It’s a new year, a new month, and the Lakers have the same old issues. They’re old. Their problems are old. The rationale behind those problems is old. The season itself is getting old.
After starting 1-4, the Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown in an effort to salvage a season that brought championship aspirations as Kobe Bryant prepared to ride into the sunset and Dwight Howard came in to pick up where Kobe would be leaving off.
Enter the injuries that have long plagued the Lakers all year long. Steve Nash’s broken fibula and nerve damage to that same area saw him miss 24 games, Howard’s back trouble has rendered him a shell of himself, and Pau Gasol’s knee troubles saw him miss seven contests as he struggled to fit into the team’s new offensive philosophy.
Enter Mike D’Antoni taking over the Lakers’ helm. The up-tempo offense that was supposed to bring back memories of the Showtime Lakers has been easier to find in Clippers’ red than Laker gold. The pick-and-rolls Steve Nash loves that were supposed to help rejuvenate Howard’s offensive struggles have been non-existent. Although Kobe has been scoring at his highest rate in six years, the team itself has lacked that same effectiveness.
The only reason to explain it is that the Lakers are old, as are their issues.
Dwight Howard’s back is still stiff, it’s still hindering his great leaping ability, and has robbed him of the agility we all grew so accustomed to in Orlando but are still playing the wait-and-see game in Los Angeles. Despite his 17.3 points and 11.9 boards, he hasn’t been himself, and the results, both individually and team-wide, have shown that.
Pau Gasol has struggled to fall in as the third and fourth option on a team for the first time in his career. He’s averaging 12.7 points a game while being forced to play on the perimeter more than he’s capable and more than he’s ever had to.
To top all of these injuries, adjustments, and aging, the Lakers’ bench has been its usual underwhelming self. In the two years since Lamar Odom won Sixth Man of the Year and was subsequently traded, the Lakers have ranked 30th in bench scoring (20.5 points a game in 2012) and 26th in the same area (26 points a game this season).
This season has been one with a bevy of things to point in order to make sense of the team’s shortcomings, maybe even buy time as they get things together. The bad part about that hasn’t only been the record they’ve, it’s the fact that their best efforts, healthy or not, won’t be good enough to compete with the NBA’s best.
The Lakers have lost five straight games that would have put them over .500, that is especially remarkable considering the team hasn’t been above .500 all season. The depth on this team, or lack thereof, was magnified when Nash’s injuries forced Darius Morris and Chris Duhon to start.
It’s no longer “early in the season”, we’re at the point where you are what you are. The Lakers are middling, in an awkward limbo with the highest payroll in the NBA with advancing age and time running out.
At 15-19, there’s a wonder if the Lakers are even a playoff team.
We know they’re capable, but capable isn’t the only thing that breeds results. There’s a consistency, cohesion, and execution that comes with results; the Lakers have struggled with all three at some point this season, either one by one or all at once.
If they can’t even get over the .500 mark for the first time at this point of the year, how valid can championship aspirations be?
Of course, with time comes cohesion, with execution and results following suit, one would hope.
But now that Steve Nash is back, Mike Brown is gone, a new year being here, and the Lakers still being underwhelming, one has to wonder how they would match up with the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Clippers (awkward to read, no?) of the Western Conference, let alone the defending Miami Heat.
The optimism is that there are 48 games left in the season, that everyone will get healthy in time for a nice second-half stretch run, and that the Lakers can be a nice underdog in the postseason. All of that optimism, and more, has been what Laker fans and the Lakers themselves have clung to.
At some point, you’re just a bad team with immense talent. A lot of the Lakers’ prospects are valid in theory, but they’ve proven farfetched in this 34-game reality that may see them miss the postseason with four future Hall of Famers.
It’s starting to matter less and less that they’re old, unfamiliar, and/or injured. The Lakers are proving that there does come a time where it really doesn’t matter if you do eventually get your act together.
Even if the Lakers do get their act together, it's hard to be optimistic that it will be good enough.
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