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Lakers' quest to repeat begins Wednesday

Five things to watch for as the defending NBA champions open training camp.

September 29, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers have their media day today and open training camp Wednesday. Their first exhibition game is Oct. 7 against Golden State in Anaheim, and the Lakers begin defense of their NBA title on opening night of the NBA season, Oct. 27, when they play host to their Staples Center neighbors the Clippers. Although oddsmakers have pegged the Lakers as favorites to repeat as champions, it's a long time between now and the NBA Finals in June. Here are five story lines to look for as training camp opens:

1. Heeeere's Ronnie

On an unforgettably frenetic July afternoon, forwards Ron Artest and Trevor Ariza swapped spots within hours, Artest accepting a five-year deal with the Lakers and Ariza taking a similar five-year deal with Houston. Will Artest be a model citizen and continue playing top-notch defense? Or will the Lakers regret letting the younger Ariza walk?

2. Which Bynum will it be?

Center Andrew Bynum was on a roll before suffering a torn knee ligament in January. He was never the same after sitting out 32 games, averaging a measly 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in the playoffs. It's easy to remember that he averaged 26.2 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots in his last five games before getting hurt, but it's also easy to recall that knee injuries have short-circuited his last two seasons.

3. Happy to have him back

It took a while, but Lamar Odom eventually signed a four-year, $33-million contract to stay with the Lakers. With him, they're favored to win it all again. Without him, they might have had trouble getting back to the Finals with a whisper-thin bench.

4. When will Father Time beckon?

Kobe Bryant comes to camp at age 31 for his 14th NBA season. Fourteenth! He was practically flawless in winning the Finals MVP award last June, but his playing time has decreased each of the last four seasons. Just the same, here's guessing he puts up another strong season, coming close to the 26.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists he averaged in 2008-09.

5. Repeat quite a feat

The NBA hasn't had a repeat champion since the Lakers did it in 2002. San Antonio, Portland and Denver will chase them in the West. Boston or Cleveland could await them in the NBA Finals. Let's just fast-forward to June.

Projected starters

* F -- Ron Artest. After admiring the Lakers from afar, he finally gets his chance to play with them.

* F -- Pau Gasol. Went through another long summer -- a deep playoff run with the Lakers, a large time investment with the Spanish national team -- but Gasol has already demonstrated he can handle such a schedule.

* C -- Andrew Bynum. Entering his fifth NBA season and the first year of a lucrative contract extension that will pay him $12.5 million this season.

* G -- Kobe Bryant. Ended a seven-year itch by winning his fourth championship.

* G -- Derek Fisher. Now 35, the clutch playoff shooter is in the final year of his contract.

Projected bench contributors

* Lamar Odom: New wife, new contract but same old role -- coming off the bench and providing a boost if Bynum falters.

* Shannon Brown: Showed some zing after being acquired from Charlotte in February, but can he produce at the same level over an entire season?

* Sasha Vujacic: Will try to forget a season in purgatory that was punctuated by going scoreless in the NBA Finals.

* Luke Walton: Might not see as much time with the arrival of Artest, who has averaged 36.9 minutes a game over the last seven seasons.

* Jordan Farmar: Entering the final year of his contract, perhaps his last with the Lakers.

* The rest: Adam Morrison -- had a great run in summer league (20.8 points in four games), but how will he do against the big boys? DJ Mbenga -- fan favorite is back again. Josh Powell -- Like Mbenga, won't be called upon unless the frontcourt is hit by injuries.

Key dates

* Dec. 25, vs. Cleveland: A biggie, for obvious reasons.

* Jan. 12, at San Antonio: First game against new-look Spurs.

* Jan. 31, at Boston: Always intriguing. Always.

* Feb. 6, at Portland: Will the Lakers ever win up there?

Endgame

Anything less than a championship is a failure. Period.

Quick takes

The Lakers are expected to carry only 13 players, their lightest roster in years. . . . Training camp was supposed to be held in Honolulu but will instead be at the team's El Segundo facility, saving the franchise about $500,000.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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