Los Angeles Lakers Season Review

With the 2008-2009 regular season about to enter our collective rear view mirror, I thought it might be clever to briefly look back at my initial projection as to how this season would play out.

Considering foregone season previews with the benefit of hindsight is done first to ensure I am held accountable and answerable for my projections, and secondly in hopes that my claims now look sagacious and justify my place as a prognosticator in the first place.

In this spirit, I am pleased to present a look back at Hoops Addict’s Los Angeles Lakers Season Preview, which was originally posted October 27, 2008.

The preview arrangement first asked the question “What significant moves were made during the offseason?” Here I claimed that the most noteworthy transaction undertaken by Laker management was its decision to not trade Lamar Odom to pursue Ron Artest.

Los Angeles had a relatively quiet summer personnel wise, which made this claim warranted at the time. As the season progressed, it proved to be incredibly important: when Andrew Bynum was injured Odom experienced a renewed importance and his presence proved critical to stabilizing the team.

While Artest had a highly successful year in Houston, it is questionable as to whether or not he would have provided the same calming influence on the locker room. Further, Odom’s re-emergence provided a stopgap when Los Angeles’ bench faltered after the All-Star break. That helped the Lakers save face after the resigning of Sasha Vujacic, which I had foolishly claimed was their second most important decision of the summer, failed to pay any meaningful dividends in production considering Vujacic’s new price tag.

The preview next called upon me to name the team’s biggest strengths. It was here that I began to wax poetic about the Lakers having “an embarrassment of riches with the talent on their roster” that featured “the West’s most formidable frontcourt”. From there I went on, as I have so many times before here and elsewhere, to expel the virtues of Kobe Bean Bryant, who I called “the game’s consensus best all-around talent.”

Technically, none of the material above was proven wrong. When healthy and complete (November through January), Los Angeles’ Gasol-Bynum-Odom was unstoppable and provided a considerable advantage for a team already full of strengths. Gasol had arguably his best season ever and, before his injury, Bynum had the look of a dominant center in the making.

Where I was too enthusiastic perhaps was in my intoxication with all things Kobe Bryant. While Bryant is clearly the Lakers’ best weapon and he remains the NBA’s best closer, this season saw his reign as the game’s “consensus best all-around talent” come to a crashing end. LeBron James has proven himself to be too physically gifted, too talented, and now too focused to be denied the title of the game’s best player and not including a mention of this expected outcome was a (pardon the pun) King-sized blunder on my part.

The preview’s subsequent question asked that I identify the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses. I rightfully pointed to the team’s porous defense and how the Celtics had “humiliated the Lakers’ defenders throughout the Finals, slashing to the rim at will and beating their defender off the dribble whenever they wished.” To further emphasis this failing, I pointed to the team’s poor rebounding and said that they had to “mentally commit themselves to playing energetic, intelligent defense.”

On this point I believe my points mostly rang true to the mark: the only question that still surrounds the Lakers in regards to their potential to become champions is whether or not they consistently are willing to work hard defensively. Even as May and June fast approach, we still have no idea whether not they will do so, which is more than a bit disappointing.

On the topic that asked, “What are the goals for this team?” I provided a very obvious and direct answer: the Lakers’ collective goal for this season should have been exclusively to win an NBA Championship. There needn’t be anything else they should have cared about, and it would seem, based on their lack of self-congratulation over finishing first in the conference that they have one goal in mind. To his credit, Kobe seemed to concede the MVP to James at least a month ago, and Jackson was never baited into the idea that they might win 70 games. “Championship or bust,” I said and it seems as though the team shared my sentiments.

The season forecast proper concluded with a query around what was the biggest unknown for the team this season. In identifying possible X-Factors, only two stood out: Bynum’s health and Odom’s new role on offense.

Prophet that I am, I was sure that “the health of Bynum’s knee trumps any other concern for the Lakers this year…as Bynum has the size and athleticism to challenge any post in the league if he commits himself.” In focusing on this importance to the team’s rebounding and defensive toughness, I called out the need for him to stay healthy and consistent.

On the subject of Odom, I regrettably suggested that his scoring would be irrelevant and that he “primarily would be called upon for his defensive length and rebounding instincts.” I cited  his age, position, and potential, before stating that his importance was an opposite of Bynum’s. That was a major lapse in judgment and does a serious disservice to Odom’s talent and contribution to his team, as well as to my own intelligence. No way around that one but to call a spade a spade and say I missed it.

Finally, I was asked to predict the team’s record, which I pegged at 64-18. I’m glad to say that, after Los Angeles defeated Utah on Tuesday night, the Lakers’ made me look foolish by finishing…65-17. Can’t win ‘em all I suppose.

There it is, a look back at the look forward that ran here about the Lakers’ before the season. Just what does the post season hold for the purple and gold? Will they complete their quest towards another NBA championship?

Only time will tell; for now we can all just be thankful for how things have gone so far.