ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: The Lakers finished with a record of just 27 wins against 55 losses, and the primary reason for that can be summed up with one word: injuries. L.A. was decimated by them at all positions for most of the year, and saw its players miss an absurd total of 319 games due to them — among the highest recorded in the past 30 years. The team wasn’t going to contend for a title with a roster that dropped off significantly from a talent perspective once you got past Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. But contending for a spot in the playoffs might have been a possibility, had Bryant and Nash managed to appear in more than 21 combined games.

Signature highlight from last season: It was tempting to run this one of Nick Young prematurely celebrating a three-pointer that he ultimately missed, because that’s really the kind of season it was in Los Angeles — embarrassing by the franchise’s lofty standards. But early in the year, before the injuries spun out of control and as the pieces began to fit into place, the Lakers came away with a victory in Houston over a much more talented Rockets team on a three-pointer near the end of regulation from Steve Blake — who was traded to the Warriors later in the season.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Lakers season:

Kobe Bryant: It isn’t only the health of Kobe Bryant, who appeared in just six games for the Lakers last season, that will determine the team’s fate in the upcoming campaign. Merely staying on the court won’t be enough, as the roster construction faces severe challenges on both ends of the floor. In order for L.A. to compete most nights, it will need Bryant to return to an All-Star level, scoring on a consistent yet efficient basis, while being a focal point offensively who can facilitate things on the possessions where he isn’t the one taking the shots. It may be too much to ask at this stage of Bryant’s career to do so much, and once again, the health concern is real after the two major injuries he’s suffered in the last two seasons. But if he can simply be the one who holds it all together, there’s a slim chance this team could exceed expectations.

Byron Scott: L.A. hired Scott as head coach this offseason, after an extensive search that included interviews with candidates that seemed far better suited to lead the team into its long-term future. The reasons given were dubious at best, especially the one about wanting a head coach with a defensive-minded reputation. Scott’s Cavaliers teams, where he coached most recently, were historically bad on the defensive end of the floor, and improved immediately the season after he was gone with Mike Brown hired as his replacement in Cleveland — an uninspiring fact, to say the least. Scott was hired for his ties to the organization, to be someone who understands the championship culture and to remind fans of the team’s storied past. But his decisions thus far have been cause for concern, and coaching as much as anything could be the team’s downfall if the thin level of talent in place isn’t properly utilized.

Defense: The Lakers were 28th in defensive efficiency last season, and despite Scott’s wishes, there isn’t much hope that the team is in a position to greatly improve its ranking. Boozer’s defense has been the biggest weakness in his game, and was exposed even more playing alongside such committed defenders while with the Bulls. Nash has always struggled to contain the other team’s guards, and Bryant, who has historically been able to defend extremely well when focusing his attention there, has been less interested in doing so in recent seasons. With an offense expected to struggle (especially if L.A. chases inefficient midrange shots more than it does three-pointers and shots at the basket), the Lakers aren’t going to be able to outscore very many opponents. Defense will be an important determining factor in the team’s quest for victories, and given the personnel in place, that shouldn’t exactly inspire an outlook here that’s overly-optimistic.

Why you should watch: Kobe Bryant essentially missed all of last season, and is one of the game’s all-time greatest players. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, and then will likely disappear from the NBA landscape forever. It’s worth tuning in to see the highlights he can still provide, even on a Lakers team that isn’t expected to be very good this season. Oh, and the same goes for Steve Nash, who is similarly in the twilight of his career, and is likely done after this season.

Prediction: If everything were to go perfectly for the Lakers this season, it would still be tough to envision a win total of more than 45 games — and even then, that probably wouldn’t be enough to reach the postseason in a traditionally loaded Western Conference. What’s far more likely is that Bryant and Nash miss time at some point due to injury (whether major or minor), and that the roster simply doesn’t have enough from a talent perspective to be able to compete on a nightly basis. A total of 35 wins and another trip to the Draft Lottery feels about right.

Patrick Beverley reportedly gloated to LeBron James about Kawhi Leonard signing

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The NBA has decided to change how they regulate tampering. Whether those harsher rules will lead to real change or simply to different circumvention is still yet to be seen.

Meanwhile, we have heard all the stories about how the Los Angeles Clippers landed both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard was of course a major Los Angeles Lakers target, and it was disappointing for those in Lakerland that they didn’t land him.

Of course, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley was probably pretty happy about how things went, and now we have a story to back that up.

Speaking on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast this week, Brian Windhorst relate a story that he heard about Beverly celebrating around LeBron James after his team snagged Leonard.

As Windhorst tells the story, there were several groups of NBA players in private dining rooms at a restaurant in Las Vegas during summer league. Paul George was in one room, and James was in another. After hearing the news that the Clippers landed Leonard, Beverley walked into several rooms containing NBA players to gloat.

Via Woj Pod:

And so the deal actually gets done. [Adrian Wojnarowski reports] that Kawhi has not only agreed to sign with the Clippers, but the Clippers are trading half their future for Paul George, it’s a stunning development. And it all goes down while those players are at the same restaurant in various private rooms.

The story that I heard was that Patrick was making a beeline down the hallway of private rooms — sticking his head into all the rooms gloating about the Clippers’ giant haul — including into LeBron’s room.

This feels like it’s right on brand for Beverley.

Now the Clippers will need to prove they’re better than the Lakers on the court (and not just on paper).

Collin Sexton says he’s going to wear fan-designed shoes this season

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Cleveland Cavaliers second-year point guard Collin Sexton is already a fan-favorite in northeastern Ohio. This year, it appears that Sexton is trying to deepen that connection.

In a message posted to Twitter on Sunday, Sexton reached out to his followers to design a new set of shoes for him this year. The Cavaliers sophomore said that he will take the top five designs that fans submit and then wear them throughout the course of the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season.

Via Twitter:

This is a pretty cool idea, and a great way to have a direct link between fans and players. Social media is in an era of extreme personal branding, and even if this is a thinly-veiled Nike marketing thing, it at least has a twinge of genuineness to it.

The only thing left now is to see what designs people submit, and whether Sexton’s taste is any good.

James Harden plays in Rico Hines games at UCLA and destroys people

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Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.