Lakers 2013 Preseason Preview: When Will Kobe Return? New L.A. Players Can Expect To Play Large Roles

on October 02 2013 11:46 AM
Kobe Bryant Injury
Kobe Bryant was inactive for the Lakers four-game sweep in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Reuters

After a disappointing 2012-2013 NBA season that culminated with a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers are ready to step back on the court. They start their 2013 preseason against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.

These preseason games will be of more importance to Mike D’Antoni and the rest of the coaching staff. The Lakers lost multiple key players in the offseason, as Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets and Metta World Peace went to the New York Knicks. D'Antoni may need the preseason to choose the starting lineup for the season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 29.

Less than half of the team’s opening day starting lineup has been determined. Steve Nash will be at point guard and Pau Gasol will likely make the move to center, leaving three spots up for grabs.

Kobe Bryant will obviously start at shooting guard when he’s healthy, but it’s still unknown when he can expect to return to action. The Lakers' leading scorer is still recovering from the torn Achilles that he suffered in April. Bryant hasn’t had any setbacks, but he’s not expected to play in the preseason.

The Lakers won’t put Bryant on the court before he’s ready. The initial timetable for his return was set at six to nine months. The 35-year-old has been participating in basketball-related activities, but he has yet to begin sprinting. According to D’Antoni, Bryant has been rehabbing on altered-gravity treadmill, on which he is using 80 percent of his bodyweight.

In Bryant’s absence, the Lakers could decide to start another point guard alongside Nash. During media day, Steve Blake said he expects to play “quite a bit” at shooting guard. Last season, Blake struggled with injuries, starting 13 games while Nash was out with a broken leg.

The Lakers' biggest free-agent signing may have been Nick Young on a two-year deal. The swingman arrived from the Philadelphia 76ers, where he spend most of his time at shooting guard. However, the Lakers are expected to use him more at small forward. He has never started more than 40 games in a season, but he could well exceed that number in 2013-2014.

Young is one of just several new Lakers who will be asked to be a major contributor in the upcoming season. The 28-year-old will be competing with another offseason acquisition to start at small forward. Former Phoenix Suns swingman Wes Johnson joins the Lakers after three rather disappointing years in the NBA. Johnson, who was selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft, is looking to reignite his career in L.A. after averaging 7.7 points per game on just 40 percent shooting from the field.

Three other new faces are competing for a starting position. Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams, and Ryan Kelly are looking to play alongside Gasol in the frontcourt. None of them, though, started at the position last season. Kaman has been a center for his 10 seasons in the league, but has battled injury problems in recent years. Williams hasn’t played in the NBA since February 2012, while Kelly begins his professional career after being selected in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

Jordan Hill, who’s coming back for a third season with the team, might be the favorite to see the most time at power forward. He has worked on his jump shot in the offseason, since D’Antoni’s offense system works best with a power forward that can play away from the basket.

Of the 20 players at Lakers training camp, 11 didn’t play a game for L.A. last season. The roster will eventually be cut down to 15.

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