NFL season kickoff is now less than a month away, which can only mean one thing: Fantasy Football. That’s right; it’s time to do your research for the 2010 NFL season. Get your league together, buy your magazines, make your rankings, and do some mock drafts. As you know, every fantasy season brings an abundance of new players to the top of draft boards. So starting here, every few days SRG Fantasy Football analyst Thomas Gerard will do his positional rankings. Let’s get started!
• Adrian Peterson, MIN – He is only 25 years old and a beast of an athlete. Coming off a year in which he had 18 touchdowns, he is a fantasy football machine. Brett Favre is back and Chester Taylor is gone, which is an even better situation for prospective fantasy owners. Look for AP to be in on more 3rd down plays this year and to hold on to the ball better. Combine all of that with probably 15 TDs and AP is a great start to your team.
• Chris Johnson, TEN — Most projections have him ranked #1 overall, but for me he had almost “too good” of a year last year. I’m not a huge fan of guys coming off of “monster” years. He has the ability to break for a TD at any moment and is faster than anyone in the NFL. However, he is a smaller player and touched the ball a lot of times last year, so that lands him in the second spot. He will have a big year again, just nothing in comparison to what he put up last season.
• Ray Rice, BAL – Rice straight up stole the RB job in Baltimore last year away from Willis McGahee. He will get even more carries this year than he did a season prior. Combine that with the fact that even when he is not carrying the ball, he has a great chance of catching the ball out of the backfield. The one downside is that McGahee is a highly-paid man who will steal some goal-line opportunities. That doesn’t worry me much though. I think Ray has the possibility of putting up a year such as CJ did last season. He may not rush for 2,000 yards, but he will get around 1,750 and 500 receiving.
• Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX – This guy always figures a way to get into the end zone. Another tiny guy, but get’s a ton of carries inside the 20-yard line. A solid pick. Look for a similar year to the one he put up last season.
• Steven Jackson, STL – Many rankings have Jackson a lot lower than this, but I like him this year for a number of reasons. First, the Rams are terrible and will run the ball a shit load. Two, the Rams have a rookie QB. Three, the Rams have a better offensive line. Four, he has no backup and could carry the ball 375 times this season. Fifth, he is an awesome pass-catching RB. Finally, he is coming off of a 4 touchdown season, which will only go up. Side note: I’m a Rams fan.
• Frank Gore, SF – Frank missed two games last year and still put up good fantasy numbers for an entire season. The 49ers are better offensively and will probably pass more than in previous years. Look for similar stats to ’09.
• Rashard Mendenhall, PIT – I really like him this year, especially with Big Ben’s suspension. He is young, quick, and plays for a good team. Look for him to have his best year yet and carry the Steelers while their QB is out.
• Deangelo Williams/Jonathon Stewart, CAR – I’m sorry, but at this point, I see them as virtually the same RB. They split the carries almost evenly and had virtually the same numbers a year ago. I know Stewart is coming off an injury, but he always is and has done just fine. There’s no need to separate them. A good strategy would be to wait until the 4th-5th round and grab Stewart, meanwhile picking up talent at other positions.
• Michael Turner, ATL – His 370 carry season made him vulnerable to injury last year, after a breakout season with the Falcons. I’m hesitant about putting a guy coming off of an injury too high on this list, especially with Jason Snelling emerging as a solid backup. Even with his injuries and lack of receptions, he is still a top 10 RB. However, this is a very hit or miss spot.
• Ryan Grant, GB – The Packers have an awesome passing game and love to throw the ball. But Grant still had 280 carries last year, to go along with 11 TDs. I think he’ll be slightly less productive as last year, but is still worth of landing in the top 10.
• Jamaal Charles, KC – Would be higher if not for the arrival of Thomas Jones and McCluster.
• Beanie Wells, ARI – With Warner gone, I think the Cardinals establish a little bit more of a run game.
• Shonn Greene, NYJ – Injury prone, but the 2010 playoffs proved he can flat out play. Don’t draft too early.
• Cedric Benson, CIN – His 2009 season came out of nowhere. Will get his fair share of yards, but uncertain about the end zone.
• Knowshon Moreno, DEN – Would also be higher if not for pass-happy Josh McDaniels.
• Ryan Matthews, SD – Prove me something first.
• Lesean McCoy, PHI – The new Brian Westbrook, but has Mike Bell as backup.
• Justin Forsett, SEA – Breakout alert!
• Matt Forte, CHI – Could be a steal at a great price.
• Pierre Thomas, NO – You won’t see me drafting a New Orleans RB.
• C.J. Spiller, BUF – He hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet. But with the injuries to Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, he could take over the reins from Day 1. Future Chris Johnson.
• Felix Jones, DAL – He will slowly get more carries from Marion Barber as the team’s future and feature back. Plus Jerry Jones always favors an Arkansas boy.
• Steve Slaton, HOU – He’s battling Arian Foster for the #1 job and most likely will split carries at best. But with his speed and game-breaking ability, an injury to Foster or a breakout game by Slaton, could make for an MVP-like late-round fantasy pickup.
Why They’re Here: As much as I hate that stupid slogan and as overused and hackneyed as it’s become, The U is…you know what, on second thought I’m not going to say it. But I will say this, coach Randy Shannon has rebuilt the program into a more than formidable foe and this team has the personnel to bring the glory back to Coral Gables…and Miami.
The Good: The young man QB Jacory Harris has reached that pivotal season in his career where he’s no longer an overachieving youngster. During his freshman and sophomore campaigns no one was expecting too much from him, but all that is over this year. I expect Harris to be in the Heisman conversation come December (and yes, I’m aware I’m pretty much alone in that expectation). The Canes lost RB Javarris James, but five-star recruit Storm Johnson should be able to step in and tote the rock admirably. Coach Shannon also brought in a pair of big four-star recruits on the line to help shore things up. And THIS JUST IN: The Canes officially inked consensus No. 1 2010 recruit OT Seantrel Henderson. Henderson is 6’8” and 340 lbs and will almost certainly start immediately. If these young bucks can be immediate difference makers, nothing can hold Jacory Harris back but Jacory Harris. The team will also return its all-conference punter and place kicker. Never underestimate the value of a solid, dependable kicking game, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense.
The Bad: Pass protection was a big problem for Miami last season. Eventually Harris just got tired of taking the hits and folded. He started throwing up wild passes and interceptions and generally lost his rhythm in the pocket. They lost some senior leadership this season and will have to rebuild what was not a great O line last year. The question marks about the U are going to start and end here. As my old football coach once told me, “Football is all about blocking and tackling. The team that does those two things better than the other is going to win. Every time.” The Canes also get Ohio State on Sept. 11 and Pitt in a Thursday night game on Sept. 23, both on the road. Why Shannon insists on making things as difficult on his team as possible I will never understand.
The Last Word: My money in the ACC is on this team, but it all depends on Jacory Harris. He wilted down the stretch last year, after playing an incredible first half of the season, and now there are questions about whether Harris has what it takes to get it done. He’s going to have to be straight up better than Tyrod Taylor and nothing else will do. Coach Shannon showed he could get it done with the best of them in the offseason by signing a top-15 class that absolutely has to be considered top 10 with Henderson on the books. If Shannon can get it done as well during the season, the sky is the limit for The U’s near future.
Final Record: 12-2
Why They’re Here: The Iowa Hawkeyes are kind of like that girl in high school that is actually really hot but no one notices her because she has a flat chest and is kind of antisocial. She’s got a nice body and is really cute in the face (maybe she’s got a weird nose or something) but she doesn’t talk to anyone or go to parties, so she never gets included in the “hottest girl in school” conversation, even though she absolutely should be. The Hawkeyes’ great body is their offensive line, which even without LT Bryan Bulaga and a number of other stand outs from last season should be above average. The face is quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who can absolutely play the game, but isn’t flashy, big or particularly interesting for any reason. And the fact that they’re antisocial is really due to them being boring and antisocial – and from Iowa.
The Good: Kirk Ferentz is quietly starting to look like one of the best coaches in the Big (11, maybe 12 next year) Ten Conference, if not the best. He has a knack for building and rebuilding offensive lines and for installing powerful rushing attacks. He’s a master of the faceless team – outside of Stanzi and Bulaga, can you name a starter on either side of the ball for Iowa in 2009? They return eight starters to last year’s fantastic defense and they get to play Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State at home this year.
The Bad: The offensive line – the key to any success on offense – will need to be almost completely rebuilt. Bulaga was the biggest departure, but the Hawkeyes will also have question marks at right tackle and the center position. This offense needs an anchor at left tackle to keep Stanzi upright and Center is the most important position on the line for the running game and for making calls in the passing game. How well Ferentz fills those holes will determine how good this team is.
The Last Word: Stanzi is the key. Those who make College Football Odds know the defense should be there, the running game should be there and the coaching will be there… but can Stanzi deliver? If he has a great year – meaning the offense can rely on him to actually make plays, not just to keep them from losing by throwing stupid interceptions – this team can compete for a national championship. Really. The stars have aligned for the Hawkeyes this year and they’ll be flying just enough below the radar to have a chance. If Stanzi holds up his end of the bargain, there should be a lot of chips on the table when Ohio State comes to town on November 20.
Final Record: 12-1
As crazy as it may seem, both Tom Brady and Payton Manning are still waiting to get their new contracts… contract that will likely make the duo the highest paid quarterbacks ever in the NFL. It seems like both camps are playing a game of chicken, waiting for one side to sign so they can use that as leverage in their own negotiations. Either way, should be interesting to see how much they make.
Why They’re Here: The question to be answered this year is whether Texas’ pathetic excuse for a running game the last four years can be great again. With guys like Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Ricky Williams having toted the rock for the burnt orange in recent memory, it’s absolutely bewildering that this is a team that’s been unable to find a running game the last few years. Mack Brown, who will probably be college football’s next incarnation of Bobby Bowden, is still at the helm and he’ll have to show that he can replace a legendary quarterback (again).
The Good: Despite losing LB Sergio Kindle, DT Lamar Houston and S Earl Thomas to the League this year, the Longhorns are poised to have probably the best defense in the Big 12. They return seven starters including every member of their secondary except Thomas, which ain’t too bad given what we saw from Blake Gideon and the Brown boys (Chykie and Curtis) last season. Nate Newton’s son, (who I think is literally half the size Nate was when he played for the Cowboys) Tre, returns to the offensive backfield along with my second favorite name in all of college football, (after T-Bob Hebert) Fozzy Whittaker.
The Bad: In Austin the question is whether Colt McCoy carried the ground game on his back because he could or because he had to. Without him, the Longhorns did basically nothing on the ground last season. If sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert doesn’t turn out to be a playmaker of McCoy’s caliber, the offense may be in some serious trouble. McCoy didn’t just make plays in the running game, he bailed himself out of a lot of bad situations in the passing game as well. That’s something you can’t design or put into a gameplan. The loss of Jordan Shipley is going to be huge as well, since he was not just a playmaker on offense, but on special teams as well. Finding guys who can play at the level of those two stars and creating a running game not dependent on the quarterback are Mack Brown’s two biggest issues this season.
The Last Word: I expect this team to be all defense this year. Nothing against Garrett Gilbert, but watching him against Alabama in the national championship game last year did not bring me memories of Vince Young or Colt McCoy. It’s hard to follow a legend, and it’s gotta be even harder following two. I can’t say that I see Gilbert carrying this team the way both of those guys did and Mack Brown hasn’t shown he’s got what it takes to win without a superstar at QB. Then again, he hasn’t had to. The horns have a four-week death row on their schedule where they play at Texas Tech, then home for UCLA, to Dallas for Oklahoma and then to Lincoln to play Nebraska without a week off. I fully expect them to lose two of those games, and three wouldn’t surprise me. If they can come out of that stretch unscathed, though, be prepared to talk national championship.
Final Record: 9-4
Yes, outrageous, I know.
The Lakers are thin up front and Shaq was the best player still available. But the Lakers have the triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom? True, and no team has three better players in the frontcourt. But take away one of them (probably you, Bynum, who can’t seem to stay away from the operating table) and there’s a problem.
Again, wishful thinking.
Instead, Shaq signs with … the Celtics? Why, Shaq, why? The hated rival to the Lakers and you sign with them? No, this can’t be. This is just as bad as waking up one morning and finding out John Walker Lindh, an American, was a member of the Taliban. I had never heard of Lindh, however, I know he’s serving time for being a turncoat.
Boston gets a burly center to make up for the loss of Kendrick Perkins, who will be sidelined for about half of the year with a knee injury. But if you wanted to shore up your defense with a backup player capable of playing like a starter then the Diesel was the way to go. For years I envisioned the Big Aristotle’s career coming full circle. Winning another title with Kobe Bryant and then riding off in the sunset. Now, his career will end with the Celtics.
Ugh, where’s the Pepto Bismo?
The Lakers never thought of Shaq… instead they added a veteran to spell Bynum. Theo Ratliff, a player I remember from way back, was brought in. I didn’t even know he was in the league any more.
If Bynum gets hurt can you see the 37-year-old Ratliff starting for the Lakers and delivering? Hell no.
Not that the former Big Cactus is any younger; Shaq is the oldest player in the league at 38. But he’s a very capable player. He can’t dunk over two or three guys like he used to, but he sure can box out, take up space and intimidate. You think a guy like Dwight Howard, who was on the cover of Men’s Health looking all swoll, will be able to knock around the original Superman? Afraid not.
Like loving a relative who goes off and marries some malcontent, I will still wish Shaq the best. Every team he has ever played for I have rooted on. Boston, however, I will not.
Multiple sources are reporting today that Brett Favre has officially called it a career. Uh huh…
See, the thing is, he’s done this at least twice before. Now I know his ankle is probably still bothering him, but I just can’t imagine Favre staying on the sidelines when the season starts in September.
Lane Kiffin is at it again… Over the weekend he hired Kennedy Pola to be his new Offensive Coordinator for the Trojans. Only problem, he ruffled Jeff Fisher’s feathers in the process. You see, until recently, Pola had been the Titans Running Backs coach, and Kiffin didn’t even bother to ask Fisher’s permission ahead of time. Classy, Lane. Real classy.
Why They’re Here: Question marks abound for this Oklahoma team. Landry Jones is a big question mark at quarterback, but he’s not the biggest one. Gerald McCoy anchored this defense and Trent Williams anchored the offense. The importance of an all-American left tackle cannot be overstated and neither can that of an all-American defensive tackle. The skill players get all the glory, but it’s the big hogs down in the trenches that really define a team and make the difference between greatness and mediocrity. I’ve never known a Bob Stoops team not to reload, but he lost some once-in-a-lifetime big boys this offseason.
The Good: Oklahoma returns nine starters from last season. Getting Landry Jones gametime experience last year turned out to not be so great, but that was last season. That bodes very well for this season. You can’t replicate the intensity of the fourth quarter on the road against Oklahoma State or against Texas in the Red River Rivalry. The kid has now gone through it, taken his lumps and lived to fight another day. As Kobe Bryant would say, he’s “battle tested,” and a battle tested quarterback is an absolute necessity in the Big 12.
The Bad: In addition to losing two big, beefy hosses in Williams and McCoy to the NFL, Stoops will also have to replace RB Chris Brown and TE Jermaine Gresham on offense. On defense, the Sooners only return four guys who started last year, and two of them are on the D-line, which will be a big question without McCoy. Also, Landry Jones was nobody’s Sam Bradford last year. With a full offseason and spring as the team’s leader behind him, he’s all out of excuses if this team doesn’t win.
The Last Word: Stoops is an excellent recruiter and he brought in a top 5 class this offseason that included not one, not two, but three four-star defensive tackles. With his penchant for finding freshman gems, I doubt there will be a significant drop off in talent. I expect this team to reload and be back to national prominence. Folks in Norman don’t take too kindly to appearances in the Sun Bowl. Don’t be surprised if they are squarely in the hunt for the national championship this season. But that all – and I do mean all – depends on Landry Jones.
Final Record: 12-2
Last week the NHL rejected the New Jeresy Devils 17 year, 102 million dollar contract offer to Ilya Kovalchuk. They said the last four years were added on for the sole purpose of driving their salary cap figure down. Now the NHL Players Association has filed a grievance with the league. But the length of these contracts is what gets me. How can you lock a player in for over a decade is beyond me.
Things are pretty bad in Dodger land. The owners are in the middle of a heated divorce. Manny Ramirez is hurt, again. They lost their first six games after the All Star break. Now they are looking up at the top of the NL West from fourth place. If all that weren’t enough, they still pay George Sherrill to come in a pitch for them. What was lost in the debacle the other night is that Sherrill was the one that gave up a two run double in the ninth. He always gives up runs. That is just what he does. They could have done a lot better signing a leper to a $10 contract. Their ERA would be similar and you wouldn’t have to look at a silly goatee.
In this recession how can anyone pick up a paycheck for such ineptitude. You don’t see me going into my coworkers offices and just taking dumps. That’s what Sherrill does. He goes out there and just poops. Then Torre has to go out and clean up after him. Its just nauseating. Well I don’t blame Torre, the front office, or the like. I blame the parents. How people could raise such a lack of production is just beyond me. So please, parents, read to your children. If you don’t they will grow up to pitch like George Sherrill.
Why They’re Here: Nesbitt, Allen and Jones. This backfield trio carried Tech last year to the ACC title with only six scholarship seniors on the team. The triumvirate, which I will absolutely have to think up a name for (I was considering “The Blackfield” but that doesn’t really do them justice), is college football’s most potent rushing attack. Even after 50 years, teams still haven’t figured out how to shut down the triple option – especially when it’s run by the right players.
On defense, the team returns nine starters to a unit that was less than stellar last season. Tech will be instituting the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Al Groh. If anyone can make the 3-4 a winner it’s Groh, a disciple of Bill Parcells and former Virginia head coach.
The Good: In addition to Nesbitt, Allen and Jones, adding Al Groh to the mix on the defensive headset is huge. Head Coach Paul Johnson’s triple option doesn’t look to be any less effective than it was in 1906 when he first started running it. The best thing about this offense is that it’s always a change of pace for defenses to prepare for. It completely changes the way linebackers, defensive ends and corners have to play. It also forces a defense to play disciplined football. Any team with players looking to make superstar plays instead of covering their assignment is going to get beat. And you couldn’t ask for three better guys to run it, Josh Nesbitt is a triple option coach’s wet dream in terms of running power and decision making. He can also put the ball in the air and make things happen.
The Bad: This ain’t Navy. Johnson has run the triple option successfully in the ACC for two years and as impressive as that is a) It’s been a down couple years in the ACC and b) ACC defensive coordinators get paid a lot more money and have access to a lot more resources. With the drastic improvements all over the conference, Johnson’s triple option will be going up against some serious challenges this year. Now that they’re the champs, the bullseye is squarely on the Yellow Jackets’ back. Then there’s the defense.
Tech was BAD on defense last year, but their offense was able to put up enough points to still win games. Adjusting to a new system and a new coach is usually not the recipe for a championship season, even with a good defense.
The Last Word: Iowa’s victory in last year’s Orange Bowl showed what a team with a strong and disciplined defense could do against the Jackets. Everyone is expecting the defense to be better under Groh, but it remains to be seen whether it was the system or the players that failed Tech last year. Heavy is the crown and Georgia Tech won’t be flying under anyone’s radar this season.
Final Record: 9-4
Why They’re Here: It’s the end of the Tebow era and no one is quite sure what that means. John Brantley is the man now and I think he’s got Peyton Manning Danny Weurffel-level talent. The defense lost five starters and so did the offense, which is a lot of leadership to give to the NFL. How good they are this year will be determined by how well they fill those holes.
The Good: Everyone in Gainesville is excited for John Brantley. He’s not Tim Tebow by a long shot, but he excels in a number of different areas. From what we’ve seen of him in Gator blowouts and this year’s spring game, he’s got a rocket for an arm and is tremendously accurate. They’ve also got freshman Trey Burton and the converted tight end Jordan Reed to run the option. Burton’s feet looked great in the spring game. He had a 76-yard scramble where he ran through tackles and spun around defensive backs.
This year’s recruiting class also has Gator fans doing backflips. Coach Meyer’s class was ranked number one in the nation by both ESPN and Scout.com. Word is, this class could be as good – or better (gasp!) – than the 2006 class that included Tebow, LB Brnadon Spikes, and WRs Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper. While the question of how good this class really is remains to be seen, if they can contribute the way the class of ’06 did, don’t sleep on this team.
The Bad: The Gators are basically playing this season without a senior class. In addition to the notable departures of CB Joe Haden and DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida also lost all-conference tight end Aaron Hernandez, PR/KR/WR Brandon James, one-half of the Pouncey twins, C Maurkice Pouncey; and S Major Wright. This is in addition to the stellar senior class that is gone and of course…this guy http://bit.ly/cDPJ8E. It’s tough enough to lose a leader and a player like Tebow and a group like the 2010 class, but losing most of the big names from the 2011 class may just be too much.
The Last Word: The questions for the Gators this season aren’t at QB, they’re everywhere else. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Brantley will be phenomenal. Had the 2011 class come back for their senior year, I would absolutely have this team rated in the top 5, maybe even in the top 3. But they didn’t. Even with all that, Florida still has the best head coach in the business and the best recruiting class in the nation. If guys like Burton, Jelani Jenkins and Dee Finley can be difference makers for the Gators, they can challenge Alabama again for the SEC title (Alabama-Florida III!). Even if all that happens, Florida’s schedule includes a tough Georgia team this year and Alabama at Tuscaloosa followed by LSU the next week. Add to that, they’ll face the biggest challenge from Florida State they’ve had in seven years.
Final Record: 11-3
Why They’re Here: Some people have the Huskers ranked above the Longhorns and the Sooners in the Big 12 this season. While I’m not going to go that far, I will say this team can be dangerous. Apparently Bo Pelini is a recruiting savant. Since he’s been in Lincoln the Blackshirts are finally back – I know the so-called experts say this every time Nebraska’s defense isn’t pathetic, but I think this is the first year it’s actually been true.
The Good: Bo and baby brother Carl Pelini have the Nebraska defense back at a level of respectability they haven’t had since the 90s. He’s also found his running game with the emergence of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. The offense also returns 10 starters, including four out of five offensive linemen.
The Huskers had a top 25 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, which goes a long way in the ultra competitive Big 12 conference they’ll be leaving next year and the not-at-all competitive Big 12 North.
In fact, the Huskers only challenge in the North this year will come from Missouri, who they devoured 27-12 in a rainy day affair last year. They’ve also wisely replaced Virginia Tech on this year’s schedule with South Dakota State. Save for some monumental hiccup, the Huskers should be 5-0 heading into their October 16 showdown with Texas.
The Bad: The defense returns seven starters from last year’s defense, none of whom are named Ndamukong Suh. Here’s the thing, having a DT who can get 12 sacks, 85 tackles and 10 passes defended in a season will really help hide any deficiencies in your defense. Suh was a monster and probably one of the best to ever play the position (most people probably don’t realize how out-of-this-solar-system those stats are for a defensive tackle). Without him there to disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback, it remains to be seen what Nebraska’s defense is really made of. There’s also the question mark at quarterback. Zac Lee is back, but apparently his spot is being challenged by redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green, who were very impressive in Nebraska’s spring game. Quarterback controversy is never good for a team. To paraphrase the old adage, if you have three quarterbacks, you have none.
The Last Word: If Nebraska can settle on a starter before the season starts and stick with him through the season and if the defense proves to be more than 10 guys who rode Suh for 14 games last season, they could compete for their final Big 12 Championship. They’re almost assured to be there by virtue of the competition, or lack there of, in the North, but what’s important is what they do when they get there.
Final Record: 9-4
As a coach, Phil Jackson wins championships in threes. His Chicago Bulls won three in a row from 1991-1993. The second three-peat took place between 1996 and 1998. When he changed scenery to Los Angeles, the Lakers won from 2000 to 2002.
The current Lakers have won back-to-back titles. Do they have what it takes to continue the Zenmaster’s trend?
Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers never played in four straight NBA finals. If these Lakers make it to the championship round again that will mean more than 100 games played for four consecutive years.
That type of fatigue will take its toll on any human, even professional athletes. Too much sweat even for the champs. In about 1,460 days the Lakers will have played more than 400 games. That doesn’t include preseason games, practices, morning shootarounds, weight room sessions, media appearances and offseason workouts.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol also played extensively in international play and the Olympics in 2008. Lamar Odom plans to play in the FIBA World Championship later this summer.
Where’s the rest?
The Health of Andrew Bynum
If he’s healthy, the Lakers are unstoppable. During their three years in the finals, Bynum was never 100 percent.
Against the Celtics in 2008 he wasn’t even active. Last season against the Magic, Bynum was coming off a regular season injury. This year, he missed a handful of games to finish the year and was hobbled during the playoffs. Bynum had his knee drained during the NBA finals and played just enough to squeak through the championship.
Bynum had impressive numbers during the regular season. The Lakers need his size, rebounding and ability to block or change shots. Without him, they have a gaping hole at center. Gasol could fill in admirably, but his natural position is power forward.
Lack of Depth
Whenever money becomes an issue it could change the dynamic of the team. Certainly, that will be the case with the Lakers. They have many free agents.
The team’s core will be intact, but what about the role players? Those are a serious question mark.
They have no point guards as Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar may all be gone. DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell and Adam Morrison aren’t in the Lakers’ future.
Brown recently announced he would opt out of his two-year deal.
Will Los Angeles be able to field a team? Which brings the next obstacle …
They Won’t Get Better
The Lakers have had the best eight-man rotation in the league the last two years. Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Ron Artest, Fisher, Farmar and Brown delivered two straight titles.
The only change from the ‘09 championship was at small forward. Trevor Ariza was a slasher who could hit open shots and defend the perimeter. Artest wasn’t the same type of offensive player, but his brute strength helped the Lakers match Boston’s physicality.
So will they get better? Probably not. They need backcourt help and an experienced big man. A three-man rotation of Bynum, Gasol and Odom works — if neither of them are in foul trouble or injured. A fourth frontcourt player is needed.
Not improving their roster will only diminish the Lakers’ chances of winning another title. In 2003, the Lakers did nothing to improve their stock which led to them getting stopped by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Not adding quality players will only help the rest of the league catch up.
The NBA Will Get Better
During the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe years the NBA was chasing the Lakers. The same thing is happening again. Through trades, free agency and sheer willpower, the rest of the league — the Western Conference especially — has to catch up.
The only question is when. What team has the best chance to knock off the Lakers? Boston might be too old, Phoenix and Cleveland could lose Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James, and Oklahoma City is still a bit green. Some team will step its game up.
Jackson has announced that he wants to return to the Lakers. But will a coach make up the difference if the Lakers’ talent isn’t the same?
Los Angeles’ run has to end some time. It might be next year.