HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No matter how many times we see it in print or hear it from the pundits or even other players around the league, we’re having a hard time anointing the Los Angeles Lakers as the best the Western Conference has to offer before anyone reports for training camp.
Yes, those are blasphemous words in the Southland and sure to get us kicked out of line at Roscoe’s, but you know it’s the truth. As good as the Lakers look on paper with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard joining Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, the problem is the paper.
We have no idea what this group will look like in the flesh, on the court trying to work out the kinks during training camp and trying to find a rhythm as a group with Nash, Bryant and Howard all used to being the centers of attention on their respective teams. And since none of us has seen Howard in uniform since April (due to back surgery and the rehab process that followed), it would be foolish to assume that there won’t be a transition period for him to adjust not only to his new teammates and surroundings but also to being back in the flow of live action.
There hasn’t been any time for this group to get together and bond during the offseason. Bryant and Gasol spent the bulk of the summer working with their respective national teams and competing in the Olympics. Nash, Howard and World Peace have all been busy tending to their affairs as well. So unless they’ve been getting together for pickup games or team-bonding trips to the beach, training camp will be the first time this crew assembles and embarks upon the process of becoming the contender we all assume they will be by the end of the regular season.
Mike Trudell mapped out the timetable for the arrival of the Lakers’ stars the other day on his Lakers.com BasketBlog, highlighting the very points made above:
Steve Nash is expected to be in Los Angeles in mid-September, and plans on working out at the team’s facility.
Dwight Howard is currently doing his therapy/rehabilitation from back surgery at a facility in the Westwood/Century City area of L.A. At some point, he will transition over to working with Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti, the team’s head physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto and the rest of Vitti’s staff (a time has not yet been set). Lakers spokesman John Black said Howard will not be doing any basketball/weight workouts until he’s cleared medically, and that there is no target date for any of that at this point.
Pau Gasol is expected to return to Los Angeles at the end of September, while Kobe Bryant is more than trusted by the team to make his own work out arrangements for the offseason prior to training camp.
We’re assuming quite a bit about a team that has been escorted from the playoffs rather abruptly in each of the past two seasons.
The internal business that has to be handled by the players and Mike Brown and his staff is just one part of the equation, albeit the most important one. And there is a ton of trust that has to be placed in the hands of all of these individuals if we’re going to buy into the idea of these Lakers turning into championship contenders in such short order.
But there is also an external dynamic that comes in the form of both the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder and the runner-up San Antonio Spurs, the team that finished with the best record in the regular season last year. And that’s not even factoring in the reigning world champion Miami Heat, who are sure to be lurking on the other side of the conference divide.
None of these other championship contenders will be rolling over for the Lakers, no matter how much praise they heap upon their rivals (Kevin Durant) during the offseason.
The same way the rest of the league placed that bullseye on the Miami Heat after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces, the Lakers will be targeted by everyone and especially the other league powers.
It’s not so much that we don’t believe these Lakers are capable, because on paper they are indeed the most formidable group in the entire league. We’ve been here before, though, convinced that a team that appeared to have all the right championship pieces in place is ready to handle the business only to watch them fall short of their ultimate goal.
All that said, if we were Lakers fans, we’d be giddy about the prospects of this upcoming season. It’s not every day you acquire Hall of Fame talents at point guard and center, to go along with two other future Hall of Famers.
But there was a similar buzz in the summer of 2003 when future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton were added to the mix with Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. On paper, there wasn’t another team that was supposed to come close to matching that group. You don’t win Larry O’Brien trophies on paper.