Can Lakers match the hype?

On behalf of the purple and gold legion, I would like to congratulate the Los Angeles Lakers on winning the 2008-09 NBA Championship. As David Stern has now said for 24 consecutive years, you were truly the ‘champion of champions.’ Congratulations Lakers on being crowned as this year’s best team ‘- on paper.

The NBA season just tipped off and the Lakers already have nothing to play for, meaning plans for a June trip to Figueroa St. are in full works. Err’hellip;Really?

Over the past few months, it seems as if fellow fans have had a third and fourth helping of Laker Kool-Aid and last year’s championship run is still sweet in their mouth. Before I get trounced with obscene remarks like, ‘He’s a Spurs fan!’ and be reduced to Kwame Brown-like treatment, remember that I’m one you ‘- less the sugar-filled hype.

The Lakers are the presumptive pick to go all the way this year and rightfully so with their core roster returning along with a healthy Andrew Bynum. However, there are some side notes that need to be touched upon, like, how this year’s NBA is stacked with some of the deepest rosters the league has ever seen and the disparity between teams is at an all time low.

Sports Illustrated made the Lakers’ heads as big as Jack in the Box with predictions of first overall in the Western Conference, a second consecutive MVP title for Kobe Bryant, Most Improved Player honors to Bynum, and a Sixth Man Award to Lamar Odom. Coby Karl winning the next-best-thing to Kobe is already up in flames and if they had picks for mane man, Sasha Vujacic would undoubtedly take that award too.

To top it off, based on an NBA.com survey, 46 percent of the league’s general managers believe the Lakers will return to the Finals and beat the Boston Celtics. Are all these accolades and anointments appropriate for a team that collapsed twice in six games against the Celtics and were sent home with a 131-92 devouring? Will the Lakers play with their chests out all season long after all the prodding? ‘

That will remain to be seen. But, what is for certain is that the Western Conference is today, to what the ‘Beasts of the East’s’ were of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The level of competition, talent, coaching, roster depth and playoff experience is so deep, we shouldn’t expect anything less than last year’s fervor-filled finish.

The Houston Rockets added the tenacious Ron Artest, a prized commodity of the Lakers for several years, for a championship run and the Hornets and Jazz will only build on last year’s playoff momentum and vouch for validity. The Suns, Spurs and Mavericks will continue to be a thorn.

This all means the Lakers have a battle scheduled for 82 games and beyond simply based off last season’s success, their tradition and Kobe Bryant. Every team will rise to the occasion and take honor in hopes of beating the Lakers, most of which will be held on a national television audience.

What Lakers fans should wait for are the scribes to move from paper to hardware and refrain from claiming league-wide supremacy in the interim.

Bynum is touted as the missing piece to the beginning of another dynasty and deservedly so considering his upside at 21. But the gentle giant has to abandon his turn-around jump hook from three feet under the basket and display physicality amongst the league’s finest big men.

The subtraction of sparkplug Ronnie Turiaf will be felt considerably as the only addition the Lakers made to their front line was more stubble to Pau Gasol’s face. The uncertainty of the Lamar Odom saga will be played out all season long and considering his brittle psych, the last thing he needs is time on the bench to recollect. Defensive liability and ‘Space Cadet’ Vladimir Radmanovic will not help the winning cause playing 20-plus minutes a game.

The only element missing from the best team in the NBA is combustion, similar to an even better 2003-2004 Lakers roster comprised of the Hall-of-Fame foursome of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Complimented by Rick Fox and Derek Fisher, the team wilted down the stretch and succumbed to the Detroit Pistons after some of Bryant’s most erratic play in recent memory.

There is only one person Zen enough to make dreams of champagne a reality and Phil Jackson holds every ingredient in hand.

‘We were able to come from the outside linebacker and blitz the quarterback last year and sneak up on everybody and win the Western Conference,’ he said to the Los Angeles Times Tuesday. ‘This year, I think everybody’s prepared for us and we’re going to have to go out there every night and prove it.’

Jackson had to make a football analogy for high-spirited Lakers fans to realize the NBA season is long and winning it all won’t be easy. ‘

Here’s one more. Think of the New England Patriots, I have.