The NBA season is upon us... or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certain when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store -- especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year's NBA Blog Preview (don't worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
The Lakers expect a lot of things on a year-to-year basis. A championship is certainly among those after winning the previous two. It was championship or bust for this team to complete the 3-peat and send Phil Jackson silently into the Montana sunset.
Things did not go according to plan as Dallas swept through Los Angeles much easier than anyone could anticipate. Then things got ugly as the frustration of that loss boiled over. Andrew Bynum still has a suspension hanging over his head from the vicious hit he layed on J.J. Barea. And with Jackson gone and Mike Brown in, there are now a lot of questions about this Lakers team's makeup.
Age is becoming a factor. Every rotation player but Andrew Bynum is in his 30s. And Bynum's knees are certainly past their 30s. Kobe Bryant was fighting a variety of injuries throughout the season as the wear and tear of playing so much for so long without stop. Derek Fisher is a saavy veteran (and negotiator... I guess) but hardly has the ability to keep up with some of the faster point guards the league has to offer.
The Lakers began to show their age and the constant beating of playing deep into June began to wear on those old bones. Kobe Bryant is still an offensive machine and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum's length will challenge any team still. The Lakers are not going away. That much is certain.
But Los Angeles has a lot of questions it has to answer before the 2011-12 season begins.
The first is figuring out what the future will look like. Yes, the Lakers will still compete for a championship and will still be among the favorites. But they also have to begin preparing for life after Kobe Bryant. Bryant probably does not like hearing this. Every move the Lakers make from here on out will be both with an eye for success in the present and being able to succeed after Kobe. Surely Jim Buss does not want his first team to take any type of dip like his father's team did after Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired.
The Lakers are very much staring that future in the face and have some questions to answer off the court to correct them and maintain the championship level the franchise has enjoyed for much of the last decade. One of those answers will undoubtedly be rumors about trading for Dwight Howard. There is no way around it at this point. The Lakers might have the most to offer that fulfills all of Howard's wishes. The thing is, Los Angeles would need a trade to get him.
In that way, the Lakers are at the mercy of father time.
For Los Angeles to be successful, the team has to begin replacing some of its older players with younger ones. That does not mean get younger to get younger. Guys have to be able to contribute.
So while, us Magic fans know how good Matt Barnes can be, his injuries made him a waste of a free agent acquisition. The same could be said for Steve Blake. And while Bryant, Gasol and Odom will all still have solid years ahead of them. But will they have it at a championship level? That is the question the Lakers must begin to answer as the next year starts.
How the Lakers will beat the Magic: Solid guard play was key in the last group of matchups between these two teams. Nobody can match up with Kobe Bryant. So it is almost pointless to get into that. Lamar Odom also seems to cancel out Hedo Turkoglu -- and that was before Turkoglu's post-Finals dip when he got his big deal. The real key to this series has been post play. The Lakers struggle to defend Dwight Howard but their length down low gives every team problems. The win last year in Los Angeles was a product of some strong rebounding from the Bynum/Gasol/Odom platoon. The Lakers are clearly one of the few teams that can put a solid post defender on Howard the entire game and match up with his size while challenging him to stay with his man defensively. The Lakers know that and that is one of the reasons why they won the title in 2009. This is how Los Angeles beats a lot of teams and they need consistent play from their big men and to consistently win that power forward matchup to top the Magic.
How the Magic will beat the Lakers: Dwight Howard was an absolute monster in every game Orlando has won over Los Angeles in the last three years. And obviously to beat a team of Los Angeles' caliber he need sto play extremely well. But it will take other things too. Brandon Bass has to play solid defense on Pau Gasol. Jameer Nelson has to dominate the matchup like he did both times in 2009. The bench has to step up and carry its weight as the Lakers do not have the depth they used to. Or the fresh legs to constantly keep up with a team willing to run and play disciplined defense like the Magic. I am not quite sure Orlando would win a seven-game series with Los Angeles. But they have the pieces to win a one-time matchup. Obviously it is a challenge, but Jameer Nelson should be able to have his big games. So too might Gilbert Arenas. If Howard continues to dominate Andrew Bynum the way he has since 2009, this will remain an intriguing matchup.
Photos via DayLife.com.