Rewind to last year. Before the season began, all the talk was “Starting 5 Hall of Famers,” “NBA Finals or bust,” and “a chance to beat the Bulls 72 win mark.” We all saw how that turned out. Each loss seemed like a failure of colossal proportions and just making it to the playoffs became the real goal. The team never really got the chance to mesh, as we saw the real starting lineup fewer than a dozen times last season. Saying it was a difficult season, for the players and fans, would be an understatement.
This year could not be more different. Most experts (the same people who picked the Lakers to make the Finals last season) have the Lakers missing the playoffs and among the bottom four teams in the West. Kobe Bryant isn’t expected to play at a similar level that earned him 1st Team All-NBA honors last season, as ESPN has him ranked as the 25th best player in the league. The majority of the roster are on one year deals and many won’t be brought back for next season. Only Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are guaranteed to be on the books next season, and if Nash’s health continues to decline, he may opt for retirement.
As this season begins, as a fan, I’ve felt a feeling of relief. No longer will a loss have me scrambling towards the schedule and calculating how that will possibly effect our playoff seeding. Each injury won’t feel like a nail in the coffin of the season. From what I’ve seen in the preseason, this Lakers team will be a heck of a lot more fun to watch than last year’s edition. Last season was played to acquiesce to Dwight Howard’s wishes, which meant playing through him in the post. A lot. Although he could be effective, it wasn’t exactly fun to watch.
This season is geared towards Mike D’Antoni’s system – an offensive system based on ball movement and three pointers. The Lakers signed athletes and three point shooters almost exclusively in the off-season. Pau Gasol will now occupy the paint, where is he by far his deadliest. Instead of running hooks and attempts to dunk, we will be dazzled with the array of post moves Gasol has in his arsenal. The Lakers won’t throw the ball into the post and watch the possession die; if Gasol receives a pass down low he is capable of hitting the open man on the perimeter.
Missing the playoffs would be a major disappointment – make no mistake. Any season of Kobe’s that doesn’t result in a chance to compete for a title is inherently a letdown. Tim Duncan earned one last shot at a title last season, and every Lakers fan would like to see Kobe with one more shot. But missing the playoffs wouldn’t be a massive collapse like last season was. If anything, it gives the Lakers MORE hope for the future. To go along with the sizable amount of cap space coming to the Lakers, a lottery pick would be on the way to help build for the future.
So breathe easy Lakers fans. No matter what the outcome is, the end result will be positive. Lowering expectations isn’t what the Lakers do, it never is. This time the media has lowered the bar for them. Now its up to the team to prove them wrong or right. Either way, it will be a season much easier to enjoy.