To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
Are the Lakers better than the Memphis Grizzlies?
Mike Conley is consistently one of the better point guards in the league. He's not elite at his position but he does almost everything well -- pass, shoot, score, defend, etc.
Memphis needs Conley to have a strong season. Behind him the team has two relatively inexperienced players in Nick Calathes and Josh Akognon. Jerryd Bayless is not a point but he can play spot minutes at the one in an emergency.
If Steve Nash is healthy, he's a better shooter and playmaker than Conley -- but not nearly the defender.
The Lakers will try to keep Nash's minutes down with two strong backups in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
If Conley has pulled ahead of Nash at this point in his career, the Lakers have greater depth -- making both teams relatively even at the position, assuming Nash is on the floor night after night.
Tony Allen is one of the top defenders at his position. He can score when open, although he's not much of a shooter and not a consistent offensive threat.
Allen's defensive tenacity has been the heart of the Memphis attack the last two seasons.
Bayless is inconsistent but can score in bunches. The Grizzlies can also play Quincy Pondexter, Mike Miller, Tayshaun Prince and rookie Jamaal Franklin at the two as needed.
The Lakers are waiting to see what Kobe Bryant will be when he returns from his Achilles surgery. If he gets back to form, even if it takes until December or January, the Lakers have the clear advantage over the Grizzlies at shooting guard.
Behind Bryant, the Lakers boast a long list of players who will fight for minutes, including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom (the last two are camp invites who still have to make the team) and even point guards Blake and Farmar.
With Prince and Pondexter, the Grizzlies have two defensive-minded players at small forward.
Recently Memphis has not been a high scoring team. Prince can spot up and hit an open three, and even create a bit for himself off the dribble -- but he's on the floor to help the team get stops.
New addition Miller should help open the floor, an issue for the Grizzlies last season -- although Miller has had trouble staying healthy the last few years.
The Grizzlies can also play Allen at three and camp invitee Derrick Byars.
Small forward is not a clear strength for the Lakers. Coach Mike D'Antoni may start offensive-minded Young, with Johnson backing him up as the stronger defender.
Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry and Elias Harris, each fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Harris still needs to develop his outside shot but brings versatility to the floor. Bryant may also play some small forward.
Prince is an NBA champion and is the most proven player at small forward but neither team is dominant at the position.
Power forward is somewhat up for grabs for the Lakers. The Lakers could start Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams or even Wesley Johnson. It's an area with which D'Antoni appears willing to experiment initially.
Zach Randolph is one of the stronger, tougher fours in the league. He uses his bulk in the paint to get his shot off and rebound the ball.
Though he's not necessarily a strong individual defender, the Grizzlies were able to use Randolph well under former coach Lionel Hollins.
The Grizzlies also have Ed Davis, Jon Leuer and Willie Reed. Marc Gasol can technically play power forward -- along with smaller options Prince and Pondexter.
Elias Harris, Ryan Kelly and Marcus Landry are young possibilities off the bench for the Lakers.
If Pau Gasol is the four against Randolph, the two teams are almost even. If Gasol is playing five, Randolph has a sizable advantage over whoever else D'Antoni plays at the position.
The Grizzlies acquired Marc Gasol in the deal that sent Pau to the Lakers. Last year, Marc was the better player.
The Lakers, who won two titles with their Gasol, have no buyer's remorse. If Pau is indeed the team's starting center, the Grizzlies have a slight advantage at the position with the tougher Gasol brother.
Marc was named defensive player of the year and helped the Grizzlies advance to the Western Conference finals. Pau struggled last year with knee and foot issues.
A rebound season from Pau would change the Lakers' fate dramatically.
The Grizzlies acquired a solid center from the Denver Nuggets in Kosta Koufos. Randolph and Davis can fill in at center if needed.
In addition to Gasol, the Lakers have Kaman, Hill, Robert Sacre and camp invitees Dan Gadzuric and Eric Boateng.
Who is better?
How important was Lionel Hollins to the Grizzlies last season? The team won 56 games, advanced to the conference finals and let Hollins leave without a contract.
Dave Joerger will get a chance as a rookie head coach, which could lead to a drop-off for the Grizzlies -- a team whose win range is probably 48-58 this season.
If the Lakers are fully healthy coming in, the difference between the two franchises is not significant.
The Grizzlies will be far, far better defensively. The Lakers, at full strength, will be better offensively.
The Lakers should finish in the 40-50 win range, perhaps matching last year's 45.
Heading into the season, the Grizzlies are the better team.