I’m not going to tip-toe around this: the Lakers are going to be awful this season. Kobe will not be ready to start the season and may not be the same great player he has been. Even if he is, the rest of the roster the Lakers have assembled following the departure of Dwight Howard is so, so poor. Steve Nash is a husk of the player he was when he won the MVP trophy twice. Pau Gasol is still pretty great, but when you’ve got such luminaries as Wes Johnson, Nick Young, and Chris Kaman expected to play a major part in your team’s hoped for success, well you just shouldn’t expect very much success, even with a fully healthy Kobe Bryant- which the Lakers just are not even likely to have, at least not until at least sometime in December.
The Lakers struggled badly to eke into the playoffs last year with one of the two best centers in the league on their roster. Yes, Dwight Howard was still that impactful, even with the injuries and the frustration and the disjointedness he seemed to suffer from in his lone year in Forum Blue and Gold. The Lakers replaced him with Chris Kaman, who is just not very good. He’s a below average player replacing one of the very best at his position. That’s, obviously, a huge deal. Wesley Johnson and Nick Young are also just not good at NBA level basketball. They have talent, to be sure. Young, in particular, has no problem creating shots for himself, especially off the dribble, which is a useful skill, but he has no interest in playing anything that might vaguely resemble defense and his propensity for difficult, off-the-dribble, contested jump shots- while entertaining- is just not winning basketball. Just how bad can we expect, by the numbers, for the Lakers to be?
After adjusting for the wider league context, the Lakers Net Rating is -5.6, which translates to a roughly 26 win team. That’s pretty awful, but it’s about right for what Lakers fans should expect from this season. If Kobe is able to return early and play more than 2200 minutes this year, they might scrape up to 30–32 wins, but honestly, what would be the point?
The incoming draft class of 2014 is being hailed as the best since the LeBron-lead class of 2003 and if the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs- and they aren’t, Laker fans- why should Kobe rush back early or play extended minutes when he does return? Of course, this is Kobe Bean Bryant we’re talking about, so I would not be at all shocked to see him return to the floor and push himself to play 36–38 minutes a night as he tries, in vain, to drag this awful roster in the playoffs. The guy lives for a challenge and will absolutely want to try to prove all the naysayers like yours truly wrong.
It’ll be fascinating and cringe-inducing to watch him try, but I hardly think I’ll be able to look away- and it’s not like I’ll have much choice, as the Lakers are still going to be playing a staggering twenty-nine nationally televised games, despite their frankly pretty awful roster and irrelevance to the NBA’s big picture this season.