The sun shines bright on the purple and gold these days. After an angsty preseason weighed down with concern over Andrew Bynum's health, Kobe Bryant's shooting and Matt Barnes's entanglements with Sacramento law enforcement, the regular season has begun with three straight Laker victories, each more convincing than the one before. The three-peat express has left the station and is gathering some good early steam.
It's time, then, to update our Laker Power Rankings: Rankings of Power! As you'll recall, these provide a rare look at how the Laker organization functions on the inside, when it thinks no one's looking. Luckily for readers of SBN Los Angeles, my spies are always looking, and here's what they're telling me about who in Lakerdom is pulling the strings and who's just getting their strings pulled.
1. Pau Gasol. Hadn't you heard? It's the Year of the Spaniard, son! The Lakers' big man from Barcelona has picked up right where Rafael Nadal, Alberto Contador and the Spanish World Cup team left off. Averaging 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks a game so far, Gasol is at the height of his powers. Yesterday he was named the Western Conference Player of the Week, which is sort of like winning MVP of the first three percent of the season.
2. Mitch Kupchak. Already his two key free-agent acquisitions, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, look like minor coups. Barnes is providing energy, rebounding and floor-stretching marksmanship off the bench. Blake, on opening night against the Houston Rockets, started a Laker comeback with a pair of threes at the end of the third period, and then hit a clutch game-winning triple with 18 seconds left in the fourth. Just as important, both look at ease in the Lakers' schemes. They're merely the latest examples of Kupchak's talent for finding complementary, low-cost pieces to fit around the Kobe-Gasol power core.
3. The Laker Girls. Always a feast for the senses, the Laker Girls brought their A game for the Halloween night matchup against Golden State. Check out these gold medal-winning costumes, but be warned: the Surgeon General recommends clicking only if you are ready for off-the-charts awesomeness. All the bases are pretty much covered -- mermaid, ‘60s flight attendant, Marilyn, a couple superheroes -- but obviously the one dressed up as a slice of pizza wins Halloween forever. That's not a typo, by the way: there was a Laker Girl dressed up as pizza.
4. Kobe Bryant's Right Knee. Supposedly this was to be a troublesome joint for the first several weeks, if not months, of the regular season, as it gradually regained strength after offseason surgery. Turns out, maybe not: Kobe's game is looking fluid and energized. He's getting shots from his preferred spots and conducting the Triangle offense with patience and smarts. Per HoopData, he hasn't yet missed any of his seven shot attempts at the rim, a sign that he's getting the necessary lift. If Kobe's not yet 100%, as Phil Jackson suspects, good luck to Laker opponents when he is.
5. Blu-Ray Technology. Blu-ray is a triumph of late-stage capitalism. Somehow, it's more crisp and vivid than actually seeing something in real life, which shouldn't be possible but whatever. The point is, once you've experienced blu-ray, standard-def DVD is like watching TV through a dirty windshield. Which is why this past week's release of the Lakers' 2010 championship video on blu-ray made me soil my good pants. I can now see Paul Pierce committing crucial Game Seven turnovers in crystal-clear 1080p? Three copies, please.
6. Lamar Odom. Sometimes Lamar looks like there's almost anywhere he'd rather be than on a basketball court. Sometimes he looks like one of the 25 best players in the world. The latter is what he's looking like right now. Pressed into the starting lineup because of the Bynum injury, Odom's averaging a double-double with near-70 percent shooting from the field. On Sunday night he humiliated the Warriors' David Lee, holding the All-Star power forward to a stat line of zero points, three rebounds and five turnovers. That's some sweet, sweet candy.
7. Sasha Vujacic. There's been only eight minutes of court time so far for the machinin' Slovenian, who seems to have lost the depth-chart battle to Shannon Brown pretty conclusively. But any time you get engaged to a comely Russian tennis superstar, you get bumped up a few notches in the Rankings of Power. That the third-string shooting guard managed to snag Maria Sharapova is further evidence that being a Laker is the greatest job in history. Sasha's chances of remaining a Laker past this season are vanishingly thin, so please wish the young couple well while you have the chance.
8. Matt Barnes. Sacramento prosecutors announced last week that they would not press charges against Barnes, who'd been arrested in September on a domestic-violence beef. That's good news for the small forward, and given that his fiancée denied that anything untoward took place, it allows everyone involved to move on from this strange chapter without feeling ethically compromised. As alluded to above, Barnes's on-court performance has been solid. He's made four of eight three-point attempts and is rebounding to the tune of 10 boards per 36 minutes played.
9. Ron Artest's Assault on NBA Rims. Not quite everything's going perfectly in Lakerworld. See, for instance, Ron Artest's field-goal shooting, currently parked at a cool 25 percent. He's clanked a bunch of wide-open threes, but his performance on twos is even more alarming. At the rim, per HoopData, he's made only four of nine attempts after shooting barely 50 percent from point blank last year. (The league average at the rim is a touch over 60 percent.) Between the rim and the three-point arc, Ron has missed 12 of his 13 shot attempts. Did he fire his psychiatrist without telling anyone?
10. Competitive Imbalance in the Pacific Division. Not that divisions matter terribly much in the NBA, but for whatever it's worth we could be heading for something resembling the 2008-09 season, when the second-place team in the Pacific finished 19 games behind the Lakers. The Suns are the most respectable intradivision competitor, but without Amare Stoudemire they're feeling gravity's pull. On Sunday the Warriors fell behind the Lakers by 20 in the first quarter. The Sacramento Kings are 3-1 but are one of the league's youngest squads and have faced only bottom-feeders so far. The Clippers are the Clippers, which is another way of saying they have the worst record in the league at 0-4. Call it an even-money bet the Lakers will be the only Pacific team even to make the playoffs. It's a good thing they don't hang division-title banners at Staples, or the combined weight would bring down the roof.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.