Ring in a new season
ALL SMILES: With a new running mate in Ron Artest (left) and Lamar Odom leading an improved supporting cast, Kobe Bryant will have an easier burden to help lead the Lakers defend their NBA title starting this week.Â - Jeff Lewis for Sentinel The Lakers got their rings Tuesday night while the Clippers watched another season start with baited optimism.
The Lakers unveiled their new enforcer in Ron Artest. The Clippers prayed their new rookie would be able to play this week.
Welcome to another NBA season, where the more things (and players) change, the more they'll stay the same in 2009-2010.
By now you know that every pundit expects the defending NBA champs to win their third straight Western Conference title. Replacing Trevor Ariza with Ron Artest was a move that risked the future for the present but it's one that will pay off immediately
Lost in all of Artest's personality is a player who is working to repair his image from the infamous Malice at the Palace five years ago. A player who gave Kobe Bryant fits throughout his career and one who embodied the toughness the Lakers lacked overall the last two years.
After watching the Lakers receive their championship rings Tuesday, it will no doubt motivate him to do whatever it takes to reach that mountaintop himself.
One thing is sure, this year's team will be entertaining to watch and just like Manny Ramirez added spice and production to the Dodgers, Artest will do that in a town made for him.
But the team's biggest ex-factor won't be him or if Lamar Odom can stay motivated after earning that new contract this summer. It lies with the two youngest players, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum.
Farmar watched as Shannon Brown usurped his minutes during the last half of the season and in the playoffs. He listened as his defense was cited as a reason for his fall from grace.
Forget being the point guard of the future, he needs to convince the Lakers this year that they should invest their future in him. Brown has made him expendable as after publicly challenging himself, all eyes will be on Farmar to see if he lives up to it.
As for Bynum, the goal is simple. Make it through the season without getting hurt.
Two knee injuries over the last two seasons add up to anxiety for fans wondering if he'll ever be healthy for a year. He showed promise in the preseason by being aggressive but fans will notice that was done without Pau Gasol next to him.
Bynum has yet to show any type of consistent chemistry with Gasol - blame part of that on Phil Jackson's short leash at the first sign of trouble. For the Lakers to get anywhere, the two have to mesh and it's Bynum that has to show how well he can.
On paper, the Clippers should be able to crash the playoff party. After a 19-win season saw them rewarded with consensus National Player of the Year Blake Griffin, they have the pieces to contend one of the final two playoff spots.
Eric Gordon and Al Thornton are two of the best young players and have a high ceiling to improve. Baron Davis and Marcus Camby are motivated to lead after a disappointing season.
The only problem is themselves. Last year, they crashed and burned with injuries and chemistry issues.
Adding to their optimism, Griffin, a hard worker who's an athletic double-double machine. Unfortunately it's tempered by an injury to his left knee that may hamper him in the early part of the season.
But unlike most No. 1 picks, the season won't ride on his shoulders. Not when Davis is the face of the franchise and wants to alleviate the pressure of what he referred to as the worst season of his career.
The team will go as far as he takes them and if he remains positive, healthy and focuses on making his team better, he'll be the center of praise instead of criticism.
Players may change for both teams but somehow things always stay the same. The Clippers have the potential to reach the playoffs but whether they do is up to them, not because of better competition.
As for the Lakers, they should reach their seventh NBA finals in 10 seasons but how they get there is completely up to them. With a weak Western conference, they control their own destiny better than anybody.
So what can you expect this season? More of the same excitement for what promises to be one of the best in recent memory. And for the Lakers and Clippers, it's a journey they'll start from two different roads.