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Things to ponder as Lakers prepare to begin training camp

Things to ponder as Lakers prepare to begin training camp
Lakers star Kobe Bryant sinks a shot during a game against Toronto in 2013. Bryant was limited to six games last season because of injuries. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

There's no way the Lakers finish 14th in the Western Conference again. No chance. None. Probably. Maybe?

They were crushed by injuries last season, tumbled to the conference's second-lowest spot and endured their worst record (27-55) since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

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So … now what?

With training camp set to start Tuesday, here are five Lakers questions to ponder throughout the season.

How will Kobe Bryant play?

Talk to anybody on the Lakers and they all say the same thing: Bryant has worked out voraciously during the off-season to make amends for last season.

The numbers didn't lie, showing an aging player coming back from a serious injury — averages of 13.8 points and 5.7 turnovers while shooting only 42.5%. He lasted only six games.

He has lost 10 to 12 pounds and will undeniably try to do most of his damage out of the post after turning 36 last month.

Tough call here, but put him down for 20 points and four or five assists a game. The key will be the shooting percentage. Can he get back up to his career mark of 45.4%? Or will he trend toward jacking up shots, high-volume style?

Will Bryant blow his stack if the Lakers start losing?

Two competing schools of thought here — he's a Laker for life who privately recognizes the shortcomings of this team or he still craves another championship and will do anything to get there.

Reality is somewhere in between.

Bryant isn't stupid. He knows the Lakers won't magically be better after losing Pau Gasol and missing out on Carmelo Anthony. Expectations have to be lowered.

But what happens if the team starts out 7-15? Or is 19-34 at the All-Star break?

Those who are close to Bryant say he won't ask for a trade. He's committed to finishing his career with the Lakers. Furthermore, he's a tough piece to deal with two years and $48.5 million on his contract, a stunningly large chunk for a player who turned 36 last month and played all of six games last season.

Prediction: He will keep his emotions relatively in check but will have days when he sounds off on whatever is bothering him.

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Will the kids make a difference?

The Lakers think so. And hope so. Desperately.

Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson will both come off the bench to start the season, but some within the Lakers' organization actually think Clarkson, the second-round pick, will have a bigger impact of the rookies.

The 46th overall selection had a great off-season and impressed Lakers coaches at the Las Vegas summer league. One team insider thinks Clarkson could push for the starting job at point guard later in the season.

Randle, drafted seventh overall, will be a reserve behind Carlos Boozer at power forward and will have to improve his shot and grasp the subtle nuances of the NBA game to join the starting five.

Either way, the Lakers will need a big-time boost from them.

Can Boozer and Jeremy Lin resurrect their careers?

One probably will and one probably won't. Which one? Your guess is as good as mine.

Point for Boozer: He'll be relied upon heavily again after giving way to Taj Gibson in the fourth quarter of games late last season in Chicago. .

Minus for Boozer: He faded badly last season before being waived by the Bulls via the amnesty provision.

Point for Lin: He once had 38 points and seven assists against the Lakers.

Minus for Lin: He lost his job in Houston to Patrick Beverley.

When will the Lakers be a championship contender?

Tough question with an unknown answer.

Next year's free-agent class took a big hit this summer, ruining the Lakers' Kevin & Kevin plan.

Now that Kevin Love is no longer unhappy, he will presumably exercise his option to stay in Cleveland for 2015-16 instead of becoming a free agent in July.

There just aren't many impact free agents next summer beyond LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, maybe Rajon Rondo, but Kevin Durant is a potential free agent in 2016.

There aren't many chances to rebuild in the draft, either. Phoenix owns the Lakers' first-round draft pick next year and Orlando owns their first-rounder in 2017 (both picks are top-five protected).

Yep, it could take a while to turn this thing around.

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