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Los Angeles Lakers 2015-16 – Pairing the Old Faces with the New

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Following a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers will be hoping that their team can bounce back and provide Kobe Bryant with a fitting send-off as the curtain falls on his glittering career in the NBA. Interestingly enough, much of the team's success this season may depend not so much on the fading Bryant, but rather on whether or not their new point guard, D'Angelo Russell – who was number two draft pick in the summer – can wrestle the starting jersey from Jordan Clarkson.

Whilst there is no doubting Clarkson's talents, he was named in the NBA's All-Rookie First Team after his exploits last season. But following a disappointing team performance in a season throughout which he was heavily influential, an argument could be made that the burden is just too great on the 23-year-old. One way of easing that pressure would be to make sure that new addition Russell gets plenty of game-time whilst he still has the opportunity to learn alongside Bryant.

Rookie D'Angelo Russell

This season is arguably one of rebuilding for the Lakers, with plenty of talented players possessing bags of energy and technical ability, even if they are lacking in terms of experience. As well as Russell and Clarkson, the Lakers' playing roster also features the prodigious talents of Julius Randle. The youngster missed all but 14 minutes of his debut season when he broke his right tibia during the opening game of the 2014-15 campaign against the Houston Rockets but returns to a roster that has been further strengthened with the addition of Lou Williams, who only arrived from the Toronto Raptors in July.

Add to this mix Nick Young, whose 2014 season was hampered by a troublesome thumb injury and Los Angeles have a core of players with plenty of promise, but who will all need to get used to playing with each other before they gel. The end result is that Bryant may see out the final chapter of his playing career serving the interests of his team-mates, offering advice and allowing them to tap into his many years at the very pinnacle of the sport, rather than adding more trophies to his already-bulging cabinet. There is no doubt that this could be a rocky season for the Lakers in terms of results, with the team have a number of young, talented players, but youth needs to make mistakes in order to develop.

The focus on Bryant's impending will he/won't he retirement decision will help to distract the other players from the full intensity of the media spotlight, and the veteran will absorb a fair amount of pressure on behalf of the rest of the playing roster as they take the time they need to find their feet. Developing their existing line-up and ensuring that they hold on to their first-round draft pick will be the priorities for this season, and it's no surprise the franchise are as far as 50/1 with betfair to win the NBA Championship this year.

It is clear to anyone who watches the NBA that the Lakers aren't necessarily where they have been in days gone by, but this is still an exciting time for their fans – after all, even that team of 2008-09 wasn't built overnight. Bryant was key to that successful team, winning the NBA Finals MVP for the first time in his career, and you wouldn't put it past the five-time championship winner of proving some people wrong in what could be his last year as a professional. This current crop of Lakers players has every chance of emulating that side's record-breaking exploits at some point in the future – just not yet – and having opted to pick Russell in the draft rather than securing the services of Jahlil Okafor, they are still lacking a top-drawer physical presence around the court.

Elsewhere, Roy Hibbert has been brought in from the Pacers after a disappointing season, and whilst he doesn't seem to possess the same level of playing intensity and blocking figures that he produced during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, his natural talent is unquestionable. Granted he has attracted controversy in his career – perhaps one reason why there weren't a host of teams chasing him during the summer. But should the prospect of playing and working alongside Bryant restore some fire in his eyes, then a 7' 2'' centre with a then-record 11 blocks in one game suddenly looks like a bargain when you think that he only cost a future second-round pick.

Coach Byron Scott has filled out his roster by adding the likes of ex-Barcelona star Marcelo Huertas and Brandon Bass from the Celtics – both of whom will help Bryant in mentoring the likes of Larry Nance Jr., Michael Frazier and Robert Upshaw – a trio of really exciting rookies who should all be given their opportunity to shine over the course of the coming season. Meanwhile, the return of Metta World Peace has ensured there will at least be some entertainment on the sidelines if things aren't always going well on the court.

Ultimately, this season is going to go one of two ways. Kobe could stay fit and play 50-plus games, notching up huge personal points hauls and rolling back the years. In doing so he could lift both his young and experienced team-mates with him, paving the way for D'Angelo Russell to fill his sizeable boots and become the next superstar to propel the franchise back to their former glories. That would of course be the dream. Alternatively, Bryant may succumb to his advancing years, and see the team crumble around him like his aging left knee – but even the most cynical NBA fan would begrudge the veteran a fitting end to his career.

Published on Oct 16, 2015

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