Because of all the marquee signings in the NBA this offseason, the Lakers’ solid additions flew under the radar. The two-time defending champions began the 2010-11 season even better than last year and will end up back in the NBA Finals.
Over the summer, the Lakers added point guard Steve Blake and small forward Matt Barnes. Nothing too dramatic, but both players will make an impact this season.
The Lakers lost Jordan Farmar but Blake is a better point guard anyway. Blake already made his mark in the season opener, hitting crucial 3-pointers and came through with a last-second defensive stop. LA’s starting point guard, Derek Fisher, has had a storied career, but he’s not the player he used to be. Blake can spell Fisher as needed, and could even take the starting job. Either way, Blake improves the Lakers’ depth.
Barnes will also be a key bench piece. Barnes has a well-rounded game and has bounced around the league, so he shouldn’t have a problem adjusting to the Lakers. His 3-point ability adds another component to LA’s offense — Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will draw attention down low while Kobe Bryant will face a lot of double teams, meaning Barnes will often be open behind the arc.
One cause for concern though could be Bynum’s health as he’s missing the beginning of the season recovering from knee surgery.
The 7-foot center is often injured, and reserve Josh Powell left this offseason. The Lakers brought in Theo Ratliff as injury protection, but Ratliff is a slight downgrade from Powell. Yet since neither plays a huge role even when Bynum is injured, the change won’t be much of a factor. The Lakers can win with Gasol at center and Lamar Odom at power forward, but the Lakers aren’t nearly as good without Bynum.
The Lakers also have more breathing room this season in terms of their opposition. For about the past decade, the Western Conference has been stacked, but now only a few teams should give the Lakers a problem.
The Mavericks and Spurs are aging and didn’t do much to improve this offseason. The Suns and Jazz lost key pieces, and no other team improved enough to climb up the Western Conference rankings. The Thunder are young and exciting, but it’s hard to believe that just one more year of experience will allow them to leapfrog the Lakers. This is the Lakers’ conference to lose.
With more depth, better defense and accurate 3-point shooters, the Lakers are even better than last year. But with all of the talent in the East, the Lakers have not improved enough to win their third title in a row.
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