Is this rock bottom? With a little over a quarter of the 2012-2013 NBA season in the books, the Los Angeles Lakers have already endured a year’s worth of rock bottom moments.
The latest insult occurred last night in Madison Garden as the resurgent New York Knicks had their way with the Lakers, practically running them off the court and winning by a score of 116-107. The game wasn’t even as close as the final margin would indicate – New York dominated from the outset and turned it on whenever they had to. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s squad will enter tonight’s game against the Wizards with a sad sack record of 9-14, a record that is causing them to lose ground on a daily basis to the plethora of powerhouse teams in the Western Conference.
Competing for championships is part of the mission statement when you sign up to play for the purple and gold, and historically the team hasn’t experienced many down periods. This is due in large part to their ability to constantly land star players in what is a star drive league. Through the years they have wheeled out players such as Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, Shaq, Pau, and Kobe. It’s been like a revolving door – one great exits, another one enters. The franchise has been fortunate to land some of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen, leaving you with the feeling that the next game changer is always on the horizon for them.
Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were destined to be said game changers when they became members of the Lakers this past offseason. Acquiring two players of this caliber was supposed to bridge the gap between the Lakers and OKC out West and provide Kobe Bean Bryant with a legit shot of winning his sixth NBA title. This hasn’t been the case, and at the moment this looks to be a far-fetched goal. Unfortunately for Laker enthusiasts, this team has been slow out of the gate and frankly looks slow in general.
While some have already written off the Lakers, most are waiting to put the final nail into the coffin until they see how this team functions when Nash is back running D’Antoni’s offense. It is always risky betting on one player to make such a colossal difference, especially when that player is 38-years-old and recovering from a fractured fibula. Still, when you have Chris Duhon running the point you will take what you can get, and at the very least Nash will provide the team with a level of stability and should be able to setup Kobe and Howard with easier looks.
It is virtually a given the team’s offensive efficiency will increase when Nash returns, but what about on the defensive end? How can a team with Kobe, Howard, and World Peace be this atrocious on defense? There is little to no effort being displayed (which falls mostly on the players), and almost no accountability (which falls at the feet of D’Antoni). You’d think at some point the individual members of this team would have some pride in themselves to put out the effort needed on both ends to win games, but that hasn’t been the case. Then again, you’d also think a smart guy like D’Antoni would realize that it takes a well-rounded approach to win big in this league.
The transition defense might be the most appalling. I realize some of the Laker players are getting long in the tooth, but at times they operate like poorly construed intermural squad. Melo and company scored 25 transition points against L.A., draining six transition 3-point field goals in the process. This speaks to the biggest criticism of Mike D’Antoni and his inability to stress and correct the most mundane defensive breakdowns.
In past campaigns the Lakers would be able to tread water when going through such struggles and lean on Kobe to carry them through until the cavalry (Nash and Pau in this case) returned. This is becoming an increasingly difficult task for the Laker great, for even though he is leading the NBA in scoring he is logging a boatload of minutes and is getting worn down trying to drag a roster comprised of mostly “C” players to the finish line in the fourth quarter of games. The now 34-year-old Bryant is banged up and getting run into the ground by D’Antoni, similar to what he did to Amar’e Stoudemire a few years back with the Knicks.
I personally don’t see the questions surrounding the hiring of D’Antoni and the proverbial statement of “what is wrong with the Lakers” ending anytime soon, not with the health and makeup of this team. The Lakers need to play inside out and run the ball through Howard and Gasol, but it is hard to imagine D’Antoni utilizing his two skilled bigs in the proper way. Great coaches make adjustments and play to the strengths of their team; let’s see if the light bulb eventually goes off in his head before the next rock bottom moment occurs for this storied franchise.