3. Mitch Kupchak
Forget about all the moves Kucphak has already made and take a minute to ponder the ones still coming down the pipeline. There’s no question the roster the GM has assembled is capable of winning a championship right away, but to think that he’s not still looking for ways to improve the team would be foolhardy.
Rumors of backup point guards Steve Blake and Chris Duhon already being on the trading block have surfaced, and with the team’s struggles in the preseason, there is a real chance the Lakers might need more time than previously anticipated to get on the same page.
If the team is one or two minor tweaks from putting it all together at the trade deadline this winter, expect Mitch to have his finger on the trigger once again.
There also have been some whispers about Kupchak’s maneuvering for the summer of 2014, when everyone except Steve Nash and a potentially re-signed Howard comes off the books. Some guy named LeBron James can opt out of his contract that summer.
4. Gary Vitti
This was a tough one. After all, how is the team’s trainer the second-biggest thing to be excited about on a roster that includes four future Hall of Famers?
Take a minute and consider the ages of the starting five. Nash is 38, Kobe Bryant is 34 and Pau Gasol and World Peace are 32. Dwight Howard is but is coming off major back surgery and missed the entire postseason a year ago. This team better have someone who knows what they’re doing to make sure the bodies don’t break down in the middle of November.
Thankfully, Vitti is that guy. Entering his 28th season as the Lakers’ athletic trainer, Vitti is widely considered the best in the business. Since Vitti arrived in Los Angeles, the team has won eight NBA championships, and he has been integral in every one.
With an aging roster that already was facing injury concerns in the preseason, Vitti’s role on this team is as crucial as anyone else. But through his nearly three decades attending to the cuts, bruises, strains and sprains in LA, Vitti has proven time and time again that he will make sure his players receive the best possible care that will put them in position to succeed.
5. Dwight Howard
This was obvious, right?
The Lakers turned a perennial injury concern with a bad attitude into the league’s most dominant defensive player that can also score 20-25 points per game. They completely changed their expectations by acquiring Howard, and are now on the short list of teams with a legitimate chance to win the championship next June.
Howard will anchor the Lakers defensively, providing an inside presence that hasn’t been felt since the days of Shaquille O’Neal. But it isn’t just Howard’s physical dominance that should have Lakers fans foaming at the mouth once this season starts.
Howard is motivated, probably more than ever. After an extremely messy divorce in Orlando that made LeBron’s “Decision” look like a public relations masterpiece, Howard is in a position where very few people want him to succeed. And that’s a dangerous prospect to anybody in his path.
If Howard can harness the adversity that is sure to be thrown his way, he has a chance to put the aging, quickly deteriorating Lakers roster on his freakishly broad shoulders and carry them to a title.
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of reasons to feel positive about the Lakers heading into the 2012-13 season, but there isn’t a reason bigger, both figuratively and literally, than Howard.
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