Photo from: Sportingnews.com
By: Bong Paredes
As a prototypical Filipino basketball fan (albeit a bit older than most people), the first NBA team I ever cheered for as a kid outside Robert Jaworski’s Ginebra San Miguel was Magic and Kareem’s Showtime Lakers. Their style of play was so entertaining it’s easy to see how they have endeared themselves to Filipino basketball fans. Well, that and the fact that the Lakers were part of a limited number of teams that we got to see alongside other popular teams of the 80’s like the Celtics, Pistons, Sixers and Knicks.
As a Laker fan, I consider myself lucky because for a stretch of almost 40 years, I have witnessed three Laker dynasties in the Magic, Worthy and Kareem led Showtime Lakers of the 80’s, Kobe and Shaq’s three peat in the early 2000’s and the Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol led teams that won back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.
There were a few stretches though when we were “quiet” in NBA discussion forums (both internet forums and watercoolers, lol!) because of how bad the team was. There was the post Magic Johnson era where we had Sedale Threatt as our best player before the likes of Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones and Cedric Ceballos came along. There was the post Shaq era where even a Super Saiyan Kobe Bryant wasn’t enough to carry the likes of Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Sasha Vujacic to playoff success.
But the worst stretch by far was the one that started in 2012 when the team acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in separate trades. That summer started a chain reaction of terrible things from injuries to botched free agent signings. Even with Lebron joining the team as a free agent last year did not put much of a dent on the futility of the Lakers especially after the Magic Johnson Rob Pelinka feud.
Fret not Laker Nation, it seems like there’s enough evidence in the last couple of months to suggest that this team is on the path of title contention for the next few years. There are a lot of variables that we cannot account for, health being the main one but the rest of the league deals with them too, so after a few pre-season games, what can we expect from the 2019-20 version of the Los Angeles Lakers?
With the team on a win now approach, GM Rob Pelinka did a very decent job of putting together a backcourt that will complement what Lebron James specifically brings to the table. Though listed as a forward, majority of the playmaking chores will be heaped upon Lebron. At the same time, no one expects King James at this late stage in his career to chase smaller and quicker guards on defense so they went after a couple of bulldogs that will hound opposing guards all game.
Avery Bradley and Danny Green might be a little past their prime, but they have enough in their tanks to make this team one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also an able defender with size and all of them shoot at a decent clip from three and together with Quinn Cook, these guards will cherish all the open looks that Lebron and Anthony Davis will give them.
Rajon Rondo is still on the roster and will be the primary playmaker when Lebron is off the floor. He is also an able defender at times and though he won’t be mistaken of a Steph Curry or an Eric Gordon, shot at a respectable 36% clip last season. Underrated guards Alex Caruso and Troy Daniels will also contribute in stretches while rookie Zach Norvell Jr. showed enough promise in the pre-season to warrant a spot on the roster.
The Lakers have 2 of the top 5 players in the league and they are both forwards so no one can touch them in this category. This is unfamiliar territory for Lebron though. For the first time in his career, he is being overlooked. No one considers him the best player in the game anymore due to injuries last year that led to King James not being in the title hunt for the first time in almost a decade. He is obviously not the same guy we saw in Miami and in Cleveland but he is by far still the most versatile and accomplished superstar in the NBA.
Pair him up with someone of Anthony Davis’ caliber, it’s very puzzling why most analyst don’t rank the Lakers higher. Anthony Davis mentioned that he wants to be the Defensive Player of the Year and while that is a bit of a long shot; he is definitely one of the most versatile defensive studs in the game. Lebron and AD are both amazing playmakers that it won’t be surprising if both of them will earn the most triple doubles in a season for their respective careers this year.
We haven’t even seen Kyle Kuzma yet which will most likely be the third best player on this team. Once Kuz joins them, things will open up even more for Lebron and AD to work from the elbow, mid-post area and for Dwight and Javale to roam around. Kuzma, is an all-around scorer and willing defender (not a great one yet) that could really develop his game more as he is not asked to carry a big load like he did last year. Caldwell-Pope can also act as a three at times depending on the match-ups.
Oh, and yeah. Jared Dudley is also here.
Though centers are part of the frontcourt, I believe that the Laker bigs deserve some extra love. Javale McGee has been a bit of a laughingstock in the league in previous years mainly due to Shaq getting on his case all the time and the fact that he has accomplished so little with so much physical gifts. He has turned it around the last 2 years though by winning a title with the Warriors and finding his niche playing alongside Lebron as a weak side big.
McGee has really good hands and impeccable timing for rebounds, blocks and lobs. His size and reputation around the league as a knucklehead on the basketball floor made people overlook all the work that he put to hone his craft.
Now that he has someone like Dwight Howard to split time with at the 5, Anthony Davis will not be asked to play center outside the last couple of minutes of close games when teams play without a legit center anyways (aside from Utah, Denver and Philly).
It’s unfortunate that Demarcus Cousins will miss the entire season, but if Howard continues to be this uber selfless and defensively engaged big man that will gobble up every rebound that comes his way and not worry about touches on offense; then this has the makings of one of the best redemption stories in the history of the NBA that can be capped by a championship at the end of the season.
This is an enigmatic position for the Lakers. Not that they don’t have good basketball minds, they might have too much for their own good. I haven’t seen anyone create a coaching staff with a fantasy basketball approach. Though Frank Vogel is the designated head coach, it remains to be seen if it stays that way with Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins waiting in the wings if the Lakers struggle early.
Even if there are 9 new players on this roster with a new coach or coaches to boot, It’s still very disrespectful to rank the Clippers ahead of the Lakers. Non Laker fans point to the fact that this team will need to make major adjustments with someone like Anthony Davis joining the team.
That is a valid point. But even with Coach Doc Rivers keeping most of the players that gave the Warriors fits in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Adding not one, but two superstars, no matter how good or unselfish they may be would be just as hard.
The Lakers’ schedule is very light at the start of the season that they can get more wins than they would have while adjusting to a new system and to each other. Barring any major injuries to Lebron and Anthony Davis and to a lesser degree Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers will definitely have homecourt advantage entering the 2020 playoffs. Once there, I will take the Lakers over any team.
All this means one thing. After 7 years of appreciating and enjoying the NBA quietly, I can truly say that I will be more engaged in NBA related discussions this year. Not that Laker fans were ever quiet anyways. The difference is that this year, Laker fans can expect a real bite from the team when we bark (respectfully and playfully of course) at the rest of the NBA Fandom.
As former UFC commentator Mike Goldberg would say at the beginning of every fight. “Here we go!”