For the first time in 3 years the Los Angeles Lakers are heading into the regular season with some sort of expectations. With Kobe Bryant benched for the majority of the last couple seasons there hasn’t been much to be excited about in LA. With the off season acquisitions of Roy Hibbert, Louis Williams, and Brandon Bass, LA added some veteran pedigree to their young nucleus of talent, and they look to make a splash in the gauntlet known as the Western Conference. Assuming every team stays relatively healthy, there are six spots all but locked up, the only argument is the seeding of those teams. The Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder, Rockets and Clippers occupy those spots. Leaving two spots for, in my opinion, the Pelicans, Suns, and Lakers to fight for. Kobe Bryant was asked recently if he thought the Lakers could make the playoffs, and classic Kobe he answered, “Of course it can. Absolutely.” Could they scrape by and make the 8th seed? Maybe. How realistic is it? That’s what I’m still pondering.
Let’s be completely honest, if Kobe can’t stay healthy, there is no playoffs for this team. Yes, he isn’t what he once was, but even at age 36 he can more than handle his own in the NBA. More than his physical tools, I feel that the young players around him will benefit from the mere fact that they have an all-time great who they can lean on when the moments just too big for them. Now with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson bringing up the ball most of the time, Kobe might not have to do as much on offense as he has most of his career. This will allow him to come off screens and hit easy jumpers and take some stress off those aging joints.
When you have guys who can come off your bench and score 25 points on any given night like LA has in, Louis Williams and Swaggy P, it allows Head Coach Byron Scott to rest veterans like Bryant for longer stretches of time. The Lakers didn’t really have that luxury before and it eventually led to multiple season ending injuries for Bryant. I think Byron Scott is going to have to put his foot down at times and rest Kobe, even when Kobe doesn’t want to. I think he’s a smart enough player to realize that him sitting down sometimes might be what’s best for the Lakers, at this point in his career.
Besides Bryant’s health, Julius Randle’s development will be key for how far this team goes. He’s leaner, but yet, somehow looks physically stronger than ever. His Summer League was what I expected. He used those games to dust some of the rust off after breaking his leg last year. His handle and shot look a little bit more natural and when they unleash the beast in the regular season, he’s going to be turning some heads.
Now, I know this is all speculation because injuries occur, not just for the Lakers, but for the entire league. Those six playoff spots I said were locked up, could be lost in a split second. I think the West has 11 legit teams who could compete for those 8 seeds, and I think it’s going to come down to the very last night of the regular season to see who won the race for the final few slots. I’m still not 100 % sold on this year’s team, even though I feel that if they mesh and every body plays to their max, they’re a solid team. In no particular order if I had to pick right now the Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder, Rockets, Clippers, Pelicans, and Lakers make the playoffs. The Pelicans have Anthony Davis, that reason alone is why they’re the other team I think will make it. I mean, you could ask me tomorrow and I might realize that the Suns, Jazz, Kings and T-Wolves are starting to quietly build solid young squads with bright futures. It’s all speculation at this point, but it sure is fun to think and talk about it when there’s no basketball to watch. October 27th can’t come soon enough.