Entering the 2013-14 season, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to surpass the low expectations many members of the media have placed upon the team such as ESPN ranking them as the 12th best team in the Western conference.
This offseason, the Lakers were unable to retain center Dwight Howard as he signed with the Houston Rockets. The organization response to Howard’s departure brought in some potential impact players in center Chris Kaman, guard Nick Young, point guard Jordan Farmar, and forward Wesley Johnson all on one-year deals.
Los Angeles is hoping they can catch lightening in a bottle with their free-agent signings by making the playoffs and seeing where it takes the team from there. So without further ado, here are the five Lakers who have the biggest impact on the team’s success this upcoming season:
1. Kobe Bryant
Unquestionably the Lakers most important and impactful player at the ripe age of 35. Bryant
is still in the rehab process of his recovery from Achilles surgery he had done in May and there is uncertainty surrounding when exactly the 17-year veteran will make his return on the court.
If Los Angeles want to have any chance of making the playoffs, Bryant’s must return back or near the his accustomed high level of play. If for any reason he is unable to return for a significant portion of the season early on in the season it could put a huge damper on the team’s hopes for the playoffs.
The bottom line is that the Lakers this season will go as far as Bryant can take them. He provides a sufficient amount of the offense’s output for the team and is a playmaker on both ends of the court. His health and production will be keys to the amount of success the team will have.
2. Pau Gasol
Last season, Gasol
struggled to establish himself offensively with he and Howard both occupying the paint, but with Howard now gone the 7-foot Spaniard is expected to play a major role in team’s offense game plan. He should be able to return or near the high level of play when Los Angeles featured him as one of team’s primary scorers.
Although the 12-year veteran is coming into the season rehabbing from offseason surgery on both knees to treat tendonitis, he should return to being one of the best big men in the league. One important thing to underline here is that Gasol will have an established role in the offense, which something that could go a long way in building his confidence in his level of play.
Expect him to post better numbers than last season, where he averaged 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Another key factor is uncertainty of Bryant’s return and what kind of player he will be post-Achilles surgery, which may lead to the team having to lean on Gasol for offensive output. A confident Gasol, who is now focal point in the team’s offensive scheme, will be in line to have a big impact on the Lakers success this upcoming season.
3. Steve Nash
If the 39-year old can be anything of what he was during his years with the Phoenix Suns, it could be very beneficial to the Lakers. Last season was arguably Nash’s most frustrating and difficult season as he suffered a multitude of injuries which included a displaced fracture in his left leg that forced him to miss about two months, and a hip and hamstring injury that caused him to miss the last eight games of the regular season and two games of the first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
In his one season with Los Angeles, the argument could made that he never got a chance to really gel with his teammates and play at full health which this all added to team’s problems on the court last year. The two-time MVP may not be the player he once was but he can still run head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive game plan that he ran for years in Phoenix, provide leadership, and be one of the team’s primary ball handlers and ball distributors.
There may be a lot of “if Nash can” scenarios for the 17-year veteran but in order for him to be an impact player on this team it ultimately comes down to his health. He must make it a point to stay healthy in his reduced minutes this upcoming season.
4. Chris Kaman
The 10-year veteran impact to this Lakers’ team will be his contribution coming off the bench as team’s backup center behind Gasol as he is expected to slide over to the center in the starting lineup. Kaman played this role well last year as a member of the Dallas Mavericks where he averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game.
Kaman is a player who has a decent low post game and mid-range, good rebounder and capable defender. What he also allows for the Lakers to do is put lineups on the floor that feature Gasol at power forward and Kaman at center, which should work fluidly as both big men have good offensive skill sets.
The addition of Kaman could be one of the under radar deals this offseason as he will provide scoring depth and experience off the Lakers’ bench.
5. Nick Young
Young biggest contribution on this team will be his offense output because of his ability to create his own shot and at times become a streaky shooter. There will be times when the Lakers offense gets into a funk and the 28-year old can use offensive ability to help get the team going. He is also a versatile player who can play at and guard small forwards and shooting guards due to his height at 6’7″ and quickness.
He will be able to take some of the offensive load of the 35-year old Bryant, who is returning from Achilles surgery. If Bryant struggles early on, Young could help ease Bryant’s transition back to form by not making him press on the offensive end early on in the season. He could also become a fill-in at the shooting guard position if Bryant were to not be ready by the season opener on October 29 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
If the Lakers were to decide to make Young the team’s sixth man, he would help improve a bench that ranked 28th in scoring and 26th in efficiency by providing the team with a much needed go-to scoring option. Ultimately, Young’s impact to this team will be his offensive ability and he should strive within Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced run and gun offense.
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Bob Garcia is a sports journalist from Southern California. He was a reporter for the award-winning newspaper, The Daily Sundial, at California State University, Northridge. You can follow him on Twitter, @BGarcia90