For a club that had such a tumultuous offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers look a lot like the team that faded in last season's second half and went quietly in a first-round playoff series loss. At least for now.
The Lakers' summer was highlighted by the trade rumors surrounding Kobe Bryant, but the two-time defending scoring champ will suit up for Los Angeles on Tuesday when the Lakers open their season against the new-look Houston Rockets at Staples Center.
Bryant has won three championships while playing all 11 of his NBA seasons with Los Angeles, but the team's failure to improve since the departure of Shaquille O'Neal after the 2003-04 season has left Bryant frustrated with its direction.
He went public with a trade request during a radio interview in May, then rescinded the request in a different radio interview later that day. The commotion died down slightly over the summer until Lakers owner Jerry Buss acknowledged on Oct. 11 that he "would certainly listen" to trade offers for Bryant.
"At any time, I think you have to do that with anybody," Buss said. "It's just part of the game, to listen to somebody who has a dissatisfied player that you think is going to fit. You can't keep too many loyalties. You've got to look at it as a business. (Bryant) looks at it the same way I look at it."
While Buss may be fielding offers, Bryant remains with Los Angeles as the Lakers prepare for their opener.
"I'm still a Laker. I'm here. I'm ready to play," Bryant said Monday. "My focus is here with this ballclub. Wherever I play, I'll be ready. I'm focusing on this team. Dr. Buss said business is business. I understand that."
Bryant, who averaged 31.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists last season, missed the preseason finale Friday with a sprained right wrist, but is expected to start Tuesday.
He'll be one of many familiar faces on the court for the Lakers, who didn't make many offseason moves despite losing 27 of their last 43 regular-season games to finish with a 42-40 record. They were then eliminated from a first-round playoff series against Phoenix in five games - their third straight season without a playoff series win.
The Lakers' biggest transaction was bringing back Derek Fisher, a key role player during the team's run of three straight championships between 1999 and 2002.
Houston also welcomed back some familiar faces this summer, signing Steve Francis and trading for Mike James - two former Rockets that bring depth to the backcourt.
The Rockets' most significant offseason move, however, was replacing defensive-minded coach Jeff Van Gundy with the more offense-oriented Rick Adelman. Van Gundy coached Houston to a 52-30 record in 2006-07 - its best regular-season finish in 10 years - but the Rockets were eliminated by Utah in the first round of the playoffs. They failed to get to the second round in each of Van Gundy's four seasons.
Adelman, who has advanced past the first round in seven of his 14 career postseason appearances, hopes to help end those playoff woes. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady should make his job easier.
Yao averaged a career-high 25.0 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent from the field last season, and McGrady added 24.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds. Together they were one of the highest-scoring pairs of teammates in the league, but Adelman expects them to get even better in his offense.
"One of the first things he said to me was, 'I think I can make life easier for your two big stars,'" Rockets owner Les Alexander said after hiring Adelman in May. "'I can put them in positions where they can, instead of going uphill all the time trying to score, they can be more relaxed and have an easier time scoring.' That's one of the keys to this team being a big winner - having our two best players in a position where they can be more efficient."
The Rockets and Lakers split four games last season with each team winning an overtime game in Los Angeles. Yao averaged 33.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 blocked shots in three games against the Lakers, but McGrady was held to 19.0 points on 27.5 percent shooting in his two contests against them.
Bryant averaged 37.3 points versus the Rockets, and scored 53 points in each home game against them.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Houston -5.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 194 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 73% of bets for this game have been placed on Houston -5.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).
The Lakers might need another big night from Bryant on Tuesday, as they'll be without their second-leading scorer from last season. Lamar Odom will miss the opener after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in May. He was hoping to be ready for the beginning of the season, but could miss the first two weeks to complete his recovery.
"I know Lamar's anxious to play, and he wanted to play in the opening game, but the consensus is to give him a little more time," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said.
By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us
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