Can the Lakers Make the Playoffs?

In an interview with Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Kobe Bryant talked of possible retirement, life outside the NBA and what to expect of the Lakers this upcoming season. Bryant had some interesting things to say about the Lakers roster, which is an intriguing combination of veterans and youth.

On the state of the Lakers in his 17th NBA season:

“They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.”

At the core of his response, Kobe is correct to say Hibbert, Bass and Williams are very solid additions to the Lakers’ core of young talent. Hibbert brings size and shot blocking, although he’s rather inept on the offensive end of the floor. Williams is the opposite, a score first and score second combo guard who struggles on the defensive end. Bass is a solid power forward who can hit the mid-range jumper.

Bryant also talks about the Lakers’ promising future, and it’s true that they have the prospects to build around. Running a two point-guard attack with rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year pro Jordan Clarkson could be a dynamite combination of skill and athleticism in a few years. Forward Julius Randle has the physicality and scoring ability, but is basically a rookie after missing his rookie season due to a leg injury.

Blending the youth and veteran players will be a process that might take some time, Bryant said:

“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”

It’s going to be interesting to see the lineup flexibility coach Byron Scott comes up with while utilizing the Lakers legend. Can Kobe play alongside the two point-guard attack? There’s been talk of Bryant playing some power forward this season, but can Kobe’s body handle the wear-and-tear of banging in the paint at this stage of his career?

On possibly playing some small forward this season, Bryant said:

“I don’t see what the big deal is about it, honestly. What does that even mean anyway? Everyone plays [expletive] small ball anyway. You got forwards that play like [guards]. [Centers] that play like [small forwards]. What’s the difference? Find me some actual [small forwards] and [power forwards] that actually post up now and then.”

Bryant is right in a sense that the terms shooting guard and small forward are becoming more and more blended together. Bryant might even be better suited against bigger swingmen where he can use his old-man strength to provide resistance as he lacks the quickness defensively these days. The versatility added to the Lakers roster this offseason certainly will make the team better in many areas. Even a smart, small addition like second-round swingman Anthony Brown provides solid depth and versatility behind veteran scorer Nick Young. Reserves in forward Ryan Kelly and big man Tarik Black both bring versatility on offense and defense as well.

Of course, the real question is, with all of this extra versatility gained this offseason, can the Lakers make the playoffs? Bryant thinks so:

“Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”

Talent-wise the Lakers have enough to squeak into the eighth seed this next season. Will that all come together with such a young and inexperienced roster? Probably not this year, as the team will likely go through plenty of growing pains in a loaded Western Conference.

This year should be used as a developmental year for the young backcourt to gain some chemistry, as Clarkson and Russell will be their backcourt of the future. Bryant can give them mentorship throughout while starting at small forward alongside Randle and Hibbert. It’ll take some time for roles to be distinguished, but the talent is there for the Lakers to be an exciting team capable of beating any team on any night.

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