ball aggresion. His three has become lethal and his passion really elevates his game. Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic is exactly as his nickname attests: a machine. He knocks down threes with ease and never, ever tires of frustrating the opposition. His videos have become internet legend, as has his womanizing, but deep down he is a fiery, committed teammate who wears his emotions on his, uh, jersey strap? Expect an even bigger breakout season for Sasha.

Another intriguing factor for the backcourt is Sun Yue, the mysterious Monkey King. At 6'9", Yue will cause a host of matchup problems... that is, if his defense can catch up with his offense. A very good athlete with Jackson-adored ball skills, Yue could be a major factor towards the end of the season.

So, with all the expectations riding on them (remember, they were picked by most to finish 2nd in the Pacific last year and near the middle of the Western Conference playoff seeds), it will be intriguing to see how this team deals with that pressure. Between their awesome depth, great size, superior ball skills and determination to avenge the embarrassment of last year's Finals the impetus should be there for the Lakers to finish what they started last year. Everyone knows and has bought into this offense. The defensive intensity is finally coming around and Jackson is more focused than ever, ready to fill both hands full of rings at season's end. Love 'em or hate 'em, these guys will actually deserve all the air time they get this year. So sit back and enjoy the ride.


Also, they have Kobe.



As if you all need me to tell you this one. Kobe. Bean. Bryant. There can only be one best player in this league and as it stands right now, my boy is the reigning MVP. Of course you need to tune in to the Lakers to see if Kobe can reclaim his crown this year, but Kobe is only one part of this Laker puzzle. Seriously. With Pau playing in his first full season and Big Bynum back and ready to go, the Lakers have a lot of size. Whether Lamar is on the bench or in the starting line up, he is always an interesting (if not frustrating) case because you never know what you're going to get. The bench is going to be one of the most entertaining in the league: led by Jordan Farmar who seems to improve game by game, and the ridiculously athletic Ariza, the Lakeshow will be putting on a show night in and night out.

If Luke is important enough to have a stalker, he's important enough for me to watch and of course, MMMMMMMbenga will be suiting up for the Lakers, and doing hours of crunches pregame again this year. Add in Vlad "space cadet" Rad and his constantly disappearing and reappearing three-point shot, and the Machine, who will continue to make us crack up with his whining and his jawing with anyone and everyone who will listen, and we are in business.

A Lakers post would not be complete without the mention of the classiest of classy, DFish. His leadership and "glue" keeps the team together and keeps Kob sane. While the Lakers were unable to get the job done last June, all eyes are on them this year as they are apparently the team to beat (according to GM's, even though really, this distinction was earned by those damn Celtics).


Everyone who's not a Lakers fan has one. They beat my team. They're arrogant. They're pompous. They're self-entitled. They're weak sauce. Kobe. Kobe. Kobe.

Hating the Lakers isn't a pastime, it's a delicacy. It's to be simmered when you see the Kobe fist pump after hitting the game winning shot. It's to pick at when you see Staples filled with bandwagon fans. It's to be devoured when their hopes and dreams are crushed. It has so many parts. Scoffing at Phil Jackson's penchant for only winning with an overabundance of the top talent, throwing as many synonyms of 'selfish' at Kobe as you can, mock applauding the Staples crowd for making it to the game at the end of the first quarter instead of the 2nd, and for staying all the way through the third, seething at their ability to get whatever superstar they want whenever.

Lakers fans will claim it's simple jealousy. But it goes so much further beyond that. It has to do with a fundamental belief that all franchises are entitled to the same opportunities. That if you mismanage your franchise, you deserve to win, and if you manage it well, you deserve to lose. The Lakers are not part of such arrangement.

Oh, they're managed well, that's not my argument. But to trade Kwame Brown and a pick for Pau Gasol? How does that happen? How does that happen to the same team that landed Kobe and Shaq? How does it continually seem like everything falls in the Lakers favor? There is an aura of greatness that surrounds the Lakers and the universe seems to fall in line with that aura.

If you want reasons to hate this particular team, though? They're hard to come by. Sure, Gasol is probably a little overrated, considering he's yet another big men that can't play big consistently, and Lamar Odom gets too much attention. But Gasol is still a brilliant performer, and Lamar Odom doesn't want as much attention as he gets. The guards are two of the best guys in the league, in Derek Fisher and Farmar, both of whom have big, lovable hearts.

Even Kobe, Kobe, KOBE BRYANT of all people has become more likable. When he stopped vying for people's affections, and stopped trying to somehow score his way into greatness, and instead adopted the villain's role along with willing his teammates into greatness, he became inifinitely more likable. When Bryant stopped seething at the way people didn't love him and simply turned into a killer, that's when he became someone to root for.

So I guess there's really no person on this roster to ha...

Oh, yes. Mr. Bynum.

Oh, I'm sorry Andrew, did I catch you napping? Sorry, "rehabbing"? This kid may be the single most overblown phenomena to enter the NBA since the synthetic ball. Seriously. Just walk up to Tom Ziller and say "Bynum!" He falls down on the floor in orgasmic bliss. It's like vertigo. There have actual been multiple posts over the summer over Bynum versus Yao, and the answer is a resounding "Well, of COURSE he's better than Yao!" This kid has failed to do anything beyond play two and a half months of great basketball. You want to make a list of all the guys that failed expectations who did that? How about we throw in the guys who missed five rehab deadlines because they blew off team doctor? How about we throw in not showing up for camp in shape? How about having Tex Winter question how hard you try? Oh, but I forgot, this kid doesn't need to try! He's the next coming of Kareem Abdul Shaquille Chamberlain O'Neal!

Look. I'm not saying he's going to suck. The kid obviously has phenomenal talent and the odds are clearly in favor of him becoming one of the best players in the league (yes, better than Yao). But can we all calm down a tick and quit plastering our walls with Bynum Fatheads long enough to recognize that Baby Fat Bynum still has to actually arrive at where the grain meets the silo in order for him to be legitimate? Is that too much to ask?

Oh, yeah, and Phil Jackson's kind of a douchebag.

Farmar's likely in for a breakout season. The way they've brought this kid along, consistently, slowly, no rush but no retreat, has been brilliant. They drafted him, sent him to the D-League, called him up, and worked him in. They brought in Fisher, and that gave him someone to take the pressure off. Now, he's starting to bring it all together, and he provides something very important. A point guard who can defend. There are very few of those in the league.

Trevor Ariza fascinates me. They spend all this time working on Odom, trying to figure out how he fits in, what he can do, how best to use him. Then Ariza comes into camp and just steals his job by doing all the little things that Odom seems like he can't be bothered to do. Like, you know, focus.

Everyone's asked me, "Are you happy that Bynum and Gasol are having problems working together?" And the answer is no. Why? Because this has all the makings of your yearly Lakers problem in training camp that's magically healed once the season begins. They'll probably come out opening night and blister Oden and Aldridge with perfect unity. This how these things go. They struggle, they struggle, they struggle, and then bam, time for it to matter and everything is fixed. Remember how Kobe was supposed to get traded last year? Yeah. I expect the same thing with Bynum's health and how he fits with Gasol.


Paroxi-Wife note: Luke Walton looks like a weasel. That is all.

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