It will probably take more than a 38-year-old point guard with a bum leg to save the Lakers.
But Steve Nash should indeed provide some direction once he returns from a fractured fibula, which has forced him to miss all but the first two games. After all, Nash had his very best seasons under now-Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni when the two were together in Phoenix.
Nash is an exceptional distributor, shot-maker and leader. He’s the ultimate quarterback on the court, a man who makes his teammates happy, not necessarily by what he says, but by getting them the ball where and when they want it.
He’s more than just a playmaker. He’s an All-Star chemistry guy.
That’s good news, because if there’s one thing this star-studded group is lacking, it’s a championship-like connection on the court.
Instead, the Lakers arrive in Cleveland having lost four of five. They are 9-12 overall. They’ve fallen six times to teams with .500 or worse records. And if the playoffs started today, the NBA’s darlings would have only one decision to make — which series to view while watching from home.
Despite landing Nash, Dwight Howard and former Cavs veteran Antawn Jamison over the summer, the Lakers look dazed, confused and worse than last season. It’s as if they’ve been standing in the rain for hours, only to learn they bought a ticket to a bus that might never come.
They also changed bosses after five games — firing one-time Cavs coach Mike Brown and briefly inserting Bernie Bickerstaff while they looked for a quick sidelines fix.
At first, the Lakers appeared on the brink of rehiring 11-time champion Phil Jackson. Except in a strange twist, Jackson didn’t get the job. D’Antoni did. Jackson questioned the process, Lakers great Magic Johnson questioned the final decision, and Lakers fans everywhere questioned the continued pain.
Ah, yes. Welcome to Hollywood, kids.
It’s where the biggest celebrities possess season tickets and supporters expect nothing less than an 82-0 regular season. Beyond that, there’s really no pressure.
It’s also where everyone but the men in uniform seem to have the answers.
Former NBA coach Sam Mitchell said on NBA TV that the Lakers aren’t making enough of an effort in the pick-and-roll defense.
Flip Saunders, another ex-coach, suggested on his Twitter account that maybe the Lakers want to consider going to a zone.
Fans everywhere have demanded they trade power forward Pau Gasol — because, ya know, another blockbuster is sure to solve everything.
OK, maybe it would. And insiders around the league have hinted that a deal involving Gasol is far from unthinkable, especially if this continues into next month.
Living beyond the moment
But perhaps more than anything, the Lakers only need the one thing they have yet to be afforded. Perhaps all they need is time. In this league, it really does count for a lot.
Or as star guard Kobe Bryant put it: “The most important thing we can do is continue to push, continue to try to minimize our mistakes, limit our turnovers.”
It sounds so simple. Maybe when Nash returns, it will be. Pushing, minimizing mistakes and limiting turnovers are his specialty, after all.
The Lakers had better hope so, because it’s very clear they are “all in” this season. That means they’re a little older, they know it, and they know their chances to win another title in the Bryant era are fading fast.
It also means they traded away the majority of their assets (read: draft picks) so this year could be something magical. They’ll deal with the future later.
Now, they embark on a four-game swing through the Eastern Conference, beginning Tuesday in Cleveland. They also pay visits to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
Still, regardless of what happens on this trip, it’s way too early for any sort of serious alarm.
“Obviously, they have the talent to compete for a championship,” said Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, expected to return to the lineup Tuesday after missing 11 games with a broken finger. “They’re just figuring things out right now.”
Irving is right. The Lakers’ early-season agony is only worrisome if it lingers until February, or maybe even March.
Or at most, after Nash gets healthy.
Right now, they’re really nothing more than just a bunch of big-name leading men who are trying to figure out their Hollywood roles.
Even for stars like these, that’s never easy. Particularly not at first, man.