State of the Lakers: Still underachieving
NOV 22, 2012 9:57p ET
Lakers fans expect nothing but great players and championship banners to be raised, and since Jerry Buss bought the team, their expectations have often been met. They've won 10 NBA titles under the Buss family ownership — an average of one every three years. With the acquisitions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, and adding them to a roster that already had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, a 17th team championship was a distinct possibility — exactly three years after they beat the Boston Celtics for No. 16.
However, with the team off to .500 start at 6-6, Nash missing most of the season with a fracture in his left leg and Jamison not looking remotely like the potent scorer he's been throughout his career, patience is already starting to erode.
Early Thursday I received a Facebook message from someone who identified himself as only "Dave." This was in my private message folder on Thanksgiving morning, less than 12 hours after the Lakers lost their first game under new coach Mike D'Antoni.
"Joe," it began, "they've got to fire this guy right now. I don't understand how they can replace [Mike] Brown with this @*#*. I've already sent an email to the Lakers, but I know you know that organization and have been around it forever." Now, here's the beauty: "Is there anything you can do about this? I can't be the only Laker fan to send this kind of message to u this morning. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving."
These are the sometimes unrealistic standards Lakers fans put on the team.
D'Antoni has been coaching for two games. Nash and Steve Blake are out while Kobe deals with a bad foot and ankle, and Howard is still recovering from serious back surgery performed in April. The rest of the team is just beginning to learn the system and they're playing for their third coach in two weeks. Those are the explanations and things should definitely get better once everyone is healthy again, the entire team is comfortable in D'Antoni's system and the bench becomes consistently productive — especially Jamison.
Here's a chilling thought, though — what if it doesn't happen that way? What if all the new guys turn out to be a bad fit? The new head coach, too?
While it seems like a free-wheeling offensive game plan is perfect for a team with skills like the Lakers, maybe the fact is they're just not athletic enough from player one through 15 to make it work. There's no denying that this team is one of the older groups, and the ones who aren't chronologically old (Kobe at age 34 and Pau at 32) have an excess of years and extra playoff games as part of their resumes.
While Bryant — in his 17th year -— continues to have a tremendous season, leading the league in scoring, Gasol has struggled for the second straight season. It could be that the native of Barcelona, Spain — who played three years of pro ball for FC Barcelona before coming to the NBA — is on the decline and won't ever be the same player who made four All-Star teams and helped the Lakers win their last two championships.
Howard seems to get physically better and more dominant each time out, but then the questions begin again after a game like he had in Sacramento. Seven points, nine rebounds and one block in 41 minutes of play would make anyone think his back might be tweaked. Especially when you look at his numbers from the previous two games — both Lakers wins. He had 28 points and 13 rebounds against Houston and 23/15 against Brooklyn. Why the sudden drop-off? Only Howard can answer that question.
And then there's the bizarre case of Jamison. A prolific scorer throughout his professional career, he has yet to get double-figures in a game this season. He looks lost most of the time and if they don't get the 12-15 points per game they were expecting from the former Tar Heel, that could spell doom for a bench that was the worst in the league last season — and not much better so far in 2012-13.
Howard says it's still a work in progress and continues to preach patience. However, patience is in short supply among Lakers fans right now. They were told they had a championship team to root for. So far, they're cheering on a club that can't even beat the lowly Sacramento Kings.
Who's Hot: Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant must be going to the same Fountain of Youth. MWP has become a threat on both ends of the court since Brown's departure, now averaging 13.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg. His defense is as good as it's ever been and he seems rejuvenated physically and mentally — even blowing kisses to the crowd after big plays, a la former Laker Vlade Divac.
Bryant, the league's leading scorer, had 38 in the loss to Sacramento, shooting 11 for 20 from the field. If anyone has turned back the clock and become the player he was a decade ago, it's Kobe, who has taken on ball handling duties since Nash fractured his leg.
Who's Not: Pau Gasol. For a four-time All-Star, he's seen his game regress over the past couple of seasons. He continues to average a career-low 14 ppg and is rebounding under double figures at 9.5. He's way too talented to keep performing like that.
1. The acquisition of Antawn Jamison is beginning to look like one of Kupchak's few mistakes lately. He seems totally out of sync with the rest of the team and has yet to have a double-figure scoring game. That's frightening for a 19.5 ppg scorer in the first 14 years of his career. Got to wonder if he's hiding an injury. Truly great scorers don't usually forget how to score.
2. World Peace was ecstatic that Brooklyn's Reggie Evans – the former Clipper reserve – was the first NBA player fined $5,000 for violation of the new "No Flopping" rule. I think MWP is completely wrong about this rule change. It's a silly edict from David Stern and the owners. Any player who is willing to take a hit on a charge or throw himself to the hard wooden court in order to help his team get possession of the ball should be commended, not penalized. It's a great tactical move. And if the players aren't savvy enough to avoid the deke and the refs aren't aware enough to see when a player is going down like a WWE wrestler instead of a real charging foul, that's on them. And MWP, just so you know, your buddy Derek Fisher was known as one of the league's most "talented' floppers.
3. Even if they hadn't gotten Howard in the deal, how happy are the Lakers that they no longer have to deal with Andrew Bynum, his injuries and his attitude problems? I'd say very, especially considering that he might miss the rest of the season with knee problems. Meaning as a free agent in July, he may never play a game in a Philadelphia uniform.
Quotes of the Week
"If we're going to play Showtime, my God, they just closed the whole theater on us."
- Lakers' head coach Mike D'Antoni after the 113-97 loss to Sacramento.
- Lakers' forward Metta World Peace when told Nets' reserve Reggie Evans had been fined following a now-banned flop against the Lakers Tuesday night.
"It's not always the coach's fault. Mike Brown is a great coach. Sometimes there's just a disconnect."
- NBA TV analyst and former NBA guard Greg Anthony talking about the Lakers' 1-4 start.
News and Notes
- Nash will be examined again over the weekend and an update will be given — possibly Friday night — on the length of his recovery. He's been out since October 31 with a small non-displaced fracture in his left leg. He's been working out vigorously at practice, doing everything except working with the team.
- The ankle Bryant hurt in training camp is starting to bother him again. He wrote on his Facebook page that he's had to get up in the middle of the night recently to ice the right foot and ankle because of the pain.
- D'Antoni has apparently decided which assistant coaches he'll rely on most during game. Sitting next to him the past couple of games has been his brother, Dan, Chuck Person and Steve Clifford. In the row behind him are Darvin Ham, Bernie Bickerstaff, Eddie Jordan. Previously, Bickerstaff had been Brown's top "bench coach" before taking over as interim coach when Brown was fired.
Friday at Memphis, Saturday at Dallas, Tuesday vs. Indiana.
The Grizzlies are tied with the Knicks for the NBA's best record, and the Lakers will be embarrassed if they play the type of game they did in Sacramento. Memphis is averaging over 100 points per game and has the seventh-best defense in the league, giving up just 92.6 points. They are 4-0 at the Fed Ex Forum, with wins over Miami and New York. The Lakers are winless on the road at 0-3. If this edition of the Lakers needs a signature victory, Friday night in Memphis would be a good one.
Tower of Power?
Not until they develop consistency in their overall play.