Metta World Peace aka The Elbowing Ron Artest, has signalled the Los Angeles Lakers intentions for the upcoming NBA season by claiming that it is “definitely possible” that they will be able to set a new NBA win record, and thus surpass Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls 72-10 record in the 95-96 season. Such a claim is confident to say the least, considering the Miami Heat claimed the same thing two seasons ago, when the so-called “Big-3” formed in Miami. They ended up achieving a 58-24 record and not even qualifying as number one in the East.
With the arrival of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard on the West Coast, as well as a number of other quality supporting players such as experienced journeyman Antawn Jamieson and young-gun Jodie Meeks, the Lakers have a team that is arguably much more than the “Big-3” that Miami created two seasons ago. With Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, we’re looking at a big-4 and a far better supporting cast than the “Big-3” have at the Heat franchise.
Kobe will have a star point guard to feed him for the first time in his career in Steve Nash, which will ultimately take some pressure off the five-time NBA champion, who is often left with a lot to do, whether it be on his own onus or due to the lacklustre performances of others around him. Kobe clearly struggled last season, shooting just 43% from the field, his lowest since his sophomore year, and 43.9% in the playoffs, his lowest since 2004. As Kobe enters the twilight of his career, he is going to need someone to take away that pressure and Steve Nash has proved throughout his career that his vision makes him the perfect candidate to do this. Quite simply wherever he has played he has managed to better his teammates around him, and for the first time in his career he is surrounded by a team of all-stars. The potential results from this arsenal is mouth-watering.
However, while the Lakers are no doubt the best team on paper, it may take some time for the team to properly blend, much like it took time for Lebron James and the Heat to really become a team rather than merely a group of individuals. Nash will be running a Princeton style of offence that the Lakers won’t be used to, and it is also possible Dwight Howard won’t be back to his best until perhaps mid-season, due to a back injury that kept him out of the end of last season and the Summer Olympics
While the Lakers will be aiming to reclaim the West, it is going to take something to stop the rising powerhouse that is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who with a mix of talented youth and experienced veterans managed to beat the Lakers in just five games in the Western Conference Semis last year and advance to the finals. Furthermore, the aging San Antonio Spurs, as well as the cross-city rivals Clippers will be looking to rain on the Laker’s parade. All these teams can easily score a 100 points a game and it will be just as important for the Lakers to put on solid defensive play as well as the obvious amazing offensive play that will be on offer. However, with a fit Dwight Howard – a three time defensive player of the year awardee – it will be an extremely plausible possibility that they will be able to shut down the big teams in the West, as well as the East, to less than a 100 points on a regular basis. Another team in the West that look likely to make their first run at the playoffs in a while are the Golden State Warriors, who have recruited big with big Australian Andrew Bogut and veteran Richard Jefferson, as well as picking some solid offensive playing rookies in the draft, such as Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. If Bogut and rising star Stephen Curry, who are key to the Warriors chances of a playoff berth yet are both injury prone, can stay healthy throughout the season, the Warriors will be one of the most entertaining offensive forces in the NBA.
I could talk all day about the West before having even had a chance to analyse the East, but the real story of this season is the rejuvenated Lakers and the haters who despise the way they have bought, not built, a team of superstars. Ironically, it may be an issue of money that splits the team up in the near future, as the NBA luxury tax, which taxes marquee players, is expected to rise triple fold for the Lakers for the 2013-14 season, perhaps taking them to a financial boiling point that not even their cashed-up owners can sustain.
The NBA begins on October 31 AEST.