Lakers have plenty of star power
By David Leon Moore
The Los Angeles Lakers are ready to begin their quest to repeat as NBA champions. And the media are on alert, from TNT, which is all about what happens on the court, to TMZ, the gossip outlet that hopes to get plenty of mileage out of volatile forward Ron Artest and the marriage of forward Lamar Odom to reality-TV celebrity Khloe Kardashian.
"The Hollywood media is different than the sports media," Lakers veteran guard Derek Fisher said last month.
Of course, the Lakers are accustomed to both.
This is a team that once had the two biggest stars openly feuding (Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant) and a coach (Phil Jackson) the author of a book extremely critical of one of those stars (Bryant again).
But Bryant has been above the fray of late. He has his four NBA championships, his 2008 MVP award, a good relationship with the coach (still Jackson) and, unlike the old days, the respect of his peers as the unquestioned leader of the team.
And he has all the complementary parts, it would seem, to lead the Lakers to a repeat title:
• A young, healthy big man in the middle in 7-footer Andrew Bynum, who will be 22 today, who might or might not be ready to become an All-Star this season.
• A versatile second offensive option in forward Pau Gasol (18.8-point career average).
• A crafty, tough backcourt mate in Fisher.
• A potential Sixth Man of the Year in Odom.
• Experience off the bench in guards Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic; energetic big reserves Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga and small forward Luke Walton.
Then there's the wild card — Artest — who will try to contribute what departed free agent Trevor Ariza did last season (defense, energy, hit open shots) — only better. He'll try to do it without losing his cool, which he has done in the past, most notably serving a 73-game suspension while with the Indiana Pacers in 2004-05 after igniting a brawl between players and fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.).
Just two days before the start of the regular season, Artest spoke at the Lakers training compound and said he has no individual goals and he was totally into following Bryant's lead.
"Whatever Kobe wants, that's what we're reaching for," Artest said. "Kobe's the leader of the team. We're going to follow Kobe."
The Lakers open the season today against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. The Boston Celtics and host Cleveland Cavaliers will also play today.