Lakers new guard Steve Nash of Canada smiles as he walks past Kobe Bryant during NBA media day for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in Los Angeles

NBA season preview: L.A. Lakers


Last Season: Failure. For a team that measures success in terms of championships, especially when it has enough talent on paper to compete at that level, 2012 just wasn’t good enough.

The Lakers struggled with depth and exited the playoffs in the second round for the second straight year, this time to a younger, more athletic, and more explosive Oklahoma City Thunder squad. This came after going a longer-than-planned seven games in the first round against a talented, yet inexperienced Nuggets team that shouldn’t have been able to push L.A. that far.

Key Departures: There were departures, though not many close observers of this Lakers team would choose the word “key” to describe them. Ramon Sessions departed for a bigger role in Charlotte, Matt Barnes switched to the less glamorous locker room down the Staples Center hallway, Josh McRoberts is now in Orlando, and Troy Murphy is just gone.

The Lakers did, of course, lose their All-Star center from a season ago in Andrew Bynum, but they acquired a replacement whom they hope will be one of the keys to returning to championship relevance.

Key Additions: Here’s where things start to get interesting. L.A. helped end our long national Dwightmare by trading for one of the game’s top-five players in Dwight Howard, giving up Bynum in the process. Howard for Bynum on its own is an improvement on paper, but not one large enough to tilt the championship odds immediately in the Lakers’ favor. The acquisition of Steve Nash, however — a two-time MVP, a master conductor of the offense and one of the game’s best shooters — might have done exactly that.

Antawn Jamison was added for some scoring assistance off the bench, and backup two-guard Jodie Meeks should provide some productivity when Kobe Bryant is getting some rest.

Three keys to the Lakers season:

1) Kobe thriving without the ball in his hands: Nash is one of the best point guards in the game, but to do what he does best, he’ll need the ball to open possessions. With Howard and Pau Gasol on the floor at the same time, there should be a number of successful offensive possessions where Bryant doesn’t even see the basketball. Obviously, this will be a major adjustment. Will Bryant choose to adapt to the new offense — one that, much like the Triangle, features motion and multiple options at every turn — or will he resist and revert to old habits of forcing isolation situations with the shot clock winding down, while his teammates stand around and watch? There’s a time for that, certainly, but with all of the weapons on this year’s roster, those situations should be the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

2) Will the bench be enough? A starting five featuring Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol, and Metta World Peace should provide plenty of punch on both sides of the ball to win on most nights. But regular season achievements are not why this core was assembled, nor will finishing the regular season with the league’s best record mean anything if the starters are gassed for the playoffs. Bryant and Nash need to save themselves somewhat for the postseason, and limiting their minutes will only be possible if the bench doesn’t blow huge leads which force the team’s veteran stars to sub back in early in the fourth quarters of games which should have already been decided.

3) The correct utilization of Pau Gasol: From a numbers standpoint, Gasol appeared to be every bit as effective as he’d been in his seasons in L.A. that resulted in championships. But to those who watched the majority of the team’s contests, Gasol seemed uncomfortable, under-utilized, and out of place in head coach Mike Brown’s attempt at an offense.

The Lakers need to find a way to maximize Gasol’s talents, and the new Princeton offense that the team is implementing this season should go a long way in doing so. Gasol has great court awareness and is able to make the smart pass, but is also a deft scorer — both on the low block, and from mid-range distance on the perimeter. The team needs to recognize this, and perhaps watch some film of the gold medal game of this past summer’s Olympics to truly see what a force Gasol can be when given the right opportunities.

What Lakers fans should fear: Two words: Mike Brown. L.A.’s head coach used the lockout-shortened season as a constant excuse last year, lamenting the lack of practice time available for him to get his new systems installed. Well, no such excuse will be available this season, as Brown has had all summer and a full training camp to design and implement sets which will maximize his team’s talents.

The team added former NBA head coaches in Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff to assist Brown, who has always been described as a defense-first coach. If the defense is top-five in the league, that’s great. But last year’s Lakers were middle-of-the-pack defensively, and the offense never gained the necessary cohesion to contend deep into the postseason. With all of the talent assembled for the 2012-13 run, the blame will undoubtedly fall on Brown’s shoulders if he’s unable to bring this group to the level of champions.

Prediction: Dwight Howard is an upgrade over Andrew Bynum, but the basketball IQ and shooting prowess of Steve Nash is what pushes this team over the top. Anyone predicting anything other than a trip to the Finals for this stacked Lakers squad is being delusional at worst, or contrarian at best. The Thunder return essentially all of their important pieces, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be waiting in the East. But the amount of talent in the Lakers’ starting lineup is too much to dismiss, and they should ultimately take home the title if things go anywhere near as planned.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms

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The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.

51 Questions: Which team will win the East? Make playoffs?

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, workers finish hanging a mural of Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James on a building in Cleveland. The colossal LeBron James banner is getting a small _ but significant _ upgrade.
The iconic, 10-stories-tall mural is being removed this week and replaced with a new one that includes a gold patch of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the back of James’ uniform to represent the Cavaliers winning the NBA title last season to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The new banner is expected to be installed by Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
Associated Press
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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pacers
5. Pistons
6. Wizards
7. Hornets
8. Bulls

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

On the one hand, the East is not that interesting: It’s Cleveland then everyone else. The only question is do they have enough of a championship hangover that Boston or Toronto can catch them in the regular season? That question will be moot in the playoffs, Cleveland is in its own class out East. However, what is interesting is that spots 4 through 12 could go almost any direction — I have the Hawks, Knicks, Bucks, and Magic out of the playoffs, but any of them could make it if their season comes together (the Hawks, in particular, are hard to leave out, but I believe they downgraded at point and center). I’m higher on the Pacers than most, but I wonder about their defense. I think teams 4-12 will all win between 36-46 games, it’s going to be a tight bunch with health and other small factors deciding who is in and who is out.

Dan Feldman

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pistons
5. Wizards
6. Hawks
7. Hornets
8. Pacers

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

Cleveland is in the top tier on its own, though it’s quite conceivable someone else passes them in the regular season. Boston and Toronto occupy the next group. Then it’s everyone else — including maybe the Bulls, Bucks and maybe even Magic. The difference between homecourt advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely is slim, especially with Reggie Jackson‘s injury destroying my confidence in Detroit as the No. 4 seed.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Hornets
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Hawks

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

The real question in the East isn’t about the Cavaliers, but about the two teams projected to finish below them in the Celtics and Raptors. Yes, Toronto has more experience, and they should have a healthy DeMarre Carroll, but losing Bismack Biyombo is big, especially so as Boston added Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, Brad Stevens looks like a great coach, and I think the Celtics take the No. 2 in the regular season. Then again, I’m also taking the Raptors experience in the playoffs, so maybe I’m hedging.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.

Report: Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian engaged, getting their own reality show

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16:  TV personality Khloe Kardashian attends the NBCUniversal 2016 Upfront Presentation on May 16, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Tristan Thompson is doing his best to ensure the Cavaliers live up to Joakim Noah‘s “Hollywood as hell” billing.

Just as they begin a high-profile title defense behind stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Thompson is bringing even more attention to Cleveland by taking his relationship with Khloe Kardashian to the next level.

Katherine Santana of In Touch:

Now that Khloé Kardashian and Tristan Thompson are engaged, In Touch can exclusively reveal details on the couple’s wedding. Khloé and Tristan are now in the works of getting their own reality show, and are planning to marry in front of the cameras!

Thompson and Kardashian are adults and should be free to live their personal lives as they see fit under the law. I just hope Thompson understands what he’s getting himself into.