Star center coming off back surgery. CHECK
Former two-time MVP point guard injured two games in. CHECK
A glaring lack of depth forcing the starting unit to play big minutes early on. CHECK
Flashback to this summer after the Howard and Nash trades and it’s hard to believe that six games in Mike Brown’s out and the Lakers are 2-4.
But is it really?
Look beyond the star-power and you have to wonder if Mike Brown isn’t just a convenient scapegoat for a team that may not be as well-constructed as we all thought. Or was Mike Brown simply the wrong coach to begin with? Perhaps he was.
Many point to the Princeton office as a mistake, perhaps rightly so. But were the Lakers issues under Mike Brown offensively related? Take a look at the Hollinger stats and the Lakers sit csolidly at number seven in offensive efficiency, higher ranked than last year. Granted it’s a small sample size but one can make the argument that offense wasn’t really the issue.
Perhaps the problems are much bigger than that.
For Mike Brown’s sake you’d think the Lakers would have at least waited for Steve Nash to return and take a real assessment of the direction of the club. But, that didn’t happen and now they’re in head coach search mode, adding some additional turmoil to the equation. Clearly bringing back the greatest coach in NBA history in Phil Jackson would be a benefit. And, Mike D’Antoni can clearly teach offense and worked perfectly with Steve Nash in Phoenix. Still, head coach aside is this year’s Lakers club really equipped for the long slog through the Western Conference and a likely matchup with the Heat in the finals? For all the star-power there are some real question marks
Defense: It does seem unusual to question the defense of a club that has the top defensive force in the league in Dwight Howard, as well as Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant. But, there are some real matchup issues that could be pretty evident against top teams. Take the Thunder for example. Who exactly is Steve Nash going to guard? You can put him on Sefalosha, but that forces Kobe Bryant to expend huge energy on the defensive end to guard Russell Westbrook, because Nash clearly can’t. The same holds true of the Heat in an expected finals matchup. The Lakers size is clearly a huge advantage against the Heat small-ball, but if the Heat does go small, with a lineup of James, Bosh, Allen, Battier and Wade you again have to ask the question: who exactly is Steve Nash going to guard?
Does Gasol Really Fit in: You have to wonder if Mitch Kupchak is tossing around any trade ideas for Pau Gasol. A few pundits have speculated on the benefit of perhaps trading Gasol for a player like Ryan Anderson. Anderson would give the Lakers a lot more versatility and a key shooter on the perimeter while providing some relief towards the luxury tax.
The Minutes these guys are playing: The eighty-two game season is a long haul and early on the Lakers vets have been forced to play some real extended minutes. While the Heat’s sudden depth have given them the ability to play their starts relatively light minutes Kobe, World Peace, Howard and Gasol are playing minutes early on that don’t bode well for a long season and an extended playoff run. The sheer amount of game time the stars are getting is directly related to their poor bench. Save the Charlotte Bobcats the Lakers bench may be the worst in basketball. It’s hard to imagine this current roster going head to head in a seven-game battle with a team like San Antonio.
A potential poor playoff seed: With such a veteran roster it’s vital to get a high playoff seed. If the Lakers continue to struggle and don’t receive a top four playoff seed their road to a championship will be that much harder. It’s a lot easier to make a run through the playoffs with home court advantage. It’s a lot harder if it involves being a road team against the likes of San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Still, for all the Lakers question marks they still have the top center in the league one of the greatest point offensive point guards of all time and a top ten all-time player in Kobe Bryant. Their size inside and unique matchup issues will make them a tough out in the postseason. Unlike the Heat, who had time to build their current championship club, the Lakers really don’t have all that much time. If they don’t win this season they’ll head into next year with Bryant and Nash a year older—and the Heat a year wiser.