Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:07 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
Lake Show may open slowly

Lakers

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Los Angeles Lakers finish in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST COMMENT
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
I wanted to put the Lakers eighth purely because of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, just like last October. But this isn't a top-eight roster in the West ... and star and coach are both recovering from surgeries. It'll be much tougher this time.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 9
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
Last season I made the mistake of underestimating the ability of Phil and Kobe to co-exist. I won't make the same error twice. In fact, Vladimir Radmanovic helps make them a 50-win team.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
Jackson will get them to the playoffs again but taking it to the next level seems to be a long shot. Bryant and Lamar Odom have to hope others have the space and ability to step up. Brown must elevate his game.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
They were better than I expected last season, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Kobe could finally get his MVP and the shooting of Radmanovic will ease the burden when Kobe gets doubled.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
They should be rated higher, but without a stronger point guard, without a different Kwame Brown and without getting KG in the offseason, Lakerland will be just what it is: Jack Bauer's world.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
Kobe is still making his way back and Phil is getting a new hip, but Lake Show is as deep as its been in a long time with newcomers like Vladimir Radmanovic and Shammond Williams, which should get them back to the playoffs.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
Kobe and Phil did it last season, but this season the Lakers need big performances from Kwame and Vlade to hold off the teams that made bigger improvements over the summer. I'm not sure Kwame or Vlade have it in them.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 9
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
No one's had a more star-crossed preseason, but don't discount the value of single-minded purpose. As thick as the West is with playoff-caliber teams, several are sure to be waylaid by chemistry issues. Not Kobe and Co.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
Kobe's competitiveness, Phil's coaching and the improvement of the supporting cast will get the Lakers into the playoffs, where they'll go down less heroically than last season.
DIVISION RANK: 4 | CONFERENCE RANK: 8
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
There's two ways to look at last season -- the success of losing Game 7 to Phoenix, or disappointment at losing Game 7 to Phoenix. Put the best player and best coach together, and good things are going to happen. Injuries are a concern, but I expect this to be a better team this season.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 3.1 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 7.2 | Standings


Kobe's Team, Season 3
Bryant
AP Photo
With Shaq a distant memory, Kobe Bryant is the undisputed face of the Lakers' hopes after averaging 35.4 points last season. But his offseason knee surgery might require him to pass the baton -- and the ball -- more this season.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Smush Parker
Point Guard
6-4 | 180
Collapse against Suns planted seed for Farmar.
Kobe Bryant
Shooting Guard
6-6 | 220
He's come back from injury before -- but he's never been so mellow about it.
Luke Walton
Small Forward
6-8 | 232
Proof that brains trumps brawn -- and speed -- in Phil's triangle.
Lamar Odom
Power Forward
6-10 | 230
Outplayed Shawn Marion for a series. How about for a season?
Kwame Brown
Center
6-11 | 248
Can now say "Michael Jordan" without flinching. Hey, it's a start.
Bench: If the Lakers' D falters, Jackson can turn to Maurice Evans, Sasha Vujacic and Chris Mihm. If the O stumbles? Well, Vlad and Brian Cook can hit some 3s.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Brian Cook
Player efficiency rating
projection: 15.48
vs. NBA avg.: +0.48
Lakers profiles

Scouting report: Brian Cook can hit 3-pointers, and he'll do it all day on pick-and-roll plays if you let him. It takes a while to internalize the fact that he's a really good shooter, because he has a low release point and a line-drive trajectory, so you wouldn't expect him to make a high percentage. It's also unnatural for opposing big men to chase him around the 3-point line all day, making it easier for him to get open shots.

Cook's big problem remains rebounding. He ranked 59th among 69 power forwards in rebound rate. He's also a below-average defender -- not terrible, but a little undersized and a bit unathletic. And he has to cut down on the fouls, averaging more than one every eight minutes last season.

2006-07 outlook: In one of the offseason's more bizarre moves, the Lakers used their full midlevel exception on Vladimir Radmanovic -- who is 6-foot-9 and shoots 3-pointers, just like Cook, except he's put up worse numbers the past two seasons and isn't as good a defender. Since Radmanovic is the team's shiny new toy and does most of the same things Cook does, Cook projects to be the big loser in this new arrangement.

A more interesting question will be how this affects Cook's pursuit of an extension with the Lakers. After consecutive solid seasons, he's shown he's a quality frontcourt reserve who scores enough to be a spot starter on occasion. But the Lakers seemed to sour on him down the stretch last season and Radmanovic's signing is another step in that direction. He could be looking at the dreaded combo of heading into a contract season without a spot in the rotation.


In Support Of No. 24
Brown and Odom
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images
While Lamar Odom (right) returns from a family tragedy, Kwame Brown will return in a few weeks from a shoulder injury. Both will be needed at full health.


SportsNation Speaks
Kobe and Phil might enter the season a little wobbly, but SportsNation sees the possibility of a stronger finish to the season.

How can the Lakers get to the next level?
24.1% Better overall talent
21.5% Better team defense
19.3% Better play from Kwame Brown
11.3% Better point guard play
7.6% Another season of experience
6.8% Letting Lamar Odom run the offense
6.2% Kobe to shoot less
2.4% Kobe to shoot more
0.7% Getting the ball to Vladimir Radmanovic

Vote: Lakers in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Lakers

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Lakers' logo on your chest?

Conventional wisdom says it's the Kobe show in L.A. -- and don't let the offseason surgery fool you, he can throw up an 81.

But he shouldn't have to. Lamar Odom is figuring out how versatility is power within the triangle, Luke Walton is living up to the family name (with good feet) and Kwame Brown is at least playing like he belongs.

Add in Vladimir Radmanovic, Maurice Evans and Jordan Farmar and a step forward looks likely. Now if those steps grow into a leap over the big three in the West, I'll be in that long line at Sunset Strip Tattoo.

Kurt | forumblueandgold.com



Coach's Corner

PHIL JACKSON COACHING FILE
Experience: 15 years
Record: 876-353
Playoffs: 178-73
NBA titles: 9
Coach's profile

One player will demand more attention from Phil Jackson, and rightfully so, than any other Laker. And it is not Mr. 81.

No player can help the Lakers move forward more than Kwame Brown. Jackson's style and system take some getting used to, but if he can reach the goldmine of talent hidden within Brown and get him to be a beast in the paint, the Lakers go from pretender to contender.

And if Brown progresses, he might just drag along their other project, Andrew Bynum.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
Height. Besides "We have Kobe Bryant," L.A.'s biggest advantage is its length, which is a direct result of Phil Jackson's emphasis on height. The surprise winner of the point guard contest in training camp last season was the 6-foot-4 Smush Parker, and that had much to do with the Zen Master's affinity for big guards. So did the choice of his backup: the 6-7 Vujacic.

Right up the line, the Lakers were bigger than average at every position and will be again this season. Bryant (6-6) and Evans (6-5) will be the primary shooting guards, while Walton (6-8) and Odom (6-10) will see most of the action at small forward.

Up front, it's more of the same -- 6-11 Kwame Brown played power forward for most of last year at 6-11, while he and 7-footers Mihm and Andrew Bynum are the three candidates for center duty. Added to the mix are 6-10 combo forward Radmanovic and 6-9 Cook. Only Williams, at 6-1, isn't big for his position.

The result is that the Lakers tend to have a station-to-station mentality, usually advancing the ball via the pass and, except for Bryant, rarely looking to dribble penetrate. Defensively, their size takes away mismatches in the post and reduces the need to double-team, and although the Lakers don't go to it often, it also would make them a good zone team.

More Hollinger Lakers analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Brown
Brown

Sleeper: Kwame Brown should play more minutes this season than he ever has in the NBA. He seems to have his confidence back and his teammates have expressed their confidence in him. Things are finally looking up for the former No. 1 pick, and while he may not average a double-double, his numbers should increase. Where to start? He shot 53 percent from the field, but just 55 percent from the line.

Bust: Vladimir Radmanovic is a tough player to own. At the end of the season, he'll have more than 100 3-pointers, but little else. He'll tease you with a five-game stretch of consistent production, then follow that up with a week off. He's been on teams with other high-quality offensive options before, so why will this stop be any different?

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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