ESPN predicts Lakers will finish 12th in Western Conference

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, left, drives against Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, right, during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis, Friday, March 28, 2014. The Timberwolves won 143-107. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, left, drives against Los Angeles Lakers forward Jordan Hill, right, during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis, Friday, March 28, 2014. The Timberwolves won 143-107. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

So much has changed for the Lakers this offseason, a flurry of activity in the past four months keeping them just as busy during an otherwise tumultuous year.

Mike D’Antoni resigned, and four months later, Byron Scott became the head coach. The Lakers have reported Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to feel healthier. Some players left (Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Kent Bazemore, Chris Kaman). Some players stayed (Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly). Some newcomers arrived (Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer).

But it appears ESPN sees those moves as nothing more than rearranging the chairs of a sinking ship, a panel of media memberss collectively predicting the Lakers will finish 12th in the Western Conference. That marked the same pre-season ranking the Lakers received last season. Despite public outcry from Kobe Bryant and the rest of his supporting cast, it turns out that ranking proved too generous. The Lakers eventually finished with a 27-55 mark, putting them 14th in the Western Conference and earning the unenviable title of a team that holds the worst record in L.A. franchise history.

Will the narrative change this season?

The Lakers will certainly argue so. They will tout how Bryant and Nash will play in more than the combined 21 games they appeared last season because of numerous injuries. They will highlight Scott’s success in rebuilding the former New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets in past coaching stints. They will mention that they have more developing talent (Randle), more backup reinforcements (Lin) and some potential wild cards (Boozer, Davis). They will argue that the team securing some players from last year’s disaster will enhance continuity. Of course, Bryant will become one of the vocal expressing outrage over the slights.

Yet, the Lakers have plenty of obstacles to overcome.

They compete in a bloated Western Conference that features the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and the Clippers. Uncertainty awaits whether the improved health between Bryant and Nash will sustain throughout a whole season. Scott’s struggles in leading a depleted Cleveland team for three seasons following LeBron James’ departure suggests his arrival does not guarantee the Lakers will rebuild soon. Chemistry issues could emerge on the Lakers’ fluid roster.

Hence, the public skepticism, a variable that will play far less in the Lakers’ ability to prove it wrong than the challenges they face ahead.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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