STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
In 2013 the Los Angeles Lakers had a disappointing offseason to say the least. The franchise came off a drama-filled, heavy media-covered season. The team saw its key acquisition from a year ago, Dwight Howard, up and leave for Houston. They also saw the face of the franchise, Kobe Bryant, suffer a massive Achilles injury during their first-round playoff exit. The Lakers exercised their amnesty clause on Metta World Peace. The health of their perennial All-Star big man, Pau Gasol, has been in and is currently in question, as is Steve Nash's. Key bench players Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark chose to leave via free agency to Los Angeles and Cleveland respectively. Coming off a 45-37 record and a seventh seed in the West, the Lakers are going into year two of the Mike D'Antoni experiment – which always comes with its own massive media circus. In D'Antoni's first year in Los Angeles, the team improved a mere four wins from the strike-shortened 2011-2012 season (their win percentage dropped from .621 to .549). With Howard, Jamison, Clark, Duhon, Morris and Ebanks all gone, World Peace amnestied, Bryant on the long road to recovery, and Gasol and Nash nearing full recovery, the 2012-13 Lakers will look very different than the year before. The Lakers were able to sign hometown-native Nick Young, as well as shore up their backcourt by offering guaranteed contracts to Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson while Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are limited. They also brought in Chris Kaman from Dallas to shore up the loss to their frontcourt. With an offseason highlighted by departure, the Lakers will have to hope that coach Mike D'Antoni's high-profile offensive system finally comes through with a depleted roster until health returns – or the Lakers might be facing something they seldom face, rebuilding.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With the addition of Chris Kaman, the Lakers' frontcourt will be manned by Kaman at center and Pau Gasol at power forward. At center the Lakers have good depth with Kaman, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. The Lakers only true power forward is Pau Gasol. Gasol, who is playing in a contract year, could see a big surge in numbers this season, as well as minutes. This, of course, hinders completely on the health of Gasol. If his health does not become an issue, he could return to averaging the 37+ minutes per game he averaged from 2008-2012, as opposed to the 33.8 he averaged last season. Newly acquired Chris Kaman should look for an increase in minutes after posting a career-low 20.7 minutes per game in 2012-13. Seeing as he is 31 and has only averaged over 30 minutes per game thrice in his career, his ceiling for minutes shouldn't be much higher than averaging 26 a game. After recovering from an injury, Jordan Hill looks to be the main big man off the bench. He has been having a good summer and start to camp, and could be a key cog for D'Antoni – taking full advantage of his speed and energy, especially compared to the incendiary speed let off by Kaman and Gasol. If things go well for Hill in a fast-paced system, and/or injuries happen to an injury-plagued team, Hill would play a major role this season for the Lakers. Looking for an expanded role as well will be Robert Sacre, coming off a rookie season where he started three games and averaged 6.3 minutes a game. Sacre will have benefited from a full camp experience and could be approaching the low teens for minutes. Until Kobe Bryant returns to the lineup, Nick Young will be playing the small forward position (or the third guard). Young's career minutes per game distribution has been inconsistent throughout his career, but his minutes have never been under 23.5 since 2009-10. Barring injury, Young could see close to 30 mpg until Kobe returns. Whoever wins the battle for minutes between Shawne Williams and rookie Elias Harris will be looking at a potential for good minutes and productivity in a D'Antoni offense. Both players have been receiving around 15 mpg during exhibition games, but since Williams was a former player invited to camp by D'Antoni , he could have the edge in this battle. The winner could be looking at around 15 minutes a game, with the runner up nearing 12. With the pace of the offense, the legs and age of the starting bigs and the looming health issues in L.A., the forwards on the bench could be looking at a bigger role down the road. Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks will be the starting point and shooting guards (until Kobe Bryant returns). Nash's return to full health has been an issue, but he should easily average over 30 mpg and take steps in the right direction towards becoming the dynamo of D'Antoni's offense again. Meeks will be looking for the same range of minutes and could be the shooter left open in the offense if the Lakers are able to pick it up. Off the bench at point guard will be Steve Blake. The Lakers seem to be firm believers in the old adage: "Two Steves are better than one." The backup point guard in a D'Antoni system can see a lot of minutes, especially when it is backing up a workhorse coming off an injury. However, the Lakers also brought in Jordan Farmar in the offseason as security. Blake has familiarity with D'Antoni and is a more reliable shooter; Farmar is younger, faster and could potentially thrive in a fast offense. It will be worth keeping an eye on the winner of this competition, as they could be looking for big minutes off the bench. Wesley Johnson will be getting his share of minutes as well, as the Lakers will inevitably use many different rotations and small lineups. Johnson should be looking to expand off his 19+ mpg of last year, until Kobe Bryant returns. Though he won't be too relevant fantasy wise while Kobe is out, Xavier Henry should see some minutes as well. But since Henry is buried behind Meeks, Young and Johnson, his situation doesn't bode well.
Chris Kaman: Kaman is coming off a disappointing and injury-plagued 2012-13 season. He missed 16 regular season games and only averaged 20.7 minutes per game. However, if Kaman remains healthy, there is some upside. He is coming off a season where he posted his highest shooting percentage mark in five seasons and also had a career high free-throw percentage. When you factor in that he averaged his lowest minutes per game in his career and has an eight-year streak of averaging double digit points per game, Kaman could be in for a very efficient and productive year - especially when the Lakers come to full strength. Look for Kaman to be averaging minutes in the low 20's to start and gradually increase from there.
Jordan Hill: Hill is returning from serious-injury, but has come back with a bang, looking spry and energetic. Though the story of Hill's career is one marred by annual big injuries (it has been five full seasons since Hill played more than 39 games in a season), Hill could be in for a bounce-back year if he can play in the regular season the way he has in workouts and exhibitions. When Hill did play, he posted career highs in rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game, and minutes per game. Staying healthy is a major issue, but if he does, playing alongside Steve Nash under Mike D'Antoni for a full season could allow Hill to post some new career-highs. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom would predict that Hill might be headed for the injured-reserve again.
Robert Sacre: Sacre-bleu! Sacre comes into the league after a rookie season in which he appeared in 32 games and started three. Sacre wasn't called to action until injuries started to plague Los Angeles. Sacre did not post significant stats, averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebounds per game. It is unrealistic to expect Sacre to have relevant fantasy production, but as a second year player and being a seven-footer, he has nowhere to go but up. With the looming health issues constantly following the Lakers, Sacre could be pressed into more playing time this season. If he fully picks up D'Antoni's system, he could be a very big sleeper in deep leagues.
Pau Gasol: Gasol is coming off a rough, injury-ravaged season in which he had career-lows in points per game, shooting percentage and free-throw percentage. It was also his fourth-worst rebounding mark. While Gasol posted one of his worst shooting years, he quietly posted his second highest ever assist mark with 4.1 per game. If Gasol stays healthy, he could be in for a monster year without any Dwight Howard distractions. Oh yeah! Was it mentioned that this is also Gasol's contract year? Indications show that if his health is good, he will be able to return to perennial All-Star form and improve upon 13.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds. Gasol should expect a steady work increase to help him get back to his normal minutes, but once he is all good, he should be expecting close to 36 mpg.
Wesley Johnson: With Kobe Bryant's return still up in the air, Johnson could see a favorable role when the season begins. Although Johnson did miss three preseason contests due to a strained foot, he has been practicing without difficulty and participated in the Lakers' final exhibition game. Johnson saw a decline in minutes last year compared to his 2011-12 season but still managed two more points per game. While Johnson's value may be higher with Bryant sidelined, his productivity in terms of points and rebounds will surely not be enough to provide fantasy owners with consistent output.
Shawne Williams: Due to personal issues and an arrest on drug charges last December, Williams failed to play a game during the 2012-13 season. Despite Williams' rough history off the court, the Lakers added him to the roster in September. Williams has shown his ability to knock down three-pointers in the past, but he will have to battle Chris Kaman and others for minutes at forward. While Williams allows the Lakers to stretch the floor, he has never averaged more than 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in his career (2010-11 season).
Elias Harris: Harris signed a two-year deal with the Lakers in July that includes a significant guarantee for the first year of the deal. Because of this, it seems as though Harris will be given the chance to battle for some minor minutes. Seeing as the Lakers were plagued with injuries last year and are still battling a few at the beginning of this year, there is an outside chance that Harris could see some time. However, his playing time and production should be of little to no value to fantasy owners.
Ryan Kelly: Kelly has been rehabbing his way back to action after offseason foot surgeries. He sat out most of the preseason but made his debut against the Warriors in China. Despite being buried in the depth chart, Kelly has shown an ability to knock down threes. That being said, Kelly's role this season is expected to be minor, as he attempts to gain additional minutes in the Lakers' stretch power forward role.
Kobe Bryant: Although Bryant's strained relationship with Dwight Howard, along with his possible role in the ouster of coach Mike Brown and his Princeton offense after just five games, garnered most of the headlines in a disappointing 2012-13 campaign for the Lakers, it obscured what was another exceptional season for the team's franchise player. With injuries decimating the roster throughout the season, Bryant was one of the few constants that held things together, suiting up for 78 games and averaging 27.3 points, a career-best 6.0 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game, all while shooting 46 percent from the field. As his supporting cast gradually got healthier, the Lakers actually resembled something of a dangerous team toward the end of the regular season, until disaster struck in Game 80 against the Warriors. After playing 40 minutes in seven consecutive games, Bryant ruptured his left Achilles' tendon, ending his season and resulting in a six-to-nine month recovery timetable. The injury has left him fighting to get healthy in time for Opening Night, but Bryant's lack of setbacks in his rehab – as well as his unparalleled competitiveness – make it difficult to bet against him. Even if he manages to suit up for the opener, Bryant, now 35, will likely see his minutes capped in the early going and will also have to adjust to a less talented collection of teammates around him with Howard and Metta World Peace departing in the offseason and Pau Gasol's (knee) health in question. Still, if anyone can overcome such obstacles and remain one of the elite fantasy options at his position, it's the Black Mamba.
Steve Nash: Nash continues to work his way back into the Lakers' starting point guard role. However, the 40-year-old Nash has not played the number of minutes the Lakers expected him to this preseason due to a minor ankle injury and a stomach virus. The Lakers desperately need Nash to produce this season seeing as how Steve Blake has struggled immensely during the preseason. Because his legs and body are obviously not what they used to be, fantasy owners will have to constantly monitor Nash's performance throughout the year to gauge his productivity.
Steve Blake: Blake saw an increase in minutes, points, rebounds, and assists last year compared to the 2011-12 season. With Nash's health a concern to begin the season, Blake has the potential to see decent minutes. Blake has failed to take advantage of this opportunity, however, as he has struggled significantly with his shot. If he can turn his shooting woes around, he has the chance to see minutes on a nightly basis since Nash will more than likely need some rest over the course of the season. If he continues to struggle, Jordan Farmar may start to take some of his minutes.
Jordan Farmar: Farmar, another Laker plagued by injury, was able to play in the Lakers' second preseason game in China. Farmar was in action for 23 minutes and had nine points (to go along with four turnovers). Although listed behind Steve Nash and Steve Blake on the depth chart, Farmar may still have some slight value in deeper leagues. As the preseason comes to a close, Nash's old age appears to be affecting him. Steve Blake's shooting percentage has also been incredibly poor during the preseason, which leaves the door open for Farmar to gain an edge and possible minutes once the season gets underway.
Jodie Meeks: Meeks' minutes have been benefited by the absence of Kobe Bryant. Since Bryant's return date is still questionable, Meeks should continue to start for the Lakers at shooting guard. Meeks has taken advantage of his increased role and has continued to take his shots within the Lakers' offense. The valuable minutes Meeks should see early on in the season with Bryant out of the lineup will provide Meeks a good opportunity to get off to a good start. Even when Bryant does return, Meeks could see decent minutes off the bench if he continues to produce.
Nick Young: Young saw a decrease in minutes, points and rebounds last season following an impressive 2011-12 campaign. Being the volume shooter that he is, Young is expected to have hot and cold streaks during the season. However, even when Kobe Bryant returns, Young is the favorite to start at the small forward position. In this role, he will hopefully return to averaging close to the 16.6 points per game he put up in 2011-12. Because of the opportunity to remain the starter after Bryant returns, Young looks to be useful for points and three-pointers, even in standard leagues, as long as he gets the minutes. Owners will just have to put up with disappointing outings every now and then.
Xavier Henry: Henry's output during the 2012-13 season was meager to say the least. He averaged just 3.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 0.3 assists in 12.5 minutes per game over 50 games. Henry has yet to find his role in the NBA, as he has bounced in and out of rotations during his three-year career. While he seems to be over the wrist injury that he had been battling for a few weeks, Henry is likely to see his minutes decline as Wesley Johnson gets healthier and Kobe Bryant returns sometime down the road.
Pau Gasol: Gasol is expected to take over the role of the Lakers' primary threat, especially as long as Bryant remains sidelined. Gasol is ranked low in many predraft rankings, and if he can remain injury-free, his production should be valued more than the typical later rounds where he is currently being picked up.
Kobe Bryant: There has been an enormous amount of hype surrounding Bryant's earlier-than-expected return. While Bryant has the potential to come back in similar form, the risks associated with his return must also be weighed. Players with Achilles injuries in the past usually need at least a year or more to become the same player they used to be. Kobe undoubtedly takes great care of his body, but ultimately, the enormous expectations for Kobe are causing him to be drafted way too early.