In case you don’t have a TV, or if you’ve been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay for the last 5 months, the Lakers stink. And by stink, I mean the smell of poop when it’s anywhere other than a toilet. I mean losing by 30 to a Rondo-less Celtics stink. I mean blowing a double digit lead to a Michael-Beasley-led Suns team with the worst record in the west stink.
I want to be clear; I am not in any way a Lakers fan, a Dwight Howard fan, a D’Antoni fan (although his mustache is phenomenal), or a Kobe fan (in fact as a Philadelphia fan, I’m supposed to hate Kobe). But as a fan of basketball, it’s hard not to be interested in this team. Hell, they’re on national TV 3 days a week. So I, like everyone else in the world, have an opinion about this team, and since I have a blog now, I think it’s time I put my thoughts about the gold and purple (which are usually expressed in reckless twitter rants) into something coherent.
As the Lakeshow gets worse and worse, critics are finding new people to blame for their dismal season. It started with Mike Brown, when Mitch Kupchak hit the panic button and fired him after five games (for the record, firing a coach after five games is as absurd as getting a penis transplant after not getting it up once). Then it was Kobe for shooting too much. Then it was D’Antoni for not being flexible with his offensive system. Then it was Pau Gasol for being soft. Then it was D’Antoni for benching Pau Gasol. Then it was Kobe for not shooting enough. But somehow, despite all of this turmoil, the general consensus now seems to be centering on Dwight Howard as the center (ha.) of the Lakers’ issues.
I guess you could try to pin all of the Lakers’ woes on one guy, but here’s a thought; maybe it’s actually more than one person’s fault. Did anyone ever consider that? To blame one person for 27 losses is simply shortsighted. Instead, in ascending order of responsibility, let’s break this down piece by piece and figure out what exactly is going wrong with the
Clippers Lakers (sorry, force of habit).
I know it sounds crazy to defend Dwight this year, but get off his back (seriously, it’s injured)! Calling someone soft for struggling with back and shoulder injuries is foolish; it’s impossible to play basketball while knowing that your shoulder could pop out at any time without being affected. Dwight is still putting up close to 16 pts, 12 rebs, and 2.5 blocks per game despite getting his lowest minutes and shot attempts since his rookie year. Pick on his defensive impact if you want, but can you really blame him for the Lakers’ defensive woes when Kobe and Nash would struggle to defend these guys right now?
It’s hard to criticize a guy whose hair looks this cool, but it’s time for Steve to step up and be a leader. I understand he’s trying to be the nice guy and not step on Kobe’s toes, but hiding on the basketball court doesn’t help either. Steve Nash won’t be relevant to this Lakers team until he takes Kobe into a closet, locks the door, and yells, “I’m a two-time MVP, arguably the greatest passer of the last decade, and I’m a Canadian excelling in a sport other than hockey or curling! Let me run the damn offense!”
Kupchack needs some blame for building this team the way he did. Everyone was excited when the Lakers acquired D12 and Nash this offseason, but what did those signings really accomplish? Was it worth losing a 25 year old Andrew Bynum who averaged 17 and 11 in the playoffs last year for Dwight and his back problem (unless the Lakers knew Bynum’s knees were this bad, the answer’s no)? Or worth losing four draft picks for a 39 year old point guard who you’re paying 27 millions dollars, and are just going to use as a spot up shooter anyway? Kupchack got caught up in signing big, Laker-style names without considering what it takes to build a team. The difference between these Lakers and last year’s championship Miami team is that Pat Riley surrounded his big names with quality players like Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, while this year’s Lakers rely on players like Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, and (gulp) Robert Sacre. Speaking of which…
The Other Guys
Has there ever been such a huge talent drop off on a team after its first four players? Watching World Peace play is like watching the guy at the Y who played college basketball 20 years ago, but hasn’t touched a ball since and got so buff that he can’t lift his arms over his head (I can’t wait to be this guy some day). Earl Clark is playing acceptable basketball but he’s not an NBA starter yet. Other than those two, can you even feel comfortable putting any other Laker on the floor for more than two minutes at a time? This is one of the Lakers’ biggest problems: at any given time during a game, at best they are playing 4-on-5 offensively. Tough to win this way.
Yes, whenever a team with three and a half hall of famers (jury’s still out on Dwight, I think) is 23-27, some blame has to go to the coach. To me, D’Antoni has done a miserable job of managing egos, which one could argue is the single most important skill for an NBA coach to have. Forget X’s and O’s for a second; if you can’t get your players to like each other and to accept a role for the greater good of the team, you’ve already failed as a coach. D’Antoni mistreated Pau Gasol to the point that he had to fake an injury so he didn’t get traded this year (wouldn’t that be awesome if it were true?). He’s also let Kobe get completely out of check, and now has absolutely no way of reeling him back in. Kobe is going to do what he wants, and Mikey D. can either buckle up for the ride or get Mike Browned. With all of this said, you can’t pin everything on D’Antoni; in fact, I’m not sure there’s a coach in the world who could make this work right now (unless Phil Jackson comes back and makes the whole team smoke Peyote together in the desert or something).
Here’s what we know about Kobe: he’s one of the greatest scorers the NBA has ever seen; he’s the best shooting guard since Michael Jordan; he is obsessed with his legacy and finishing his career as Jordan’s equal; to do so, he has tried to emulate Michael in every way possible; because of this, Kobe thinks that being an egomaniacal, hyper-competitive asshole is the only way to lead a team. Somehow, in his 16 years of NBA basketball, Kobe has never figured out how to motivate his players to play to their highest level, and this year things are at an all time worst. If Kobe couldn’t coexist with the greatest center in NBA history, how did people think he would work with a moody European romantic or a pseudo-superman? I’m just going to come out and say it: right now Kobe Bryant is not a leader of men. If you have to resort to twitter jabs and TV interviews to question a fellow player’s ability to fight through injury, or openly accuse players of being soft, somewhere along the way you’ve lost the concept of leadership. Frankly, watching Kobe this year has started to convince me that Kobe can’t win as the motivational force of a team. When Phil Jackson was there, it was Kobe’s team but it was Phil’s locker room. Without Phil, Kobe’s out of control.
The Good News
As bad as the Lakers look right now, and as hopeless as things may seem, consider this: We haven’t even reached the All-Star Break yet, LA is only 3 games under .500, and they’re only 3.5 games back of Utah for the 8 spot in the west. This team is not out of it. They’ve also barely had a full roster this year with rotating injuries to Nash, Pau, and Dwight. If this team gets healthy, trades Metta for a shooter like James Jones, puts aside their differences, and gets into the playoffs, do you really want to play them in the first round? That’s what I thought.