To preview Wednesday’s season opener, as the Blazers host the Lakers, we spoke with Friend of PRS, and TrueHoop affiliate, Andy Kamenetzky of ESPN LA’s Land O’ Lakers blog. It should be noted, this conversation took place prior to the Lakers’ 99-91 loss Tuesday.
Portland Roundball Society: The Slaughterhouse Five (the Lakers’ starters) haven’t had a lot of time together. How long do you expect it’ll be ‘till they become a cohesive unit? ‘Till their potential is reached?
Land O’ Lakers: I’m guessing a good month or so for the cohesion, maybe March or so until they reach their true potential. It’s too very separate sections on the timeline. For the first 20-ish games, I would expect some heads bumping and confusion between Nash, Kobe, MWP, Pau and Howard. That’s not to say they won’t be able to win games in the process. This starting five is something out of a video game, and that talent can mask some issues. But I also think the lack of familiarity (exacerbated by a training camp with many a key player missing games) will surface at unfortunate moments. That’s just the nature of meshing new faces and a new offense.
But I do think the pieces fit exceptionally well together (as evidenced by the one preseason game we saw with all five of them) and once they hit a stride, they’re gonna be REALLY good.
As it is, even without much practice, they’re almost unguardable.
PRS: Behind that starting unit, however, the Lakers’ bench (not unlike Portland’s) is pretty thin. How much is that going to factor in, especially since four of LA’s starting five are older players who can’t play 40-minutes a game?
LOL: Acknowledging how the bar was set so low last season it’s practically underground, I actually think this bench will be improved. Antawn Jamison has been horrible so far, but I trust his track record, and having a legit scoring threat on the court opens up options for everyone else. Jordan Hill is unproven, but still a major upgrade over Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy, particularly as a defender. Devin Ebanks has looked very good in the preseason. Jodie Meeks has been hitting outside shots. And Steve Blake may be the potential weak link, but with fewer scoring responsibilities, I think he’ll be better than the first two seasons. Plus, they’ll likely always have either Howard or Pau on the court as the anchor, which is a major plaus
I don’t see them forging an impressive a collective as, say, the Spurs’ bench, but if they’re just middle of the road, that would be a major upgrade in production and effectiveness.
PRS: When a team comes together like, as you mentioned, with a lineup like a video game, guys have to take reduced roles. Of all of them, it appears Kobe Bryant will have to make do with a lot less than he has in previous years—less of the ball in his hands, less shots, etc. Does that seem right? And if so, can the notoriously petulant, face of the franchise handle a reduced role?
LOL: Well, define “reduced.” He may be taking fewer shots, and will play off ball more, but we’ve got a way to go before he’s reached “bystander” status. The guy will still be a pretty big focal point, if not the unquestioned #1 on ever possession. And that’s a good thing. It eases the load off Kobe and makes the offense far less predictable. Obviously, we’ll see how Kobe does, but he seems pretty dedicated to the process so far.
Plus, everyone will be adjusting to some degree (even MWP, who’ll be seeing wide-open shots non-stop). Nash, for example, has never played in a motion offense, and will have the ball out of his hands more than he’s used to. It’s in part to ease his burden but he’s also such a great shooter, spotting him up at times and working him off ball can be effective. However, he’s been a bit tentative during the preseason.
PRS: OK, last one for ya: Besides injury, what could derail this team? Any fear of repeating the star-laden but mismatched Laker team that featured Karl Malone and Gary Payton? Or perhaps Mike Brown’s ability to corral such outsized personalities? Or…?
PRS: So if they stay healthy, is L.A. your pick to win it all?
LOL: Well, check that. I wouldn’t say I’m fully confident in Brown’s ability to handle all the egos and maintain the presence necessary for this many players of a high magnitude, but everyone has seemed exceptionally together so far, so it may not even matter. But health, certainly, is my biggest concern. And transition D’. Haha.
I still have Miami as the favorite, but I think they’ll have to beat the Lakers in the Finals to repeat.
For our answers to their questions, visit Land O’ Lakers or follow the jump. LOL: Like the Lakers, the Blazers have undergone a lot of roster changes. It appears to be a rebuild in the works. With the preseason in the books, what’s your general impression of this team?
PRS: Well, I hate to say it, but the forecast for the upcoming Blazers season looks a lot like the Portland weather: cold, dark, and grey.
LOL: Why so gloomy?
PRS: The team is rebuilding. As a Laker follower, you may forget how that works. And while there are some pieces to be excited about—point guard Damian Lillard—Portland simply lacks talent. Perhaps half of their roster is true NBA-level, and the top—LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum—have yet to prove themselves as guys truly capable of leading a playoff-bound squad.
PRS: Perhaps most important—beyond the development of Lillard—is how Aldridge and Batum learn to deal with mounting losses. Their careers have been relatively charmed to this point, and how they react to a tough year, how they channel that energy, how they lead by example and attitude, is totally uncharted territory.
LOL: What are the strengths (assuming there are some) and weaknesses?
PRS: New Blazers coach Terry Stotts gets a lot of credit for Dallas’ offensive schemes over the last few seasons. He’s come to Portland with a plan to open things up with more movement and dynamism. Indeed, the Blazers leaders—Aldridge and Batum—are guys who’ve shown the most promise on the offensive end. Defense, however, will be the sticking point. No one on Portland’s roster is particularly known for their defense, especially around the rim, where the Blazers will start JJ Hickson—a natural power-forward—at center.
PRS: More so than their defensive deficiencies, the Blazers will be hurt by a wafer-thin bench. As I mentioned earlier, most of the guys in the second unit are coin flip type players who lucked their way onto the roster because bodies were needed…
LOL: You mentioned Hickson as the natural forward playing center. How do you anticipate him handling that matchup against Howard?
PRS: I anticipate Hickson’s getting manhandled by Howard. I also anticipate rookie Meyers Leonard getting some minutes. For what it’s worth, Leonard, a true seven-footer, is one of the few players in the NBA with the size, strength and quickness to match Howard’s. But it’s too early to expect much. Leonard has a lot to learn—firstly, how to stay out of foul trouble.
LOL: Speaking of production, who do you anticipate as the secondary scoring option behind LaMarcus Aldridge?
PRS: The second scorer behind Aldridge will almost certainly be Batum, who recently predicted he hopes to contribute something in the neighborhood of 15-5-5.
LOL: Portland matched some big dough for him, so the pressure is on.
PRS: Lillard is a dark horse, though—wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up the No. 2 scorer. Also wouldn’t be surprised if, as a rookie point guard from the Big Sky conference, he has some significant struggles.
LOL: Your prediction for this one?
PRS: I feel pretty confident that the Lakers’ struggles in Portland, at least for the moment, are over.