Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Can the Lakers be real, legitimate contenders for a title next season?
Steve Aschburner: Can’t see the Lakers retooling that quickly, and that’s what I think it will take for them to rise again. I’ve said before that Dwight Howard, for his own good, ought to sign elsewhere — Atlanta or Houston make more sense, in my view, because the expectations and scrutiny in L.A. are too intense for him. But where would that leave the Lakers? They have to build around someone and Howard is their greatest NBA asset (assuming he signs). Kobe Bryant might miss a good chunk of the season, Steve Nash and everyone else will be a year older and Pau Gasol, if traded, might not bring back what some Lakers fans think. They’ll be fine in time because of the legacy and the market appeal. Just not 12 months from now.
Fran Blinebury: Yes. While pondering his navel and what to do with the latest, greatest decision of his career, Dwight Howard could be walking along the beach at Playa del Rey in front of Phil Jackson‘s house and come across a gold lamp lying in the sand. He rubs it and a genie appears to grant him three wishes: 1) A new Achilles tendon for Kobe; 2) A backbone and sense of responsibility for himself; 3) About five more wishes, because that’s what it’s going to take. So … no. The Lakers are old, broken down and worn out and without a healthy Kobe, Howard can’t carry the load.
Jeff Caplan: No. I think the Lakers will be an improved team (really, how can they not?), led by a Dwight Howard that is healthy and committed, no longer buckling under the pressure of an uncertain future. He’ll be in L.A and he’ll be focused to play at his best. I expect big things from Dwight next season. Having said that, with Kobe coming off the Achilles injury and Steve Nash turning 40, I just don’t see how they hang with the younger and more athletic teams in the West. The Lakers’ payroll situation has GM Mitch Kupchak fairly handcuffed to do much in terms of bringing in players that can make a difference — at least for one more summer. They desperately need shooters and wing players that can get up and down the floor.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Yes, but a series of uncertainties all have to break right. Does Dwight Howard re-sign? And if he does, how will he change? How will Kobe Bryant be after his injury? What dependable players, if any, will come for a small contract to provide depth? If everything works out, the Lakers are hardly at the front of the pack. But they are in the pack.
John Schuhmann: No. I’ll believe that both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant will be healthy next season when I see it. Given the Lakers’ cap situation, it’s doubtful they can add a real impact player. And given Mike D’Antoni’s history, it’s doubtful that they’ll get it together defensively. It’s funny that Bryant said Tuesday that they figured how to play together at the end of the season, because they still ranked 18th in defensive efficiency over the last 15 games. A healthier (and re-signed) Dwight Howard will help on that end, but that’s not close to championship-caliber defense. Oh, and if Howard decides to leave (something that’s entirely possible), they’re up a certain creek without a paddle.
Sekou Smith: Championship contenders next season like they were this season? That’s laughable. The Lakers have to hope they can come back next season with a core group capable of helping them stay in the playoff conversation. Dwight Howard has a decision to make on his future. If he decides to go elsewhere in free agency, while Kobe Bryant is recovering from Achilles surgery, Steve Nash is recovering from the beating Father Time put on him and Pau Gasol is recovering from the emotional beating he’s taken over the past three seasons, the Lakers’ playoff hopes fade significantly. These Lakers, as good as they looked on paper last summer, never lived up to their own hype. They won’t begin next season on anyone’s short list of potential champions unless they do some serious offseason work to retool this roster.
Lang Whitaker: Yes. the Lakers can be contenders next season, if everything works out perfectly. Assuming they re-sign Dwight and get his health back to where he was a few years ago, and they get Steve Nash healthy, and they keep Pau Gasol, and they figure out a way to sign a few guys who can knock down threes and defend, and they somehow get Kobe back at 100 percent (even in his 18th season) in time for the postseason, and they find a way for all the guys to grasp Mike D’Antoni’s offense, they’ll be right there at the top of the contenders list.