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Big Three has a new meaning in the NBA

Heat, Thunder and Lakers stand above the rest when making predictions for the season.

September 29, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • The Lakers might be the only team at season's end that Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City as well as LeBron James and Miami might be looking up to.
The Lakers might be the only team at season's end that Kevin Durant… (Issac Baldizon / NBAE via…)

The NBA's new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to expand the league's middle class, giving more teams reason to believe they could contend for a title.

So why does the league keep getting more and more exclusive?

The migration of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the Lakers has resulted in another super team, leaving only three endgame scenarios for this season: more partying in South Beach next June, a parade down Figueroa Street or a bonfire in Bricktown.

The title festivities will almost certainly involve Miami, the Lakers or Oklahoma City, given the discrepancy in talent between the league's haves and everyone else is as eye-catching as Hasheem Thabeet standing next to Nate Robinson.

"I'd be shocked if it was anyone other than L.A., Miami or Oklahoma City" that won the championship, TNT analyst Steve Kerr said. "It's a tossup among those three, though the Lakers have the most to prove given the other two are coming back intact and a year better based on their internal improvement."

The Heat also should benefit by adding sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to a bench that was lacking steady scoring options.

Is it enough?

With training camps set to open around the league, here's a look at the most pressing issues:

How long will the Lakers have to be reminded of the flop that was the Gary Payton and Karl Malone era in purple and gold?

They will be hearing about it until the champagne corks pop or their title aspirations burst.

Fortunately for them, Nash is a more selfless, heady distributor than Payton and Howard's back doesn't appear to be as fragile as Malone's knee. And let's face it: These Lakers are much better equipped to win than the bickering 2003-04 version that flamed out against Detroit in The Finals.

"The notion that you can't play well right away is wrong," ABC and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said of the chemistry challenge facing the Lakers. "Now, do you have things to work through? Absolutely. You're going to have periods of adversity, ups and downs, but nothing that would prohibit the Lakers from being great this season."

Considering the Lakers' moves, was signing Thabeet enough of an upgrade for Oklahoma City?

You could compare it to buying a Honda Civic after your neighbor who likes to rub everything in splurged for a Ferrari and a Bentley.

Of course, the Thunder already had plenty of supercharged horsepower with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Backup point guard Eric Maynor is also back after sitting out most of last season with a torn knee ligament.

"They have everything it takes to win it," Van Gundy said. "I think their team is so well put together and they have the right stars to build around, they have the right coach to maximize their talent. When you have that, sometimes the best move is to stay right where you are and take another shot with that group."

Will Andrew Bynum show up in Philadelphia engaged or aloof?

Probably both.

The 7-footer who can pile up 30 rebounds one night and take a three-pointer early in the shot clock the next will alternately delight and exasperate 76ers fans.

Unlike with the Lakers, where he was always a secondary option, Bynum will be the man in Philadelphia. That should trigger some interesting reactions from Philly fans on nights when Bynum brings his "Z" game.

"I have zero concern," 76ers Coach Doug Collins told the Philadelphia Daily News when asked about Bynum's maturity. "One thing is I never judge a man from a distance."

He'll learn plenty up close soon enough.

And to think the 76ers also signed Kwame Brown. What could possibly go wrong?

Do the Clippers have enough to challenge for the Western Conference title?

If the conference could be won based on the number of Kardashians seated courtside, then yes.

Otherwise, the best the Clippers can hope for is probably fourth in the West.

Adding Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill might have put them over the top … six years ago. But even with their improved depth, the Clippers still can't match the Lakers' star power, the Thunder's freakish athleticism or the San Antonio Spurs' precision and smarts.

What was San Antonio thinking by not making any major off-season moves?

Hard to say.

When you lose your last four games in the playoffs, you would expect significant change.

Then again, this is the same Spurs team that posted 20 consecutive victories through Game 2 of the Western Conference finals before pulling an Oliver Miller-sized belly flop.

The Spurs' lone summer acquisition was French guard Nando De Colo, whose nickname is Aladdin because of his likeness to the genie in the animated film.

You might say San Antonio's title chances just went poof!

What are Chicago's championship odds with Derrick Rose sidelined until at least January?

Pretty much zilch.

Having Kirk Hinrich stand in for Rose is like having Roseanne Barr walk the runway in place of Gisele Bundchen.

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