07 October 2009

Lakers Chat, Part 2010: The Artestening . . .

The Lakers kick off their title defense with a pre-season match-up against Golden State from the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Last year about this time, I predicted that the Lakers would rattle off 30 straight victories to start the season and not have any losses in the 2008 portion of the 2008-9 season. That may have been a bit optimistic, but looking back on those games, they had only lost 5 by that date, and only the Detroit game was one that they didn't have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

Things worked out, though, they didn't set any regular season records (except for most wins by a team that had no win streaks of greater than seven games, but that's a pretty obscure record, and was a testament to both their consistency, and their inconsistency throughout both the season and the playoffs), but they did win what mattered, the championship.

This year, they are a bit of a mystery. They've made some big changes to their core rotation, and until they play together, there's no way to know if they've improved on a 65 win, championship team, or if the returning players are a year older and a bit too satisfied, and if their new player is too volatile to be helpful when it counts.

Stuff like this (from this SI article), isn't encouraging
Artest, 29, may be one of the league's most well-known players, but he often carries himself like a struggling rapper trying to make a name for himself with a grassroots marketing campaign and a penchant for saying yes to just about anything. Just weeks before the season he was on TV raising money for the Hasidic Jewish movement Chabad-Lubavitch, volunteering at an Iranian basketball camp, walking dogs at an animal shelter and taking some of his Twitter followers to a WNBA game, breakfast and bowling. Every time you turned around Artest was at another event, one more random than the next.

He seems to have made a point to win over Los Angeles one Lakers fan at time, though he doesn't exactly see it like that. "These things that I do aren't for anything. They have no purpose," Artest said. "I'm not promoting anything or selling nothing. I just want to have fun and meet my fans."

There are many things that Artest does that have no purpose. For example, for an interview with SI.com the other day, Artest hired Natalin Avci, a 23-year-old Turkish model he had met recently in a hotel lobby, and a camera crew for a photo shoot for the heck of it. "The only purpose is to have fun," Artest said.

The photo shoot is understandable (just click and check it out, if you are chatting up a stunning model while hanging out in a hotel lobby, you'd probably find a credible excuse to get you and her semi-clothed, as well), the rest is Artest being Artest.

For a championship team, with all but Ariza returning, and his replacement of Artest being an upgrade (at least on paper), the Lakers should be without question the favorite to become the first team since the Lakers "Threepeat" team to win back to back championships.

But Artest is Artest, and unless Farmar or Brown make a huge leap this season, the Lakers are very weak at point guard. Kobe is a year older and despite only being 31 has played an insane amount of competitive basketball the past two years, he played all 82 the past two seasons, plus 23 playoff games in 08 and 21 games in 09, plus the Olympics. Odom's colorful off season (between the contract negotiations and the sudden marriage) might effect him on the court, given that he's always been a bit moody and inconsistent, all that's gone on isn't likely to help matters. Gasol played international ball again this summer, so he's logged a lot of minutes over the past few years (like Kobe), but if Bynum steps up and stays healthy, that takes a lot of pressure off him. The role players need to be consistent so that the starters can play lighter minutes in the regular season, last year they started great, and each had some major slumps at different times during the season.

All that said, they could open the season winning every game leading up to their Christmas battle against Cleveland, or they could struggle to a 17-10 start. They start the season with only four road games in their first 21 games, with only two sets of back to back games, so they again have a solid opportunity to have the longest unbeaten streak to begin a season (the number to surpass is 15 wins by the 93-94 Rockets, and the 48-49 Washington Capitols), or they might drop their opening night game against the not so lowly anymore Clippers.

Preseason might give some answers as to where they are as a team, but on paper, this team could challenge the 72 wins put up by the 95-96 Bulls, at the very least they are (barring injuries) a lock to win at least 60 this year.

And as a reminder to how successful the Lakers franchise has been, if they make another Finals this year (and they are solid favorites to win the Western Conference), that'd make 31 Finals in 62 years of NBA basketball.

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