ESPN.com gathered its NBA “experts” this week for predictions for the upcoming season, and the results were predictable. They say the Lakers will win the West and the Boston Celtics will win the East, with each finishing with 55-27 records. The Lakers will edge the New Orleans Hornets by one game and the Houston Rockets by two. The defending NBA champion Celtics will best the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers by five games.
The experts suggest the Lakers get tougher and grittier if they hope to win it all this time. The Lakers’ toughness was questioned repeatedly as the Celtics battered them around the basket during the NBA Finals. The experts believe the return of Andrew Bynum from a season-ending knee injury should help in the toughness department.
On a personal note, I can’t find fault with anything in the analysis by the ESPN crew. It doesn’t take injuries or poor performances into account and, hey, it’s still only August and training camps are more than a month away, but it all sounds about right to me.
GM Mitch Kupchak went to see center Andrew Bynum earlier this week in Atlanta to check on the center’s progress from knee surgery in June. So far, so good, according to a report in today’s edition of the Orange County Register. Bynum is running and lifting weights and performing basketball drills without pain. He expects to be 100 percent ready for training camp when it opens Sept. 30.
Bynum is eligible to receive a five-year, $80 million contract extension during the offseason, but Kupchak said earlier this summer that he would wait for a while to see how the 20-year-old rebounds from surgery. Bynum suffered a partially dislocated left kneecap when he landed on teammate Lamar Odom’s foot in a Jan. 13 game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bynum missed the rest of the season.
If healthy, the Lakers expect him to be their starting center for 2008-09. Pau Gasol, who took over for Bynum after a Feb. 1 trade with Memphis, will move from center to power forward. Odom will slide from power forward to small forward.
All of which will give the Lakers one of the biggest, if not the biggest, starting front lines in the NBA, what with the 6-10 Odom playing alongside 7-footers Bynum and Gasol, which makes many courtside observers believe the Lakers will make a repeat trip to the NBA Finals next spring.
Joe Crawford, the team’s lone draft pick in June, signed today. Crawford, a 6-foot-5 guard from Kentucky, averaged 11.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in six starts with the Lakers’ summer league team in Las Vegas — respectable statistics.
Crawford is caught in a numbers game in the backcourt, however. He joins Jordan Farmar, Coby Karl, Dwayne Mitchell, Sasha Vujacic and Sun Yue in a training camp battle royale for minutes.Expect Crawford to spend some with the D-League’s D-Fenders this season.
Crawford was a second-round pick (No. 58 overall) after spending four seasons with Kentucky, making him a rare selection in the NBA draft these days. Most college players put in only the required one season (or two at the outside) before opting for the draft.
Sure, there could be a few minor changes before training camp starts Sept. 30, but as of today the Lakers’ depth chart looks a little like this:
Point guards — Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Sun Yue.
Shooting guards — Kobe Bryant, Sasha Vujacic, Coby Karl, Dwayne Mitchell.
Centers — Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm.
Power forwards — Pau Gasol, Luke Walton, Jason Powell.
Small forwards — Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic, Trevor Ariza.
The rotation could feature a good deal of mixing and matching, what with Bryant possibly moving to a forward spot and Odom dropping into the backcourt to play point forward. Gasol also could move from power forward to center as Bynum’s backup, with Odom taking Gasol’s spot.
There are myriad combinations for Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who was somewhat limited last season after Bynum was injured in mid-January. Suffice to say, there figures to be a different starting five from the group that started at the end of the season and during the playoffs (Fisher, Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Radmanovic).
No word yet from the Lakers on when they expect Kobe Bryant to undergo his long-delayed surgery to repair his damaged right pinkie. Word might come later this week, after Bryant gets a few days of rest and relaxation after helping Team USA to victory in the Olympics. Bryant originally injured his finger in a Feb. 5 game against the New Jersey Nets. Since jamming his finger against the body of then-Nets guard Jason Kidd, he has played in the All-Star game, secured his first MVP award, led the Lakers to Pacific Division and Western Conference titles and won an Olympic gold medal.
The Lakers aren’t overly concerned about Bryant’s return from surgery. Training camp starts Sept. 30, and it’s certainly possible that Bryant won’t be ready to practice right away. But that’s all guess-work at this point. We’ll all know more, after the surgery is performed.
It’s official: the Lakers have signed Sun Yue, a 6-foot-9 guard from China who played in the just-completed Beijing Olympics. He averaged 6.8 points, 2.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds in six games for China, which failed to medal and didn’t give Team USA much of a game in the Olympic opener.
Sun’s signing continues the Lakers’ embrace of foreign players. He joins a roster that hails from the four corners of the globe (or the four corners of Europe, anyway). Center Pau Gasol is from Spain. Backup forward Vladimir Radmanovic is from Serbia. Backup guard Sasha Vujacic is from Slovenia.
Expect Kobe Bryant to drop a few words of Chinese on his teammates (and reporters) once training camp begins late next month. He has been known to speak in Spanish with Gasol and Italian with Vujacic. No reason to believe he won’t have mastered a few words of Chinese to speak with Sun.
Lakers spokesman John Black just called to point out a mistake down deep in today’s story on Sun Yue. Coby Karl is under contract for next season, the second season of a two-year deal he signed with the Lakers last summer. Karl must make the roster for the second season to be guaranteed, however. If the Lakers cut him during training camp, he’ll then be a free agent.
At any rate, the competition for playing time among the guards figures to be intense during camp, what with Sun and Dwayne Mitchell added to the mix. It will be one of the many storylines of camp.
The Lakers play host to the NBA champion Boston Celtics on Christmas Day, the marquee matchup of the regular season They open the season Oct. 28 against the Portland Trail Blazers and Greg Oden, who will make his NBA debut. Then they help the Clippers open their season the next night.
There are a ton of home games in the season’s first half, which means lots of travel in the second half as the Grammys and the Pac-10 Tournament take over Staples Center in February and March.
No game on Thanksgiving this season, so that’s something to be thankful for.
No game on New Year’s Eve, so thanks for that, too.
No more trips to Seattle, so that’s something to be upset about. (Somebody please tell me something good about Oklahoma City, where the re-located SuperSonics will play after moving this summer from Seattle. Hotels, bars, restaurants, jogging routes. Anything? Anyone?)
Ron Artest returns with his new team, the Houston Rockets, on Nov. 9. (Actually, it’s not so much of a return as a chance to look at a player the Lakers wanted but declined to trade Lamar Odom to get during the offseason).
Kwame Brown returns with his new team, the Detroit Pistons, on Nov. 14.
Ronny Turiaf returns with his new team, the Golden State Warriors, on Dec. 28.
The regular season end with an April 14 game home game against the Utah Jazz. The real season, the playoffs, begin the following weekend. Anyone ready for a Lakers-Celtics rematch in The Finals?
Back in town after a couple of weeks off. Don’t expect much news for the next little while. There might be a few minor signings as the Lakers pad their roster for training camp, but there won’t be much in the way of headline-grabbing moves. All the big deals are done.
Keep an eye on Kobe Bryant during the Olympics to see if his damaged right pinky is still troubling him. He put off surgery to help the Lakers reach the NBA Finals and to aid Team USA in Beijing. Surgery might delay him a bit for training camp. Expect more news on that subject later this month.