You have to wonder what the Lakers' mindset is coming into 12 season.
Amid divorce, injury and a significantly watered down supporting cast, superstar Kobe Bryant insists he's moved on from the possible three-team blockbuster that would have brought Chris Paul to Staples Center as a Laker.
There was a lot of lip service about competitive balance during the NBA lockout this offseason. LeBron James fleeing Cleveland for the sun and sand of South Beach and Carmelo Anthony wrangling his way to New York upset more than a few "small-market" owners around the league last season, so much so that they almost shut down the sport for the year.
So, maybe it should have been no surprise that antennas were raised when the NBA-owned Hornets agreed to send Paul to the mighty Lakers in a three-way blockbuster that would have sent Lamar Odom to the Big Easy and Pau Gasol to Houston.
In the end, however, the league declined to approve the trade for "basketball reasons." after a number of owners complained and Paul ended up across the hall with the Clippers.
"I think other owners did not want the Lakers to make significant improvements again," Bryant told ESPN Los Angeles. "We always contended as players that the lockout was really more so about the owners fighting amongst themselves, which is what you just saw [with the vetoed trade]. You got Chris Paul coming here and the other owners weren't with that, because you don't want another great player coming to L.A., and all of the sudden Los Angeles has another player that can carry them on well after I retire. So, it's more about the owners bickering amongst themselves."
The fallout from the failed deal was immense. The Lakers failed to land one of the best point guards in the game which hurt them in their pursuit of Orlando All-Star center Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, Odom was hurt by the proposal and requested a trade, eventually ending up in Dallas with the world champions.
"My message to the guys is, look: L.O. [Odom] is gone, there's nothing we can do about it," Bryant said. "So, other guys have to step up and contribute. It's just part of business. Sometimes you get trades done, sometimes you don't. It's as simple as that."
The ultra-competitive Bryant thinks his Lakers are still contenders but remember Phil Jackson and all of his rings are gone in favor of Mike Brown and a more defensive-minded scheme. Also, general manager Mitch Kupchak has already intimated that he thought his roster wasn't good enough and that was before he shipped out Odom and shopped Gasol. Meanwhile, Bryant's wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce on Dec. 16 after allegedly catching her husband cheating on her and Bryant suffered a wrist injury in the preseason.
Doesn't sound like a recipe for winning.
"The Lamar Odom trade is a bit perplexing to me and a few other people," NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony said. "The Lakers are not necessarily the same team that had the chance to win it last year without a player like Odom."
2010-11 Results: 57-25, first in Pacific; Lost to Dallas in West semifinals.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
KEY RESERVES: F Metta World Peace, F Josh McRoberts, G Steve Blake, F Jason Kapono, F/C Troy Murphy.
FRONTCOURT: No one has every questioned Andrew Bynum's skill but a history of leg injuries and inconsistency is always lurking. That said, Bynum's ability to contest shots at the rim and rebound is the key to the Lakers' defense, something that should be magnified with the more defensive-minded Brown piloting things. Odom's absence will also open up plenty of offensive opportunities for the young big man.
Gasol has fit in great as a second option to Bryant and works very well with the rest of his teammates but attitude questions in last year's playoffs had Kupchak willing to part ways with him. Gasol remains one of the two or three best power forwards in all of basketball. A 7-footer with perhaps the best skill set around the rim of any big man in the NBA, Gasol is also tough on the boards and has the length to make things difficult on the defensive end.
Brown is intent on using Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest) off the bench, meaning Matt Barnes, an eight-year veteran, figures to win the small forward spot with his energy and defense. Second-year man Devin Ebanks is also in the mix, however.
"Obviously, [Barnes] has the experience so he's been here, done that many times before and that's what helps him out right now," Brown said when talking about the small forward spot in the preseason.
BACKCOURT: The aging Derek Fisher handles the point for LA and brings a treasure chest full of experience to the position. Although a defensive liability against quicker guards, Fisher isn't afraid of big spots. His job is to stand on the weak side and stroke the standstill jumper. Fisher doesn't have the quickness to penetrate and dish so Bryant spends a lot of time handling the basketball. His job as NBPA president in the offseason is also a concern since Fish didn't have a chance to do much conditioning work during the lockout.
"He was on the phone, he was shooting emails back and forth, text messages, on the plane going back and forth to the East Coast," Brown said. "That takes a toll on his body."
Bryant has been the NBA's version of Mariano Rivera for years -- the game's ultimate closer -- but you could see a few chinks in the armor developing last season. Once a player without a weakness, the tread is starting to wear a little thin. Bryant still puts a ton of pressure on the opposition's defense with his ability to create off the dribble and get to the free throw line but most coaches now throw quite a few bodies at Bryant hoping to wear him down. His work ethic and conditioning are still peerless but a capable defender with the quicks and athletic ability to chase can now at least make things difficult for him.
Brown has already raved about Bryant's hyper competitiveness & skill set. The Lakers' superstar did suffer a torn lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist against the Clippers in the preseason but has been listed as day-to-day as the season approaches. Independent doctors, however, have tabbed Bryant's injury as a two to three week thing.
BENCH: Brown's bench is much thinner without Odom around. Josh McRoberts, who signed a two-year deal for the Lakers' mid-level exemption, will be the top backup behind both Bynum and Gasol. He is no Odom skill wise but McRoberts has made plenty of fans in the league with his energy. The Duke product isn't flashy but gets the job done with a high basketball IQ and by outhustling the opposition. A solid rebounder and defender, McRoberts should also get far more open looks in LA than he did in Indy.
The oft-injured Troy Murphy was also signed. When right Murphy can hit the jumper out to the three-point line and help out on the boards.
The Lakers' Achilles heel with Fisher playing the point has always pick-and- roll defense since the aging NBPA prez doesn't have the quicks to get around the pick and Bynum, Gasol or the departed Odom were never the best at showing. Metta World Peace, a solid defensive presence, has helped make up for that but he is clearly a declining player. Metta is never going to be an All-Star type player again but has accepted a lesser role for the most part in LA and must do so again. He's still a top-tier perimeter defender but his offensive prowess seems to be slipping greatly.
LA was also hoping to get a little out of Derrick Caracter this season but the second-year forward recently underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and will miss at least a month of action.
Steve Blake was a disappointment at backup point guard last season and his defensive deficiencies will only show up more now that Brown is in charge of things.
Sharp-shooter Jason Kapono looked done in Philadelphia but he will certainly see more open looks on the weakside here so perhaps he can have a bit of a resurgence. That said, at his best Kapono is a one-dimensional guy that offers nothing but the ability to knock down a three.
COACHING: Brown's likely going to find out that you never want to be the guy to replace the legend -- you want to be the guy to replace the guy who replaced the legend. On paper, Brown is better at X's and O's than Jackson and he certainly has a better grasp of defensive concepts but the failed trade did him no favors in the locker room and Bryant's off the court issues certainly won't help either.
OUTLOOK: Forget about being a real championship contender, for the first time ever the Lakers might not even be the best team in Los Angeles although, for what it's worth, Bryant is still showing the same swagger he always has.
"I like jewelry ... I like winning," Bryant said. "If at this stage of our careers we're the boring team, then we're the boring team. As long as we get results."
A new coach, too many new moving parts up front and no Odom is a lot to overcome but Kobe understands Father Time is lurking so one last run can't be dismissed no matter how unlikely it seems.