Soak it up while you can, guys.
Nobody knows what kind of league-sanctioned deus ex machina will step in to lift the Lakers out of their current pit of mediocrity, but it's bound to happen. In a few years, we might see disgruntled stars like Kevin Love make their way to La La Land or Kobe Bryant use German nanotechnology to extend his career another ten or twenty years.
In the meantime though, the Lakers are battered and directionless, kind of like the mobsters in The Dark Knight. And just like those guys, the Los Angeles front office, in their point of desperation, turned to a man they didn't fully understand. Some players don't want to make their teammates better. Some players aren't looking for anything logical. Some players just want to watch the world burn.
(Um, if you didn't click on any of those links, I'm talking about Nick Young.)
Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: Pau Gasol will be traded, the Lakers will miss the playoffs
First off, Gasol is due for a return to form this season. Dwight is gone, and in his place at center is a slightly less demanding Chris Kaman. Pau should put up huge numbers, especially while Kobe is out, but even after. Even though he'd never need it as motivation, Gasol will be playing for his last big contract, and I expect him to bring it every night. That should work out well for LA who, regardless of how they intend for the season to pan out, would definitely prefer to have a happy, productive Pau.
This is a big look-in-the-mirror season for Los Angeles, as the team attempts to make lemonade with their core's twilight years. Kobe Bryant extension talks are in the works, and I don't suspect Nash will stay healthy enough to find any trade suitors. That leaves Pau as their one movable asset.
The reasons for the Lakers to hold onto Gasol are 1) that he will be a big contract coming off their books (allowing them to pursue a marquee FA this summer) and 2) that he could help them make a playoff push.
The problem with the former is that there won't be any big free agents around for the Lakers to realistically go after. Most of the players who would be FAs in 2014 (Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul George, Dwyane Wade, etc.) have already signed extensions or are expected to stay put. The two obvious guys who hopeful Lakers fans are drooling over most - LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony - might opt out, but aren't expected to use LA as more than leverage in contract talks. The biggest free agent actually expected to move at this point? Luol Deng, who I don't think would live up to Lakers fans' lofty expectations for a big-time signing.
As for the latter, there are pretty much six Western Conference teams locked into the playoffs: San Antonio, Houston, LA Clippers, Golden State, OKC and Memphis. After that, it gets a bit uncertain, but the odds are that the Lakers will be on the outside looking in.
Portland, who was in the playoff race last year until melting down, will be better; Minnesota is bound for a year of at least average health, which should be enough to keep them competitive; Dallas won't be as bad as people expect (and Spurs fans hope); and the Pelicans have pushed in their chips to win sooner rather than later.
Beyond the weathered bodies of Kobe, Pau and Nash, the rest of the Lakers roster reads as a list of NBA outcasts: Xavier Henry, Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams were all, more or less, run out of town on their previous teams, and will all see regular minutes in LA's rotation this year. Scariest of all perhaps, the aforementioned Nick Young, the Dennis the Menace to every coach's Mr. Wilson, may be relied upon more than ever in his career.
There will come a point this season when the Lakers front office will want to re-write the script on Kobe's last good years, and one would think that Pau, who's been in trade rumors so often the past few years, will finally be sent away. I'm not sure what he'll bring back in return but, knowing the Lakers, I fear the worst.
Other Lakers predictions:
- Unreasonable trade expectations from spoiled Lakers fans
- Obligatory mockery from other NBA fans
- Inevitable fruition of aforementioned trade hype
- Sadness and despair for all
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 4: The Bulls
- 30 preseason predictions: Detroit Pistons
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 3: The Celtics and 76ers
- 30 preseason predictions: Cleveland Cavaliers
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 2: The Knicks and Raptors