The Lakers' hopes of winning their third title in five seasons depend on two new stars a dozen years apart. They need 38-year-old Steve Nash to create easy baskets and revamp their half-court offense, providing penetration and better three-point production to a team that suffered in both areas. (Los Angeles was 23rd in threes made and 26th in three-point shooting.) More important, Nash will have to find a way to integrate Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol while keeping everyone happy—and keeping himself healthy amid so many demands.
The 26-year-old Howard, who has won three Defensive Player of the Year awards, can electrify Staples Center with blocked shots, outlet passes to Nash and dunks in transition. After two lousy years in Orlando of mixed messages and ambivalent motivations, he can dramatically reinvent himself by contributing to a championship. But will Howard see the importance of that?
COACH: Mike Brown (2nd season with Lakers)
2011--12 RECORD: 41--25 (1st in Pacific)
OFFENSE: 97.3 ppg (15th)
DEFENSE: 95.9 ppg (15th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 15.3 ppg (29th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE LAKERS
Their backcourt depth is going to be a strength, but I don't like their depth in the frontcourt apart from Antawn Jamison. That is important because Dwight Howard is coming off back surgery.... Steve Nash is 38, but he's still getting it done. He won't have to play a ton of minutes, because point guard is their deepest position.... I think the pace for the Lakers is going to be slow. If Howard ran the floor on every possession, can you imagine how impossible they would be to defend? ... If Kobe Bryant isn't among the top five players in the game, he's surely among the top seven. I don't expect to see any conflicts between Kobe and Nash.... Howard is a big upgrade over Andrew Bynum. Is Bynum a more skilled offensive player? Yes, but that's the only place he has an advantage.... The guy who could really upset their whole thing could be Metta World Peace. His game is going downhill faster than any other Laker's. What they need there is a guy like Thabo Sefolosha, who can shoot the three when he's open and can guard whoever is on the perimeter. World Peace can't handle that kind of defensive role as well as he used to.
Kobe thrives while sharing the offensive load with Gasol and Howard, and the Lakers give Nash his first title.
Injuries and disagreements muddle the locker room, leading to an implosion against Oklahoma City in the playoffs.
The difference in the career free throw percentages of new teammates Steve Nash, the leader among active players at 90.4%, and Dwight Howard, whose 58.8% is the second worst among active players.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH