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2006-2007 Laker Preview

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Laker fans can seem impatient. Sure, fans of lesser franchises would probably go with the word "spoiled", but in the past Laker fans simply ignored those comments as they were driving to parades through downtown. They even thought Mark Madsen's dancing was cute; winning will cloud your judgment that way. But after two whole seasons without a Finals appearance some fans this summer called for a BIG move. Fortunately, the more rational fans among them know those parades can’t take place every year – the important thing is you’re trying to build toward the parade. Do that and they’ll pay whatever Jerry Buss chargers to watch (and he charges more than any other team in the NBA).

Which is why this is a big season, it’s the one where we see just how fast the franchise is moving toward another parade. Two years ago the Lakers were a being tossed about on the waves of the NBA and Laker haters were loving it – Shaq was gone, Rudy Tomjonavich came in with an ill-fitting offense and no desire to coach defense and then pulled up and left mid-season. Ugliness ensued. Last season Phil Jackson grabbed the helm, raised a triangle flag and started sailing the team on a steady course. And the defense got better – not great, but better.

Which brings us to this season. It took most of last season for guys like Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown to feel comfortable in the take-what-the-defense-gives-you triangle offense. This season the question is can they move from comfortable to genuinely good in those roles. Can Kwame play, well, if not like the first overall pick at least like he should have been picked? Can Andrew Bynum play older than his 18-years? (He’s going to have to because of injuries at the start of the season.) Can Smush Parker not look baffled any time the opponent runs the pick-and-roll?

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The good news is there is still Kobe -- he bailed them out last season again and again. Just to give you some evidence, the Lakers were 4.5 points better than their opponents (per 48 minute game) when Kobe was on the court, they were 7.9 points worse when he sat. So he didn’t sit much. And even when he was on the court, the rest of the Lakers would go through the motions of the offense for 18 seconds, then throw Kobe the ball out above the three-point line and say, “go to it.” Critics were quick with the “Kobe is a ball hot” or “he shoots too much” complaints. Well, he had to. Case in point, the legendary 81-point game against Toronto – the Lakers were down 18 when Kobe took over the game in the second quarter. The Lakers ended up winning.

If they are going to keep winning this year Kobe needs more help. In the off-season the Lakers convinced Vladamir Radmanovic to move from Donald Sterling's condominium to Jerry Buss' mansion. His outside shot - once his hand heals - will mean he will drill outside shots or other teams will stick a guy on him, one fewer to collapse on Kobe driving the lane. Maybe a bigger addition was the draft-day pickup of Maurice Evans. Part of the reason the Lakers were so bad last year when Kobe sat is his replacements were, well, let's be polite and say unimpressive. Evans is a solid backup, which means Kobe can rest that knee. And there is Taft High and UCLA's own Jordan Farmar, who has fast become a fan favorite and is already better in the open court than the veteran guards. By the end of the season he'll be stealing key minutes from the vets.

However, this Laker team is less about the new guys than growth from within, which is very fitting for a team coached by a Zen master (now with a bionic hip). The team had better grow this season, because for the most part the West got better and they've got to move forward just to maintain their place. At the Summer Pro League, GM Mitch Kupchak set the goals for this season at 50 wins and reaching the second round of the playoffs. That would be moving in the direction of a parade. Although, if you want to actually have another parade that may take a BIG move.

AP photo by Reed Saxon