Why the Lakers are still high level title contenders

Over at SI.com, Zach Lowe has published his list of the NBA's 100 best players- ESPN.com's NBA page is rolling out our edition over the next several weeks- and as is always the case with this sort of thing the rankings have beget plenty of debate. Locally, some Lakers fans might look at Kobe Bryant (#5) and wonder if he's too low, or question a lofty ranking for Pau Gasol (#10) following his shoddy postseason. Both are totally legitimate topics of conversation at the water cooler or your local tavern (or your local tavern's water cooler), but as it relates to the team's chances of recapturing a title next season, the exact landing spot for any individual Lakers player on a list like this is totally irrelevant.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Andrew Bynum is the key to making L.A.'s elite top four elite-ier.

What matters is the total amount of talent on board, and using Lowe's reasonably presented rankings as a guide, the Lakers have plenty of it. Four players in the top 38, including Bryant and Gasol along with Lamar Odom (#33) and Andrew Bynum (#38, a ranking pinned to the injury-related limitations on Bynum's body of work, not his on-floor potential- Lowe admits the placement could look "ridiculous" by the end of next season if Bynum stays healthy). This constitutes more top 40 players than any other team in the NBA, and while no two writers would arrange the names identically, none of the Lakers are wildly out of place.

The Lakers clearly have the front end talent to win, especially considering their riches in length along with the versatility and skill of their top four. What they lack is reliable depth through the rest of the roster, along with certain skill sets. Once they're again allowed to go shopping, this is where the emphasis should be placed. (For a refresher on L.A.'s needs, click here, here, here, and here.) Improvement won't come easy given their salary constraints, but the notion the Lakers need some sort of high end talent injection to ride shotgun with Kobe remains as inaccurate now as it did at the end of the season.