In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Lakers again hit the jackpot by convincing Steve Nash to sign a three year deal with them instead of taking more money to play in Toronto. That means a team that was trending towards the middle of the Western Conference pack got a boost and will remain one of the powers in the West for at least another season or two. Once the season ended, it looked like the West would be a two team fight between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs again next year. Nash’s presence means a second round draw for the Spurs or Thunder will be more difficult, but by no means should either team be ready to concede anything to LA.
Essentially, the Lakers will be a better version of last year’s team. They’ll be better at getting the ball to their bigs, Nash will more open shots then Steve Blake or Ramon Sessions and Kobe will still do the things Kobe does (for better or worse) independent of the offensive system the Lakers run. They’re going to be an incredibly efficient offensive team once they get used to each other. They’re also going to be the same, if not worse on defense. Nash is a terrible defender. Yes, he works really hard and takes a charge here and there, but he isn’t able to stay in front of point guards with even above average quickness. Their perimeter defense will be worse and they’ll have to rely on Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for help. That worked fine when everyone looked interested in defense last season but Kobe, Bynum and Gasol all aren’t known for their 48 minute focus on defense. They’re still probably going to be the slowest team in the league on offense. Nash loves getting out on the break but how often will he look back to find his teammates lagging behind.
We don’t know what the Spurs’ big man rotation will look like yet, but I think it’s safe to say they’re not getting Dwight Howard or Kendrick Perkins, so stopping and even slowing down the Laker bigs will be an even tougher task because Steve Nash actually knows where to place a ball on an entry pass unlike some of the other point guards the Lakers have paraded out there. The Spurs will likely have to take more risks, create more turnovers and force the Lakers to run with them. On offense they basically just need to keep doing what they do best. Move the ball, look for open shots and have Tony Parker take full advantage of having someone slower guarding him.
The Spurs can still beat the Lakers and yes, the Lakers can beat the Spurs in a playoff series. Nash just reduces the margin of error for San Antonio. The real problem is Oklahoma City at least isn’t going to get worse this offseason. They’re the kings of the Western Conference until the Spurs or some other team can prove otherwise. And if they can do that, they still have to worry about Miami, who like OKC, isn’t going to get any worse. The Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have both improved this summer, but enough to be better than the Spurs? Probably not, but next season’s Western Conference playoffs could be even more fun than this past season.