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The L.A. Taco Lakers Season Preview ~ Five Questions

To borrow from the late great Chick Hearn, the Lakers' 2014-2015 season was in the refrigerator from the first tip-off. Just about everything that could go wrong, did. Steve Nash appeared in more documentaries than actual games. Kobe Bryant did play in 35 games, but not well, shooting a career low 37% before tearing his rotator cuff... on a dunk. Jeremy Lin proved that he was the NBA version of one-hit wonder Psy, and if to add insult to injury, top draft pick Julius Randle, literally took someone’s advice and “broke a leg” on opening night. The bad juju carried into the offseason as top free agents swiped left to the Lakers' thirsty advances. Just as the eggs were cooling, the butter was getting hard and the Jell-O was jiggling, the refrigerator light came back on (the spirit of Dr. Buss?). The Lakers moved up in the NBA lottery, drafted a stud prospect, traded for a two-time All-Star, signed the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and fired a clueless head coach, who was quoted as saying he didn't believe in analytics because he’s “old school.” Well, the latter didn’t happen (yet), but there are a lot of questions heading into the Lakers' 2015-2016 season, so let’s try to answer them.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
These aren’t your dad’s Lakers, well, one of them is. Kobe Bean Bryant enters his unprecedented twentieth season with the same team, but besides the five-time champ, this patchwork roster is full of hopefuls, has-beens and never-will-be’s. You’re gonna hear a lot about number one draft pick (2nd overall), D’Angelo Russell, whose innate passing skills remind head coach and former Showtime star Byron Scott of that dude who owns the Dodgers. Last year’s number one draft pick, Julius Randle, looks leaner and meaner after missing his rookie season and All-NBA Rookie Jordan Clarkson is out to prove that his coming out party during the season’s second half was no fluke. You might recognize ex-NBA All-Star Roy Hibbert, the 7’2 giant with the resting shade face whose claim to fame is jumping straight up with his hands in the air. Local boy, Nick Young, aims to get his swag back after a lost year that eerily parallels his booty-ful fiancé Iggy Azalea’s, who both went from sudden stardom to meme-laughingstock faster than you can say, “Who dat? Who dat?” Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, and blue-collar Brandon Bass add a veteran presence, while the return of Metta World Peace (if he makes the team) provides comic relief.

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WHAT’S ALL THIS TALK ABOUT CORE?
The buzzword floating around the Lakers from the top-down is “core.” Part owner, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and Laker Nation whipping boy, Jim Buss, told the LA Times that he hopes to develop a “core” of eight young players to build around. General Manager Mitch Kupchak parroted that statement, “I’d like our young players to prosper and show promise so we can develop a core going forward.” Kobe, ever the company man ($48 million helps), even got onboard, saying that the Lakers' young core are “far ahead of the curve.” For Laker fans, core is codeword for “hope.” Unless you can appreciate the Carlos Boozer “And 1!!!,” the lone bright spot last season was Jordan Clarkson. The unheralded second-round pick got some PT and made the most of it, earning lofty comparisons (by Kupchak) to uber-athletic Russell Westbrook and scoring a supermodel girlfriend, Chanel Iman. Come think of it, that should be the Lakers pitch to free agents moving forward. “See, even this dude can score a Victoria’s Secret model if you’re a Laker.” After lucking out in the lotto, the Lakers passed on Duke big man Jahlil Okafor for the precocious Ohio State freshman, D’Angelo Russell, a tantalizing point guard with a smooth left-handed stroke, Showtime flair and serious eye-brow game. Just remember that the 19-year old was named after neo-soul singer D’Angelo so give him some time. To put it in perspective, the kiddie core of Russell, Clarkson and Randle, couldn’t even scream “pass me the ball” in baby talk when Kobe made his NBA debut in 1996.

Kobe Bryant, 17, jokes with the media as he holds his Los Angeles Lakers jersey during a news conference Friday, July 12, 1996
Kobe Bryant, 17, jokes with the media as he holds his Los Angeles Lakers jersey during a news conference Friday, July 12, 1996, at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Bryant was acquired from the Charlotte Hornets by the Lakers Thursday in exchange for veteran center Vlade Divac. (AP Photo/Susan Sterner)

SHOULD I EVEN WATCH?

Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams and Swaggy P (aka Nick Young) walking onto a court with only one basketball sounds like the set-up to a Bill Simmons joke. All three are volume shooters (read: ball hogs), who defy analytics with their “shoot first, run plays later” mentality. On some nights when they’re in NBA JAM “on fire” mode it’s gonna be must-watch TV, while on other nights when they’re throwing up more bricks than developer Rick Caruso it’s going to be grab the remote frustrating. What it won’t be is boring, as long as Kobe stays healthy. I propose a Kobe-themed drinking game where you take a sip every time: 1) Kobe throws his hands in the air, cursing the basketball gods 2) mentions “process” through gritted teeth 3) unleashes his dreaded death stare. At worst, the growing pains of our young core (now, they got me saying it) will give us a peek of better days ahead. If you’re into drama, the behind-the-scenes Buss family saga starring Jim and part owner/president Jeannie Buss is well-documented and makes Empire look like The Cosby Show.

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SO, YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE (FOR PLAYOFFS)?
Hell no. On paper, it’s a top heavy mix of young and old, packed with potential, but thinner than Jeff Van Gundy’s hairline at the point guard, small forward and center positions. The Lakers are a Kobe or even Hibbert injury (gulp) away from challenging last season’s franchise low of 21 wins. Bleak? Wait, it gets worse. The Lakers lose next year’s draft pick if it’s not in the top three thanks to the Steve Nash trade (aka the herpes of Worst NBA Trades Ever) so if they lose, they better lose big AND get lucky in the lottery again. Dream scenario is they hang in playoff contention, Kobe plays 60-plus games, drains a couple game winners, chokes out Swaggy P and the Lakers' young core shows enough growth that attracts a premiere free agent next summer (Kevin Durant meet Gigi Hadid.)

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IS THIS KOBE’S LAST SEASON?
Since Kobe has repeatedly said he hasn’t decided if he’s going to play beyond this season. Let me as an unabashed Kobe fan make the decision for him, “No mas, bruh.” Sure, it's been fascinating to see the human side to the 37-year-old as he wrestles with mediocrity and battles father time, but let's face it, these last two injury-filled seasons were basically Kobe’s-Michael Jordan's Wizard years. It was like an NBA-version of The Matrix sequels: bad, bloated spinoffs with glimmering glimpses of greatness that kept us watching in hopes of something that never came. They felt more like money grabs rather than the passionate artistry that made me fall in love with the original. Sure, there were no creepy albino twins in Kobe's storyline, but there was Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly.

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Now, If I could write the Black Mamba biopic, the final scene would go a little something like this...

EXT. STAPLES CENTER - NIGHT

Kobe, our purple-and-gold-clad hero, swishes two free throws despite a blown achilles. Crowd rises to its feet as he gives JACK a final fist bump before limping down the hallway... Cue up Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” as we...

Kobe Bryant walks off the court

Academy gold. 

Here’s hoping that (arguably) the greatest Laker-of-all-time, takes on a new role this season as Kobe Wan Kenobi, hoops jedi master, who mentors our young Air Walkers on what it takes to win rings, before vanishing into thin air and only returning (next year and beyond) as a voyeuristic force ghost. Now, that I would watch.

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