With 5 of the last 11 championships, one would expect the Lakers to be the focal point of all NBA Off-Season conversation. Yet as this has been the craziest NBA summer ever, the Lakers have been hidden by the 6’8” shadow that somehow has covered the 2,348 miles between Miami and Los Angeles. The Lakers have dominated the past decade at two different times with two very different teams. The first of course with the 320 pound Shaq carrying the team with the help of the budding superstar in Kobe Bryant. A haircut, a dropped rape assault, a few tattoos, and a number change later, Kobe leads this second edition with no signs of slowing down within the next few years. Kobe hears the MJ comparisons; he hears even if he wins more than Jordan he still cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Jordan. Long gone is the drive to win one without Shaq, same to the one to defeat the arch-rival Celtics; Kobe is gunning for Jordan , and only he has the nerve to do so, thus substantiating his position as the NBA’s coldest killer.
The Lakers are poised again for a serious championship run. They have the most talent, best player/best closer, most length, and the best coach. Kobe may be slightly past his prime, but he refuses to be usurped as the NBA’s best player; he has and will continue to capitalize on that ever-closing window to win championships. Phil Jackson is coming back for a shot to win his unprecedented 12th championship and complete his 4th three-peat (apparently he has the vaccine for the infamous Disease of More). If the Lakers fail to win a championship, their whole season will be considered a failure; the Heat are the only other team that even approaches the Lakers with these through-the-roof expectations. The expectations are probably more for the 6 years their 3 stars are under contract for, rather than this year alone, for excuses have already been prepared for the Heat: “they just need a year to gel;” they are experimenting with everyone’s roles, especially Lebron becoming the facilitator.” As they will be the media’s darling, the media will go out of their way to make excuses for them this year alone; the Lakers, however, must go out and win again with no shield of pretenses protecting them from criticism.
Nobody is enjoying the current wave of attention flowing from South Beach all the way to Bristol, Connecticut more than Kobe Bryant. Two rings without Shaq, five in total, yet he is getting as much attention this summer post NBA finals as DJ Mbenga. During the hoopla surrounding the recruiting visits, the summit in Miami, and the endless coverage on “The Decision,” you know Kobe was viewing from the side with a smug grin on his face, as he found more and more motivation to refine his game and to tweak his rat-like scowl to produce a maximum under bite. Finally, he is getting time to heal his knee and finger, and will be fully healthy come late October, a scary prospect for the rest of the NBA. Let’s look at the upper seeds in each conference to see who has a shot at challenging the Lakers:
Dallas Mavs: Still reeling from the defeat by the Warriors a few seasons ago…never going to happen with the current team
Phoenix Suns: Who is there replacement for Amare?...Hakim Warrick? Scratch them off the list
Denver Nuggets: They would have an up tempo, high-scoring affair with the Lakers and the Lakers have many more offensive weapons than them. Artest is also the perfect defender against Melo
Utah Jazz: Out of all the teams mentioned so far, they pose the biggest threat. They lost Boozer, but Al Jefferson was a great pick up. Williams and Jefferson make a solid tandem, and throw in a healthy Okur and Kirilenko and you are looking at a legitimate threat, but who guards Kobe and who slows down the big men of the Lakers?
Oklahoma City Thunder: They were the Lakers toughest challenge in the Western Conference playoffs. They are quick, young, and athletic. Their time will come, but it is not now
Cleveland Cavs: Please, we are guaranteed to see them in the lottery next year. How would you like to have this as your starting line-up:
Not only is that terrible talent wise, but they do not have a single mildly intriguing player there
Orlando Magic: They are good, really good, but not as good as the Magic team the Lakers have already beaten in the finals
Atlanta Hawks: No explanation necessary
Boston Celtics: The Celtics stumbled into the playoffs, but caught lightning in a bottle and took the Lakers seven games in the NBA finals. But they are a year older, and of course lightning does not strike twice
Miami Heat: Ah, thought we’d never get there; this intriguing matchup deserves a closer look.
PG: Derek Fisher vs Mario Chalmers
They both averaged a little over 7 points a game last year, but Fisher’s points were a luxury, where as Miami was desperate for any points that came from someone without the number 3 on the back of their jersey. Fisher is a wily veteran, who comes through in the clutch. Edge: Lakers
SG: Kobe Bryant vs Dwayne Wade
These two are very similar, both can slash, post-up, and knock down shots from anywhere on the floor. D-Wade is more explosive as Kobe has been in the league since 96, but Kobe is craftier. These two carry that Jordan-esque killer instinct trait more than anybody in the league right now. However, we’ll take the man with 5 rings over the guy with one. Slight edge: Lakers
SF: Ron Artest vs Lebron James
Not much to say here. Ron is a great defender, but Lebron is Lebron. We saw Artest harass and slow down Kevin Durant in the playoffs, but he also had about a 50 pound weight advantage, which does not apply to this freak athlete he matches up with here. Big edge: Heat
PF: Pau Gasol vs Chris Bosh
We admit we have not seen Bosh play much, as he has been wasting away in Canada for the first seven years of his career. His numbers are legit: averaging a 24 and 10 last year is no joke but that was when he was the center of the team and now he has been relegated to the third best player. But Bosh has problems against big power forwards/centers and Pau has the skills to exploit this match up. Slight edge: Lakers
C: Joel Anthony/Big Z vs Andrew Bynum
With Bynum finally healthy (and let’s hope he stays that way), he has a great chance to exploit this matchup. Anthony does not have near the size Bynum has, and Ilgauskas is a big, lumbering oaf with not much to his arsenal except for a surprisingly decent mid-range game. Edge: Lakers
So that’s 4 edges for the Lakers to the Heat’s one. Admittedly, it is a huge edge for the Heat and the Lakers have 2 slight edges, but we have not even touched upon the bench. Whoever the Heat raid from former players turned analysts on ESPN and TNT will not be able to match up with Lamar Odom. While Mike Miller was a good addition, he is not enough for the ragtag crew sure to join him on the Miami bench to overcome Odom, Steve Blake, Vujacic, Shannon Brown, and Walton. Oh, and the Lakers just added Matt Barnes, a tough defender (but he still couldn't make Kobe even blink: see below) and a threat from the three point line; they also added Theo Ratliff, a solid back-up for Bynum. The Lakers biggest problems last year were their 3 point shooting and their bench, and they have definitely diminished these weaknesses in the recent weeks.We haven’t even mentioned the Lakers coaching advantage yet either; Jackson has been involved in the NBA longer than Erik Spoelstra has been alive. The Heat are sure to negate this advantage by having Riley supplant Spoelstra as coach after they have locked up a playoff spot though. Before doing this article, Miami’s starting lineup seemed like a basketball version of the Murderer’s Row, but not so much now. Don’t get us wrong, those three superstars in that line up will certainly wreak havoc upon the NBA at times during the next 6 years. However, we are not ready to anoint them yet. But they will certainly be intriguing to watch, adding to the anticipation for that late October night when they are sure to kick off the 2010-2011 NBA season. And at 10 30 ET on opening night, the Lakers will likely be on, still in the shadow of the Heat, as they begin their title defense yet again.