The Los Angeles Lakers open the 2013-14 NBA season at home against their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, on Oct. 29. It’s unclear whether Kobe Bryant, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in April, will be available to play, but even if he is, the Lakers figure to be in for a dogfight – not just that night, but the entire season.
“It’s a rebuilding year for them because Kobe’s been hurt,” Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said on The Morning Show. “He has a very devastating type of injury. I don’t think he’ll be able to come back as quickly and (as) completely as he would like. So it’s going to be tough on the Lakers this year.”
The Lakers were a sub-.500 team for much of last season before going on a late run. They finished 45-37 and captured the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
They were promptly swept in the first round by the Spurs.
Steve Nash, 39, and Pau Gasol, 33, return to lead a team that allowed 101 points per game last season. Dwight Howard, who finished second on the team in scoring (17.1 points per game) and first in the NBA in rebounding (12.4 rebounds per game), signed with the Rockets, while Metta World Peace, who averaged 12.4 points, signed with the Knicks.
As for Bryant, the 35-year-old is entering his 18th NBA season. Last year, he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting from the floor – his best percentage since 2008-09, when he shot .467. Amazingly, Bryant has never shot better than .469 from the floor – and this year doesn’t figure to be the year he does.
“When Kobe does come back, it’s going to be a different Kobe,” said Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. “That will definitely affect the outcome for the Lakers long-term.”
In Bryant’s defense, he averaged 5.6 rebounds per game last year (his best since 2007-08) and 6.0 assists (his best since 2004-05). Bryant may need to defer even more this season, as the days of isolating the five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star 20 feet from the basket and asking him to break down healthy players one decade his junior – especially over the course of an entire season – are likely over.
“It’s going to be a test for him this year,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Absolutely.”