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Los Angeles Lakers 2014-15 Preview - Nowhere to go but up

Mike D'Antoni is officially out of the picture and Kobe Bryant is finally back in action. Can the Lakers come back strong and rebound from their second-worst record in franchise history?

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Silver Screen and Roll - Los Angeles Lakers 2014-15 Preview -

Ultimately it seems like this Lakers team's primary goal is to be competitive and improve as a unit. That may not necessarily mean the playoffs are where their eyes should be set, but Scott has to prove he can build momentum for the franchise going forward. Add that with Kobe Bryant's drive and desire for another championship ring, and it's clear why competing is one of the top goals for the Lakers heading into the season.

A great secondary goal is developing Julius Randle. He's a beacon of light for a team devoid of youthful talent, and can be a part of a new foundation going forward. Randle is going to need to prove himself quickly in Los Angeles, and while fans may allow him to experience growing pains through his first season, he'll have to use his rookie season as a way to make sure he's ready to deliver in years two and three. He'll be allowed time to learn, but how much?

If all else fails and this team really is as bad as some expect it to be, finding a way to bring home their '15 first-rounder from the Phoenix Suns may be the outside goal. It's top-five protected, and while the Lakers might be bad, how bad would they have to be to have their pick returned? If it's going to be another horrendous season, a pick for their troubles could make it a worthwhile exercise.

2013-14 IN REVIEW
5th in Pacific Division - 14th in Western Conference

There's no way to sugar coat it. The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers were an absolute disaster, as their 27-55 record was the second-worst mark in franchise history and their worst since winning 19 games in 1957-58 as the Minneapolis Lakers.

Kobe Bryant finally returned to action after tearing his Achilles tendon in April of 2013. At least they had the Black Mamba to look forward too, right? Wrong. After signing a two-year extension worth over $48 million in November, Kobe finally suited up on December 8, but it didn't take long for Father Time to punch him in the mouth again. Just six games into his return, where he scored only 13.8 points per game, Kobe suffered a knee fracture that ended his season early yet again.

To make matters worse, Steve Nash became a walking (or limping) corpse while his body continued to break down as he entered his 40s. Thanks to a nagging nerve problems with his left leg, the former two-time NBA MVP appeared in just 15 games all season long, where he shot under 40% and was flat out difficult to watch.

In what turned out to be his final year in the purple and gold, Pau Gasol hurt his groin and experienced vertigo, combining to keep him out of the lineup for a total of 22 games. Despite complete uncertainty regarding his future, Gasol still managed to put together a productive year for the struggling Lakers. While he wasn't quite as effective once was a few years back, the seven-foot Spaniard dropped 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Just prior to the groin injury, Gasol got through the month of January in vintage form by putting up 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists on over 50% shooting.

As one of the bright spots for the Lakers all season, Steve Blake did an excellent job in Nash's absence. Through 27 games as the team's starting point guard, Blake posted some of his best numbers of his career with 9.5 points, 7.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while knocking down 40% of his three-point attempts. However, he was traded to Golden State in mid-February in return for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.

Second-year floor general Kendall Marshall received a lot of opportunity after Blake was dealt, along with Jordan Farmar being sidelined for half of the season. Marshall averaged 8.0 points and 8.8 assists per game while surprisingly shooting 40% from beyond the arc. Despite appearing in only 54 games, Marshall even finished 10th in the NBA in total assists.

Brooks never got much of a chance to play consistent minutes, which has turned out to be the story of his career, but Bazemore surprisingly finished the season as one of LA's most productive players. In 23 games for the Lakers, starting in 15, Bazemore put up over 13 points, three rebounds and three assists per game while his high energy level earned him some respect.

Veteran center Chris Kaman didn't receive anywhere near as much opportunity as he had envisioned when he signed a one-year deal with the Lakers before the season. The odd man out of the rotation in an offense Mike D'Antoni didn't believe the slow-of-foot seven-footer fit in, Kaman played in just 39 games but still managed to produce 10.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in under 19 minutes per appearance.

Kaman's tenure with the Lakers won't be remembered for what he did on the court. Instead, we'll all remember him most for this gem of a moment where he decided to lay his entire body down on the depleted Laker bench.

Offseason acquisition Nick Young missed 18 games with a non-displaced patella fracture and a bone bruise in his left knee, but "Swaggy P" enjoyed playing in front of his hometown crowd and lead the team in scoring with 17.9 points per game. Jodie Meeks made the most of his opportunities, as well, putting up a career high 15.7 points per game on the most efficient year of his five-year career thus far, shooting 46.3% overall and 40.1% from three-point territory.

Despite certain sparks of individual progression, Mike D'Antoni was as good as gone in everybody's mind for most - if not all - of the season, and Lakers fans were disgusted with the team from beginning to end. The Lakers finished second-to-last in the Western Conference and their 27-55 record was the sixth-worst in the entire NBA.

On the bright side, there's nowhere to go but up.


Key Additions - Byron Scott, Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Ed Davis
Key Losses - Mike D'Antoni, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Kendall Marshall, Chris Kaman, Kent Bazemore

Everybody and their mother knew that Mike D'Antoni would not be welcomed back as head coach of the Lakers in 2014-15. To replace him, the Lakers went back to the history books and decided to bring back former Laker standout Byron Scott to run the team. Scott has a career 416-521 coaching record (.444), but has experienced some success when he coached the Jason Kidd-lead New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 2001 and 2002. With the New Orleans Hornets in 2007-08, he helped the New Orleans Hornets to a 56-win season and a first round series victory, followed by pushing the Spurs to seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Pau Gasol was finally able to leave the Lakers, and on his own terms, as he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bulls. Ironically, the Bulls amnestied Carlos Boozer to free up the room for him and Boozer subsequently ended up signing with the Lakers on a one-year deal worth $3.25 million. Boozer is coming off his least-productive NBA season since his rookie year with Cleveland in 2002-03, but you never know what a change of scenery can do for a player.

After failing to persuade Carmelo Anthony to leave New York for a chance to play alongside Kobe, the Lakers needed to make a splash with their cap space and they did just that in a mid-July trade with Houston. Los Angeles sent the rights to Sergei Lishchuck in return for Jeremy Lin, a 2015 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick. Lin's price tag is heavy this season at a whopping $14.9 million, thanks to the back-loaded contract he signed with Houston in 2012, but it will expire at the end of the season.

With the constant health concerns regarding Steve Nash, the Linsanity will be welcomed with open arms as the Lakers will take as much firepower as they can get their hands on.

Coming off of a career year, Jordan Hill re-signed with the Lakers on a two-year deal worth $18 million, which sounds a bit pricey at first glance but the contract also contains a team option for the second year. Last season, Hill posted career highs in scoring (9.7 PPG), rebounding (7.4 RPG), field goal percentage (54.9%) and minutes played (20.8 MPG) and played even better with more opportunity. As a starter in 32 games, the active young big put up 13 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest.

The Lakers were also able to add to the frontcourt by signing Grizzlies free agent Ed Davis on a cheap two-year contract worth approximately $2 million total, with the second year as a player option. In terms of value in comparison to his salary, the Lakers got an excellent value by grabbing a young guy that is hungry to increase his stock and find a long-term home.

The most exciting news of the offseason came on draft night, where the Lakers owned the seventh overall pick in the draft and landed a big time prospect for the future by snagging Kentucky's Julius Randle. In terms of long-term potential, Randle is one of the most intriguing rookies from this year's draft and is one of the few players in the class that has legitimate All-Star potential down the line. The solidly built 6'9" 250-pound bully is an animal with his back to the basket, very active, a tenacious rebounder with long arms and for a forward, he possesses more ball skills than most 19-year-olds. He can back down, face up, put the ball on the floor and was one of the most productive players in college basketball last season.

No matter what happens with the Lakers this season, they've got a big time prospect to get excited about.

C - Jordan Hill / Ed Davis / Robert Sacre
PF - Carlos Boozer / Julius Randle / Ryan Kelly
SF - Wesley Johnson / Nick Young
SG - Kobe Bryant / Xavier Henry / Wayne Ellington
PG - Steve Nash / Jeremy Lin / Ronnie Price / Jordan Clarkson

X-FACTOR - Health
Games missed last season due to injury: Kobe Bryant (76), Steve Nash (67), Jordan Farmar (41), Xavier Henry (39), Pau Gasol (22), Nick Young (18), etc.

The Lakers were not the most talented team last season and much of the roster had tuned coach D'Antoni out, but their biggest problem was undoubtedly their inability to stay healthy. All of their top performers limped their way through the year and it's pretty much impossible for any team to stay afloat when they experience the kind of injuries the Lakers did last season.

They might not make the playoffs this season, but they need their top guns on the floor, especially Kobe.

You can never fully count Kobe Bryant out, but the Lakers are going to have a very difficult time making the playoffs. Kobe is back, but the supporting cast isn't a whole lot more talented than what they had a year ago, especially since they lost their second-best player in Pau Gasol.

If the team buys into what coach Scott is preaching, Carlos Boozer performs at a higher level than he did last season and the team stays relatively healthy, the Lakers can absolutely improve off of last year, but that's not saying much.

The Western Conference is stacked, and it's tough to imagine a scenario where the 2014-15 Lakers have enough juice to earn a spot in the top eight.

4th - Pacific Division
12th - Western Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the Philadelphia 76ers preview, coming tomorrow morning.

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