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Teams left smiling from NBA offseason

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Steve Nash

The addition of Steve Nash may be enough to get the Lakers out of the playoffs’ second round, where Kobe Bryant and Co. have gone 1-8 over the last two seasons. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s offseason evaluation time! We’ll be splitting up the team-by-team assessments into several posts over the next week or so, starting here with teams that, at least from this vantage point, have little hindsight-based hand-wringing to do. Other posts will include teams that have us worried, teams that generally stood pat (and whether that was a good thing) and the teams that have us most intrigued based on the moves they made and the directions open to them now. Keep that last part in mind if you think your team had a successful offseason and it is not mentioned below.

For today: teams that made some fairly dramatic moves and should be very happy with them.

Los Angeles Lakers

Offseason grade exercises are always tricky. Analysts aren’t in the room with general managers and are thus often in the dark about what directives ownership is giving and which alternative trades or signings are being discussed internally, discussed externally, nearly consummated or merely dreamed about. The ownership motivation isn’t a mystery in Los Angeles, though, even if the Lakers’ attitude toward spending has shifted from December until now: The Buss family wants to win championships, and while some franchises are happy with second-round playoff exits and capacity crowds, that won’t do for a team paying Kobe Bryant nearly $30 million per season and sitting one ring shy of Boston’s record.

The Lakers  were 1-8 in second-round playoff games during the last two seasons. Though there were some close heart-breakers among those eight losses to Dallas and Oklahoma City, there were plenty of blowouts, and this team in the big picture graded out as nothing more than a solid playoff team. The Lakers needed a jolt, and with zero financial flexibility, GM Mitch Kupchak turned the only asset he had — the Lamar Odom trade exception — into point guard Steve Nash, one of the greatest offensive players in league history.

Forward Antawn Jamison also was added. He is a sieve on defense, but so was Troy Murphy, and Jamison can at least add some free throws and driving attacks to the Lakers’ second-unit offense. Re-signing Jordan Hill to an affordable deal without having his full Bird Rights was a nice get. Hill emerged at the end of last season as the team’s third-best big man, and given his potential as a defender, the Lakers will probably be better off if he wins the battle for that spot over Jamison next season.

There are still huge questions here, obviously. Getting even the sum of these superstar parts on offense is going to be difficult, Princeton offense or no, and this team as it stands is going to have work very hard to crack the top 10 in points allowed per possession.

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  • Published On 11:59am, Aug 02, 2012
  • Lakers will be fascinating to watch after breaking the bank for Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant will join forces for the Lakers next season.

    Steve Nash will bring elite passing, shooting and ballhandling to the Lakers next season. (Harry How/Getty Images)

    Here are some things we know about the Lakers after their blockbuster heist of Steve Nash:

    • They will be fascinating to watch on offense. The Lakers have four mammoth stars, and regardless of who the fifth starter is and how awkwardly some parts might mesh, this should be a top-five offense from the minute it takes the floor. The Lakers were an inconsistent offensive team last season, but they took off after the Ramon Sessions deal (how’s that look now, by the way?) and finished a strong 10th overall in points per possession. A finish outside the top five next season would mean that either one of those four stars suffered a long-term injury or that the players and coaching staff suffered a near-complete failure in integrating the roster.

    It will be a challenge, though, especially as the Lakers compete against the league’s very best teams. The Lakers now have two stars, Nash and Pau Gasol, whose default mode on offense is to move quickly — fast dribbling (Nash), smart cuts, passes a step ahead of the defense and shots that come on the move (Nash) or immediately upon receiving a pass (Gasol). Those are generalizations, of course; Gasol is a gifted post-up player who can play the back-it-down game if needed. But these guys play with pace and movement, even if one of them (Nash) has the ball most of the time.

    Kobe Bryant and especially Andrew Bynum have tendencies to hold the ball, survey the defense and look for their own. That is not to say they are selfish. Bryant is a gifted passer, but many of his best passes come after holding on the wing for a full four or five seconds, drawing extra defensive attention and skipping the ball to an open man. But not all of those hold-hold-hold possessions result in smart passes. Many end in terrible shots: Bryant has inexplicably and inexcusably led the league in usage rate for two consecutive seasons, even as his shooting percentage reached its lowest point since he was a teenager last season.

    Bynum, too, has worked on his passing and has paired with Gasol to run a mean big/big pick-and-roll. But at heart, he is a back-to-the-basket-type player. He is not a pick-and-roll machine in the model of Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler.

    But that’s precisely why this Lakers team will be so fun to watch: It would be hard for Nash to go to any system more different than the one he played in Phoenix for the last eight years. The Lakers finished 20 percent of their possessions via post-up plays last season, by far the highest percentage in the league, per Synergy Sports. Only Utah had a smaller percentage of its possessions end with the pick-and-roll ballhandler finishing the play by shooting, drawing a foul or turning the ball over. No team had a lower percentage of its possessions end with pick-and-rolls in which the roll man finished the play. No team devoted a smaller percentage of its possessions to transition chances, per Synergy.

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  • Published On 11:31am, Jul 05, 2012