Former Lakers forward James Worthy, an analyst for Time Warner Cable Sportsnet,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
With Lakers training camp only eight days away, I talked with former Laker James Worthy for insight into this year's team. Worthy is also an analyst with Time Warner Cable SportsNet.
You mentioned the other day that the Lakers "look really good on paper." So does a counterfeit $100 bill until you try to spend it. Is there anything specific that leaves you tentative about this year's team?
There's nothing in particular that leaves me tentative. It's just from my experience, it's there anytime you bring in new aspects of the team. Steve Nash is the most important key to this team. He's the point guard and the coach of the floor. But anytime you bring in new parts, it's going to take some time for it to mix up. These guys have never played together and have never played under this new [Princeton offense] system. We're also not sure when Dwight Howard will be in the lineup. All of that makes it look good on paper. Anytime you have Dwight Howard on your team, it's going to look on paper. But it still has to gel. When he was in Orlando, they looked good on paper from time to time. ... We also can't forget the Clippers are improving, Oklahoma City is still great. You can't just give it to the Lakers. They have to go out and earn it. It looks good on paper, but [Coach] Mike Brown still has to make it work.
Do they have enough to beat Oklahoma City?
Oklahoma City is younger. But with Dwight in at the same time with Pau, with Steve Nash, that makes a big difference. Last year, Ramon Sessions was young. Before Howard, the Lakers were second or third in the West. But with getting a 38-year-old point guard that still has some left and bringing in a franchise player, that puts them right back at the top. I don't think too many people will bet against the Lakers against anybody in the West, assuming they're a healthy team. But they still have to make it happen.
What about the Miami Heat?
I would have to say Miami still has a little edge simply because they won last year. It will be so much easier for them to win again because they know how to do it. With them adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, they have tremendous scorers and three-point shooters off the bench. Then they also have the greatest player in the game with LeBron James. I give them the edge because they're defending champions.
Given that dynamic you outlined and the talent the Lakers have, how quickly would you expect everything to come together?
It's highly expected from the fans and I'm sure from [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak, people upstairs and the coaching staff. When you look at a guy like Pau Gasol, who's a skilled player. He's still here. Kobe is seeking his sixth championship. That's high on his list. But to get that, he's going to have to defer to Steve a little bit and let him run the show. Kobe can't be the one that always takes the shot. I don't think that's part of his dominance anymore. When you look at the bench, they were in last place in production last year. I see interesting parts with Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. We expect them to blend [quickly]. They're not like rookies. It should work out fairly easily.
How early are you expecting? Training camp? Early in the season?
I don't know if it can be done in training camp because you're playing against each other a lot. Once the exhibition games start and teams have their actual rosters, it should be ironed out at the beginning of the season in November and December. But Dwight Howard is also going to have to play. We're not really sure when exactly he's going to be available. All of that is going to make a difference. They'll get some practice time and have games against different teams. They're still a fairly older team, but they have a good core of experience.
What do the Lakers need to do to fully maximize the talent they have?
The ball has to be in Steve Nash's hands. We haven't had a point guard like that since Magic Johnson. Steve Nash can make Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder look good on a basketball floor. Steve knows how to play the game with angles. A lot of that comes from his early soccer games. He knows how to get inside, deliver and you just have to put it in. I don't think they're going to have a major running game. But I think Steve Nash's ability to pass the ball can lead to some fast breaks. It's going to be based on pick-and-rolls and maybe some isolation plays with Steve and Kobe.
Last year, they ran some pick-and-roll with Andrew [Bynum] and Pau, but they ran a lot of isos with Kobe. I think that should change. I don't think we should have the defense looking straight at Kobe all the time. I'm assuming there will be more picks to make it easier for everyone.
What's the key for them to stay healthy?