Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.
1. With the new year here, are the Lakers in need of any resolutions for 2015?
Holmes: The only thing they need to focus on the rest of the way is to make sure they're in good position for the lottery. In other words: lose. It does them no good to be middle of the pack. If they're just good enough, they'll lose their 2015 top-five protected first-round pick to Phoenix. The Lakers can keep it competitive, but, as Magic Johnson said, it's in their best interest to lose. Oh, and don't wear Kobe Bryant down. We've already seen how that works.
Shelburne: I don't know if they're in need of a resolution or just a hard reset. The 2014 calendar year was an awful one for the Lakers. Just awful. Between the injuries to key players (Bryant, Steve Nash, Julius Randle), the losses in free agency (Pau Gasol), the big bets that didn't pay off (Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James) and the trades that didn't happen (Rajon Rondo), not much went the Lakers way in 2014. The one positive thing you can say though, is that they didn't panic and blow all their future cap space trying to make up for that poor run. That's not easy for a glamour franchise like the Lakers to do.
Markazi: I think the one big resolution I've been pushing for since the beginning of the season is do everything you can to get and keep your top five pick and build a contender next season with the cap room created by the expiring contracts of Nash, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer. The worst thing they could do is win enough games to get the sixth or seventh pick and see that pick go to Phoenix and once again whiff in free agency.
2. Is there anything to the notion from some that the Lakers are better off with Kobe Bryant out of the lineup?
Holmes: The numbers don't lie. The Lakers outscore opponents when Bryant is off the court. Byron Scott himself has said that Bryant doesn't trust his new teammates and feels that when the going gets tough, it's on him to try and bail them out by shooting the ball a ton. Bryant is only going to be around for another season if he doesn't play beyond his current contract, so the Lakers might just have to deal with this situation for now. But they have played pretty well without him, giving the Bulls and Mavericks close games on the road.
Shelburne: No. And people need to stop with this notion. Yes, you'll see a game or two where the Lakers will play "better" without Kobe on the court. They might even win a few of those games. But the difference between role players and superstars in the NBA is that superstars bring it every single night -- home, road, Tuesday in Minneapolis, Saturday in Miami. Until the rest of the Lakers prove they can bring that level of effort and effectiveness every night, they will be regarded as role players. At one point in his career, Boozer had that status. But he's really the only player on the team aside from Kobe who has been a foundation-type player for an organization. What the Lakers -- and Kobe -- really need to do is learn to blend the way they've been able to play in some of the games he has missed in games that he plays.
Markazi: No, but Kobe does need to adjust his style and it looks as if his time away has helped him do that. He almost had a triple-double in his first game back and did record one in his second game back. He's more of a facilitator now and the minutes he is playing are not as grueling now that he's not forcing the issue and shooting so many contested shots. The Lakers aren't better without Kobe, but they are better with this new and improved Kobe.
3. Can we expect anything from waiver wire pickup Tarik Black?
Holmes: He'll give them some size and athleticism off the bench, which never hurts, but the Lakers already have Ed Davis and Boozer, so Black will have to scrap for his minutes. In the end, he's another body to help fill out the roster. I wouldn't put any real expectations on the undrafted rookie. Anything that he provides will be a nice bonus.
Shelburne: Yes. I actually think this was a very underrated pickup. Black proved to be a valuable defensive force in the short time he was in Houston. He has upside as an offensive player. On a roster that has lacked depth in the frontcourt after injuries to Ryan Kelly and Randle, he should get a significant amount of playing time. He either becomes a player to factor into the team's future, or an asset to help in future trades. Not bad for a waiver wire pickup.
Markazi: I wouldn't expect much this season, but he'll get a chance to work his way into the rotation and maybe earn a chance to be on the roster next season.