2008 NBA Preview: #1 Los Angeles Lakers

Offseason Movement: The Lakers re-signed Sasha Vujacic and signed Chinese guard Sun Yue. They probably overspent on Vujacic (three years, $15 million) but had to compete with European teams for his services. Vujacic had a great year shooting the ball, but didn’t play particularly well in the Finals, especially on defense.
Keep Your Eye On: Lamar Odom
It’s not clear how Odom is going to fit in with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the Laker front line. It’s going to be tough for Kobe Bryant to find any room to drive when the three big men are on the court at the same time, so the most likely scenario has Odom or Bynum coming off the bench. It’s going to take some time Bynum and Gasol to get used to playing with each other, and if Odom is the one coming off the bench, he’ll have to adjust to a sixth man role. The good news is that if things aren’t working by the trade deadline, they can probably unload Odom for a good player that is a better fit.
The Big Question: Is Bynum’s return enough to get the Lakers over the hump?
Conventional wisdom states that if you take a team that lost in the Finals the previous season and add an up-and-coming seven-foot center to the rotation, then the team will inevitably be better. While that’s certainly a distinct possibility, there’s no guarantee that Bynum will jive with the rest of the rotation. Just because the Lakers are better on paper, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to once again run the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoffs. A lot of things had to go right for the Lakers to make the Finals last year, and a lot of things have to go right for them to make a second straight trip.
Outlook: Despite some training camp kinks that need to be worked out, there is no team in the league with more talent top to bottom. They also have one of the best coaches in the league, so the Lakers are the odds-on favorite to with the title, and rightfully so. Still, there are a number of roadblocks they’ll have to overcome. First, Phil Jackson must find a way to use Gasol, Bynum and Odom to the best of their abilities without limiting what Kobe can do on the drive. Second, Kobe must stay healthy, which means the problem he has with his shooting hand can’t bother him too much and those knees have to stay relatively pain-free. And lastly, they must show better toughness if they meet the Celtics again in the Finals. Bynum brings a lot to the table, but he’s not going to make this team tough by himself. The Celtics were hungrier than the Lakers last season, but now the roles are reversed. If Jackson can get Odom, Bynum and Gasol to play together well, or if the Lakers can trade Odom for a better fit, they should make it to the Finals again. There is just too much talent here; they should be able to figure it out.

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