Finally after three long months, the off-season is finally coming to an end as training camp is set to start in just over a week. The beginning of the season means that everyone has a chance and no one is out of the race yet.
For the Lakers, this upcoming season is one of redemption. The team went through one of its worst seasons ever last year, and they plan on turning things around this year.
With a number of additions via free agency (Boozer, Davis), trade (Lin), and the draft (Randle, Clarkson), as well as a couple of major returns from injury (Kobe, Nash), this Lakers team looks much better on paper than last year’s edition.
However, the Lakers have the unfortunate issue of playing in a Western Conference that is absolutely stacked this season. The Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers are all championship contenders, and the Warriors, Blazers, Grizzlies, and Mavericks are all at least as good as they were last season if not better.
The only playoff team that looks worse right now is the Houston Rockets, but they still have two stars and even if they were to fall off, the Suns, Pelicans, and Nuggets are far from pushovers.
There is hope thanks to the return of Kobe Bryant, but the Lakers clearly have an uphill battle ahead of them.
So we asked our panel of experts, what is the best case scenario, record-wise, for the Lakers this season? This is what they had to say:
Russell Valenzuela (@RussVal4): Assuming Kobe Bryant plays more than six games, the Lakers should improve. Since he wasn’t the only Laker to miss time, a healthy roster would also bring in additional wins. So without even addressing the off-season moves, the Lakers are already better than the 27 wins they managed last year.
By getting Jeremy Lin, the Lakers improved at point guard. Kendall Marshall’s passing ability might be missed, but Lin is better at attacking the rim and drawing defenders. With Lin handling the ball, this year’s offense should be more dynamic.
Of course, scoring wasn’t a problem for last year’s team as their defense, or lack thereof, was the primary reason for a number of losses. This is an area where I believe the team improved on simply by hiring a new coach.
Upon being hired, Byron Scott emphasized defense and said the team better be ready to work on it. I have long believed that good defense comes from effort, and Scott will be able to get more out the roster than Mike D’Antoni was able to last year.
There is cause of concern with the undersized front court. Pau Gasol’s departure leaves the Lakers without one of their seven footers. However, with Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, and Ed Davis in the rotation, effort will not be questioned. There might not be any shot blockers down low, but with better defense on the perimeter, penetration should be limited.
At the end of it all, I see the Lakers entering the upcoming season with a 45 win ceiling. Had the team won that many games last year, playoffs still would’ve been out of the picture. With the West’s top teams still in position to reach the postseason, the Lakers fall just short again despite the potential win improvement.
Ryan Ward (@Lakers_Examiner): Best case scenario for the Lakers heading into the 2014-15 NBA season is the team finishing at .500, 41-41.
All signs point to another difficult and massively disappointing season for the Lakers in the opinions of many. Kobe Bryant is coming off consecutive season-ending injuries while Pau Gasol will turn over a new leaf with the Chicago Bulls.
Mitch Kupchak and company tried to put the pieces together over the summer with the team’s sights set on superstar Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ pitch fell short of what the New York Knicks had to offer, forcing the purple and gold to go in another direction.
The addition of Jeremy Lin will be much better than anticipated in my opinion. A lot of Lakers fans questioned the trade to acquire Lin, but I believe it could be a step in the right direction. Lin brings an upgrade to the point guard position and could be the missing piece to the puzzle in the backcourt.
Along with Lin providing a boost in the backcourt, a lot of players on this team will have something to prove. Jordan Hill is basically on a one-year deal to earn another $9 million in 2015-16 while Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, and Ryan Kelly are all hoping to prove they’re worth long-term deals.
Veteran Carlos Boozer will also be looking to quiet his critics next season after being amnestied by the Bulls. Boozer will have the perfect opportunity to do so while competing with a hungry and talented rookie in the form of Julius Randle.
Basically, everyone on this roster has a chip on their shoulder and that could bode well if new head coach Byron Scott can inspire his troops. 41 wins seems like the best case scenario in my opinion, but maybe, just maybe, this team will be better than expected and exceed that win total.
Kevin Chan (@Kevin_Cruiser): I’d like to think of myself as a realist and even though I bleed purple and gold, I try to be as objective as possible when I write about the Lakers.
Last year’s team was historically bad by franchise standards and finished with a record of 27-55. The team suffered through an endless stream of injuries and Kobe only managed to play six games.
This year the Lakers will have Kobe back (hopefully he can remain healthy), but they also lost Pau Gasol to free agency. The front office sought to fill the gaping void that Gasol left with Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Ceteris paribus, I’d much rather have Gasol than these three guys. Granted, Randle could develop down the line and Boozer might still have some game left in him, but at the present moment the Lakers definitely downgraded their power forward position.
The rest of the roster is pretty much the same as last year with the exception of some added depth at point guard. Jeremy Lin should provide an upgrade over Jordan Farmar and he could even supplant Nash in the starting line-up.
The biggest roster concern is the lack of depth at small forward. Wes Johnson is the only true small forward on the roster, so either they will play small at times or Wes can expect to play a ton of minutes.
If the Lakers are able to stay healthy, this roster should be able to get 30 wins minimum. I think the best case scenario for them would be to attain 35-40 wins. Anything more than 40 wins would be an overachievement.
The Western Conference is absolutely loaded this year and the Lakers will hard pressed to keep up. With that said, the Lakers will likely find themselves out of the playoffs again this season, but they may not necessarily be bad enough to draft in the top five which means they will owe their 2015 first round pick to the Suns (via the Nash trade).
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): This is such a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables. But as far as best case scenarios, I think the Lakers would be 48-50 wins and a seventh or eighth seed.
Let me clarify this by saying I do not believe this will happen, but it is simply a matter of if everything goes right, this is what could happen.
I truly believe the Lakers have improved as a whole when it comes to talent. The additions to this roster outweigh the losses in my opinion. And the main reason I believe that is due to Kobe Bryant being back and healthy.
If Kobe can come back at 90 percent of what he was in 2012, that is worth an additional 10 wins in my opinion. If Boozer can prove he still has a lot left in the tank, if Nick Young and Jordan Hill can build on their impressive 2013 seasons, if Wesley Johnson can turn into the lockdown defender he has the potential to be, and if the two rookies can contribute significantly, the Lakers can make some noise.
Of course the Lakers do still play in this Western Conference that is one of the deepest I have ever seen, so the Lakers likely would also need some help in that either the Rockets or Grizzlies fall off.
There are a lot of ifs, but if these things happen, the Lakers could make the playoffs and win 50 games. It’s not likely, but I do believe it is possible.
Nathan Kim (@Kimchiz): The Lakers are returning from an abysmal season in which they finished with a record of 27-55. Last season was characterized by a plethora of injuries throughout the roster including one, Kobe Bryant. Therefore, in order to predict the record for this upcoming season I will look at the 2012-2013 season, a comparable season in my opinion.
The 2012-2013 season was filled with expectations because of the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. These two new players, along with Kobe and Pau, were supposed to propel the Lakers into championship contention. They were even projected to finish second in the Western Conference behind Oklahoma City by ESPN’s summer forecast.
If you look at the rest of the roster excluding the four stars in Gasol, Howard, Nash, and Bryant, it was meager at best. The team had the likes of Chris Duhon, Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris, and so on.
As the season went on, the team experienced problem after problem. Nash had issues with his back, Kobe and Howard were having chemistry issues, and Pau Gasol was having one of the worst seasons of his career.
The Lakers essentially had to rely on the “no name” players on their roster. Yet, the team still finished with 47 wins and clinched the 7th seed in the Western conference. Of course, this feat was accomplished by nothing short of sheer will power by the Black Mamba.
This year’s season is similar to the season just described. The current roster is lacking in star power, especially with the loss of Pau Gasol. Yet, I believe that if a team learns to play well together, under a system, the team will do well regardless.
Perhaps, a greater reason than the one just mentioned is that Kobe Bryant will return this season. I believe he still has the ability to will the team into the playoffs just as he did two years ago. With that being said I believe the Lakers will finish with a 48 win season. While this wouldn’t be good enough to get into the playoffs last season, it might be sufficient this year to get the 8th seed and perhaps shake things up in the playoffs.
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