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Los Angeles Lakers 2015-16 Preview

The Lakers reconstructed their entire roster this summer, but Kobe Bryant's health remains the biggest question mark on everybody's mind. After missing 123 games over the last two years, they need their leader on the floor.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
21-61
5th in Pacific Division
14th in Western Conference

The 2014-15 season was a tough one for the Lakers. In fact, their 21-61 record was the worst the franchise has seen since the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers were only able to win 19 games.

After Kobe Bryant returned to the floor for 2013-14 after tearing his achilles, the hope was that "The Black Mamba" would return as an effective player that could keep things interesting. Just six games into the season, he suffered a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee that kept him out the rest of the season.

Kobe came back to start the 2014-15 season, playing in the first 27 games of the year before his body started to break down again. He was not anywhere near the same kind of player, and it was clear that he was physically limited. In January, Bryant tore his right rotator cuff, yet another season-ending injury that would put the Lakers in a much worse position than they already were.

At that point, the Lakers were already 12-31 and once Kobe went down for the remainder of the season, it was flat out difficult to watch.

As the losses continued to accumulate at a violent rate, the fanbase had no choice but to focus on individual positives in order to maintain their sanity. The brightest spots of the season revolved around rookie guard Jordan Clarkson and a career year from Jordan Hill.

Clarkson showed a lot of good things as an athletic 6'5" combo guard that got a lot of experience running the show at the point guard position, and he finished the season very strong when he was let loose. The rookie appeared in 59 games all season, averaging 11.9 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game but as a starter in 38 of those contests, went wild with outputs of 15.8 points, 5.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting just under 46% from the field.

Clarkson won Western Conference Rookie of the Month in March and earned a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie 1st Team. Not a bad way to close out a rookie season in which he was sent to play for the D-League's Los Angeles Defenders on five different occasions.

Hill established himself as the most reliable big on the roster, posting career highs 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

At a certain point, the ping pong balls were the number one priority in Laker land and despite having to endure 61 losses, they at least ended things on a high note when they won the second overall pick in May's 2015 NBA draft lottery.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - D'Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert, Louis Williams, Brandon Bass, Metta World Peace
Key Losses - Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington

Last year's squad was a mess, and Lakers management put a lot of work in this summer with the idea of completely restructuring their rotation. Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Jeremy Lin all moved on as free agents while Carlos Boozer has yet to find a new home in the NBA, leaving a lot of holes for the Lakers to fill.

The most exciting new piece is rookie guard D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers took with the second overall pick in June's NBA draft. The 6'5" creator with the ball gives the fanbase a new sense of hope, especially considering that he will be paired with last year's lottery pick in Julius Randle, who is finally healthy after getting hurt in the first game of his career last season. Russell is very crafty with the dribble, has big time potential as a pick n' roll player, can shoot the three and will have a chance to act as a very disruptive defender with his size and anticipation skills.

A lot of people were surprised that LA passed on Jahlil Okafor in the draft and only time will tell whether or not that was the right decision, but Russell has a very bright future ahead of him as well.

In early July, the Lakers sent a future second round pick to Indiana in exchange for 7'2" veteran Roy Hibbert, who will serve as the new starting center in purple and gold. Hibbert has taken a lot of flack lately for failing to reach his full potential, and there is no question that he has had a lot of ups and downs over the course of the last couple of years. With that said, he was an Eastern Conference All-Star in two of the last four years and when he is motivated, there is no question that he is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA.

Especially on a team like the Lakers, where there is not much depth behind him at the five, don't be surprised if Hibbert puts together a nice year in his new surroundings.

Los Angeles was active on the free agent market, as well, signing a cast of veterans to fill out the roster. To add some more offensive firepower, they added 2014-15 Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams on a three-year deal worth $21 million. Williams was a big part of the reason Toronto was able to keep their season alive last year, putting up a career high 15.5 points per contest and coming up huge in late-game situations.

Brandon Bass spent the last four years in Boston playing for our beloved Celtics, but his new two-year, $6 million contract with Los Angeles has turned him into an enemy. He will have to share minutes with Julius Randle, who the organization has high hopes for, but Bass will provide Byron Scott's rotation with some veteran stability with a guy that will work defensively and knock down that bread and butter mid-range jumper.

Metta World Peace has rejoined the Lakers for a second stint after spending the last year playing professionally in China and Italy. World Peace has only appeared in 29 NBA games in the last two years, but was fairly productive in his last year with the Lakers in 2012-13, putting up 12.4 point and five rebounds per game in a starting role. At the very least, he keeps things interesting and will provide the Lakers with a tough, hard-nosed worker in practice to help push the youngsters.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Roy Hibbert / Robert Sacre
PF - Julius Randle / Brandon Bass / Ryan Kelly / Larry Nance Jr.
SF - Kobe Bryant / Nick Young / Metta World Peace / Anthony Brown
SG - Jordan Clarkson / Louis Williams
PG - D'Angelo Russell / Marcelo Huertas

X-FACTOR - Kobe Bryant's health
Kobe Bryant has only played in 41 games over the course of the last two years combined. It is painfully obvious that he is not going to be quite the same supernatural freak we have become accustomed to over the years, but the Lakers aren't going to have a fighting chance to turn this thing around in 2016 unless Kobe stays healthy.

He's not going to score 81 in a game or win MVP, but at 37 years old, that's alright. He just needs to stay on the floor to give his team a chance and even though I bleed green, it wouldn't be right to watch a guy like Kobe go out like he has the last two years.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
The Lakers have legitimately upgraded their talent at almost every position over the summer, and they were certainly be a lot easier on the eyes this year. They're more talented, they've got some quality young guns, the bench is deeper and at least for now, Kobe is back. Of course, his health is the largest factor regarding their season, but as long as he can stay relatively healthy, the Lakers should put together a better year.

With that said, making the playoffs out west is going to be very difficult. If Kobe and Randle are healthy and effective, while Russell has a great rookie year and Roy Hibbert plays the most motivated basketball of his career, they may have an outside shot of getting in the mix. I wouldn't place any bets on all of that coming to fruition, however, as it is very unlikely that even if all of that happens, they would even be good enough.

The Lakers will be better, but they still have to seriously overachieve for a playoff berth.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
5th in Pacific Division
12th in Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers 2015-16 Preview - Silver Screen and Roll - SBNation.com

Developing their young talent and staying (relatively) healthy through the season should be the primary goals for the Lakers this season. Next up would be having a tangible improvement in the win-loss column. Bovada has the over/under for season win totals at 29.5, and improving to 30 wins or more would be a big step forward for the Lakers.

The rookies and new talent is all well and good, but Kobe Bryant facing what may be the final year of his NBA career is the biggest question of all. He's entering his 20th season and injuries have stolen his basketball life from him over the past few years. If Kobe can remain healthy and is effective, would he consider pushing ahead with the young talent he's grooming and cap space to welcome All-Star talent with? If Kobe goes down with another injury, will that really be how his story ends?

Stay tuned. This Lakers season promises to be fascinating.

The Lakers may have a bright future, but they're a mess right now - SBNation.com

It fills me with immeasurable glee to have reached the Lakers portion of the program. We have Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams and Nick Young sharing one ball (unless I missed an inspired rule change over the summer). We have the big prize of the summer being Roy Hibbert instead of Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge. We still have Byron Scott. We still have Jim Buss.