The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, Ben Bolch and Mark Medina each… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
*With training camp less than a week away, The Times'Mike Bresnahan, Ben Bolch and Mark Medina dive into all the storylines surrounding the Lakers' 2012-13 season.What's the biggest thing that should leave the Lakers optimistic?
Mike Bresnahan: There are two obvious reasons for optimism. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Anybody who doesn't think this team is dramatically improved is a little off-kilter. Or a Celtics fan.
Ben Bolch: The best starting lineup in recent memory with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. What could possibly go wrong? Looks like you're about to ask.
Mark Medina: As only the Lakers can do it, they somehow acquired this off-season the best center (Howard), an elite point guard (Nash), dependable secondary scoring (Antawn Jamison) and strong three-point shooting (Jodie Meeks). They did so without giving up Gasol. And, oh yeah, the Lakers still have this player named Kobe Bryant on the team. He's kind of good.
What potential pitfalls do the Lakers face this season?
Bresnahan: Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Will Howard blend in seamlessly? Will Nash continue to avoid injuries despite being 53 years old? How will Mike Brown manage all these new pieces, especially while installing the new Princeton offense?
Bolch: I’ve got a list of legitimate concerns, but here’s a funny thought: Imagine if noted malcontent Reeves Nelson makes the team and wrecks the chemistry. There could be actual sniping between Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant if either one feels snubbed in the offensive flow, particularly when the team loses. Howard’s balky back could be slower to recover or could flare up, depriving the Lakers of their top defender and best low-post presence.
Even if he’s on the court, Howard could be repeatedly sent to the free throw line (career accuracy: 58.8%) late in close games, clanging shots and costing the Lakers victories. Or maybe the newly installed Princeton offense fails to account for Howard underneath the basket and all the players executing back cuts run into him and are knocked unconscious. Nash and Antawn Jamison also aren’t exactly defensive wizards, leaving the Lakers susceptible. The team also has to prove it can make an outside shot after misfiring from three-point range most of last season. And their starting lineup, as vaunted as it is, isn’t exactly the most spry bunch. Average age of the starters when the Lakers open the season Oct. 30: 32.
Medina: The Lakers have the most talented starting lineup, but they're also old. In other words, they have to take extra precautions in avoiding major injuries. Howard will likely rehab his back soon. The Lakers expect Steve Blake's bizarre parking lot spike incident that gave him a puncture wound in his left foot to keep him out for three weeks.
So nothing major yet. But how will the backs for Howard and Nash hold up? Can Bryant continue fighting through Father Time? Will Gasol's hamstring issues three years ago pop up? All dicey scenarios the Lakers need to avoid.
How will the Lakers fare against Oklahoma City, Miami?
Bresnahan: When they got Nash, I figured the Lakers were almost as strong as OKC. Then they added Howard. Let's just fast forward to June, but I still want credit for all those airline miles and hotel points. I like what the Heat did during the off-season by adding shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
There's still one glaring weakness for the Lakers to exploit: The center position. Even if Chris Bosh moves there from power forward, he can't stop Howard...and who will guard Pau Gasol?
Bolch: Quite well, actually. The Lakers still may not be able to stop Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, but now the Thunder’s worries about the Lakers have doubled. Howard gives the Lakers a huge edge over the Heat, whose post depth is shaky. Nash’s passing and court savvy will also give the Thunder and Heat season-long headaches.
Medina: The Thunder may have more speed than the Lakers, but Howard will minimize the floodgates Westbrook and the Thunder's small ball lineup will try to exploit. Miami may be the defending champions and boast the best player in LeBron James, but just look at the two team's respective starting lineup. Nash vs. Mario Chalmers? Howard vs. Udonis Haslem? Please.
How do the Lakers adjust to Dwight Howard's initial absence from rehabbing his back?
Bresnahan: It's no big deal. Howard's back injury isn't serious and the Lakers are used to playing without big men for chunks of time the last few years. See: Bynum (knee) and Gasol (hamstring).