Special thanks to Justin Page for writing this take and giving us the privilege to add it to TheLakersNation.com. Again, if you guys see anything Lakers related that you think deserves to be put up, just e-mail us at articles@TheLakersNation.com.

The Los Angeles Lakers are less than a week away from setting out on an 82 game journey that most likely will be Kobe Bryant’s last in the purple and gold. For the majority of this past summer and pre-season, the Kobe stories have dominated the headlines, and for good reason. But there is a season to play, and barring any kind of last second deal that sends the Kobester packing, it looks like he will be suiting up for L.A.

This is the real “A Season on the Brink.” And it’s taking place in Hollywood, of course.

So what’s it going to take for this team to have a realistic chance in the competitive Western Conference? It’s going to take a lot more than what they have been displaying in the pre-season; particularly on Tuesday night when they were completely out-hustled and out-played by the Utah Jazz (I am almost positive I was more excited about watching that game than they were about playing it). Let’s all remember, it’s just pre-season basketball (and they played without Odom and Walton), but it’s frustrating as a fan to see the same mistakes are being made that occurred down the stretch of last season when the Lakers had a horrific collapse.

Kobe aside, the current make-up of the Lakers roster is a young and uninspired group that simply doesn’t put in the kind of effort on the defensive end that gives them a realistic chance to win in this league. Being young is one thing, but being uninspired is unacceptable. Playing good defense requires effort at all times, strong character, execution of fundamentals, and intelligence. This team doesn’t display any of those, not one.

When a Laker player gets scored on he doesn’t get that look of being embarrassed, and that’s really irritating. We need to start taking things personally. “Play with some heart, play with some passion,” that needs to be the message and the Lakers need to hear it loud and clear right now, or they’re in for a tumultuous season.

The Lakers allow too many easy fast break points and lay-ups and dunks out of half court sets. They don’t make the offense work hard enough or at all on many possessions, and it’s not just their effort, but their defensive philosophy plays a big part in this too.

As a whole, we are defensive gamblers and it results in a multitude of easy baskets. Kobe overplays his man and gambles by going for steals. His man inevitable ends up going around him and laying the ball in and Kobe is left there standing at the three point line looking confused like somebody should be rotating.

Let’s take a look at Sasha Vujacic for another example. This guy plays defense with the most heart and the most intensity on the Lakers (you could throw Kobe and Turiaf into this discussion too). But he doesn’t play intelligently. When he’s on the floor I can guarantee you that he’s going to pick up a cheap foul reaching, and it’s more than likely he’ll pick up two, which puts the other team in the bonus early in the quarter.

That brings us to yet another frustrating defensive problem. The same defensive rebounding issues are occurring this pre-season and it’s because of pure laziness, that’s it. The fundamentals of the game are not being executed. We as a whole do not box out (and Kobe is as guilty as anyone of this). We try to out-jump the opponent instead of putting a butt on everyone. This is junior high and high school fundamentals we’re talking about it here. But it’s not even funny, in last night’s game against the Jazz, Kirilenko got a rebound with four Lakers standing in the paint doing nothing. It’s unacceptable, and it’s a major problem that’s going to keep the Lakers from reaching their potential.

Here would be my message: Guys, just keep your man in front of you and play solid defense without gambling for steals. Fight threw screens and make them settle for contested jump shots. And when the ball goes up, as uncomfortable as it may be, have an ass on a man. This is professional basketball, I am not going to be unrealistic, teams are going to put up high point totals, but let’s at least make them work for it.

As for Kobe, his critics point out that his defensive intensity doesn’t match that of what he did this summer for Team USA. I agree with that to a certain extent but this is the pre-season, and people need to understand this isn’t the Olympic team where he’s surrounded with scorers and can focus almost solely on defense. Phil Jackson has been the main person pushing Kobe to duplicate that type of defense, and that’s his job to do as a coach, but Phil’s a realist and understands it’s virtually impossible for Kobe to do that on this team.

But what might be getting lost in all of this (and I can’t say for certain because I don’t know the type of conversations they’ve had) is that Kobe can have just as much of an impact on the Lakers by playing smart and sound defense from the three-point line and in. He doesn’t need to pick up three-quarters court and press to have an impact, it can be done in other ways. And I understand Kobe’s a playmaker and when things aren’t going right he feels the need to make a big play on the defensive end, but by gambling for a steal or overplaying his man it more often times results in an easy basket for the other team rather than a momentum turning play for the Lakers. With all of that being said, Kobe’s defense has to significantly improve and he needs to make it a high priority. He’s the leader of this team (whether he wants to be here or not), and the team looks to its leader to set the intensity on the defensive end.

Despite all of the negative things that are occurring, there are a few bright spots. I love the acquisition of Derek Fisher. I really think he’s going to be a major improvement defensively over Smush Parker, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point that out (good luck with him Miami). Farmar’s effort is acceptable to me; he’s one of the few players that consistently looks like he wants to be out on the floor. As for Crittenton, he’s a work in progress that’s going to have a bright future in this league; I just wouldn’t expect any kind of consistent contribution from him this year. Luke Walton’s fundamentally sound on both ends of the floor and he makes up for his lack of foot speed by executing the fundamentals, which puts him in proper position. Kwame Brown is disgusting on the offensive end (doesn’t he make you a nervous wreck when he touches the ball?), but cake thrower’s big body really clogs things up defensively and he’s impressive on the boards despite being mediocre in one-on-one post up situations. I love the idea of starting Turiaf, he’s a high energy player that other players feed off of and having him out there to start things off will help set the intensity level that is required.

Random Thoughts: The Shawn Marion trade rumors have died down, or maybe nobody is paying attention to them since we have a soap opera going on in LA, but wouldn’t he be a perfect fit in the new attacking offensive mindset Phil Jackson is trying to implement. He runs the floor well, attacks the basket, and despite his shot being awkward, he shoots a very high percentage. He’s great on the boards and also has the ability to match up with a small forward or two guard on the defensive end. Obviously we’d have to part ways with Lamar Odom for this to happen, but I think Marion would be a great fit on this team. Think about it, we really don’t have a slasher on the floor other than Kobe, and Marion is just that.

  • cneo

    COMPLETELY agree about playing with PASSION and HEART… we need more of that. Kobe gravitates towards that. It’s the reason he loved Caron… and the reason he loves Ronny.

    COMPLETELY disagree about Shawn Marion. He’s super-overated, overpaid, and his shot is pure ugly. He doesn’t fit into the triangle at all. It would definitely be a step backwards for the Lakers to trade Lamar for someone like him. He does fit with a quick offense, but it’s still the triangle… and it won’t work. In his current situation, the other Suns make him look good…

    I can’t say I’m SUPER optimistic about this season, but it’s hard not to have HOPE. We just need to build off of what was good last year AND start strong. Coming of age will happen for this team, when they start believing and trusting one another. There always has and always will be naysayers and doubters… let’s get this season off and prove them all wrong.

  • BEC

    Nice read. I agree for the most part.

    “Kobe’s defense has to significantly improve and he needs to make it a high priority. He’s the leader of this team (whether he wants to be here or not), and the team looks to its leader to set the intensity on the defensive end.”

    Heres a problem with that, Kobe sets the intensity high every time he steps on the floor, but does anybody follow? No. Kobe sets an example off the court by taking extra time to work on his game, but does anyone follow that? Nope. I havent heard of anyone on this team taking extra time to fine tune their game by for example taking extra shots. Ive heard many times how Suns players take extra time on their shot and look where their at now. Lakers should be doing the same.
    Lets face it Kobe doesnt trust anyone on this team, no one on this team makes plays when they count down the stretch, and im sure that hurts Kobe more than anything else. Defense is played as a team, why would Kobe play hard-nosed defense on one-man, when he doesnt even trust his teammates to play D on their own man. Defense is only as good as your weakest link, Kobe can only do so much as one man. Many say lead by example, Kobes done that, but no one follows.

  • fatty

    Enjoyed your article Justin.

    Its going to take awhile for this team to play some good D.
    Desire is the first step in the equation.

    Lamar, Fisher, Kobe, Ronny can set the tone for the rest of the team. But they haven’t played together yet.

    Rebounding: I feel when Odom comes back our core rebounding line will be Kwame, Ronny, Lamar. Not worried about that line up.

    Marion? Not for it.

  • Tim-4-Show

    As of the King’s preseason game, the Lakers were still getting confused on their defensive rotations.

    It’s simply going to take a long time for them to have it down pat. They should increase their practice time by 45 minutes, but instead of wear and tear physically, they should be reviewing tape and just going through these rotations on the court with very little physical effort, literally go through the motions so that it becomes instant and automatic. I’m sure they already do this, which just goes to show, it’s NOT easy.

  • lakerfan81

    BEC. I agree that some of the players do not follow Kobe’s example (Kwame for instance, though the guy obviously does alot of weight training). But some of the Lakers do work hard. Bynum obviously worked very hard this summer from what I read. Farmar is a gym rat and is always working on his game and conditioning. He is also alot stronger and at least looked a little better on the defensive end and was very comfortable (more so than anyone else)in the “running” offense.

    But that doesn’t excuse Kobe from leading by example. You can say that he can’t focus as much on the defensive end because he has to carry so much of the offense (there is truth to that statement) but that does not excuse his almost complete lack of defense last year. Three years ago he was one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, but since then his effort on that end of the floor has gotten worst every year. This doesn’t let any of the other players off the hook but Kobe needs to set the example.

  • ab4sure

    Kobe overplays his man and gambles by going for steals. His man inevitable ends up going around him and laying the ball in and Kobe is left there standing at the three point line looking confused like somebody should be rotating. I can’t believe someone sees what I saw last year. Also, don’t forget when he doesn’t even challenge his guy on the 3pt. line. So many times this happened last year and if you look at the stats the two guard on the other team had some of their best games. It deflates a team when one player doesn’t give it all on defense and all it takes is one person to break a defense down. Kobe has a high intensity on offense, but defensive intensity is weak. In pick-up games if you played any, you know you hate the player who wants to shoot all the time and doesn’t even guard their man. Inspired play is measured on a person who gives the effort on defense, so I am looking forward to what kobe does this year. I hope he can set a good example this year on defense. I do think the lakers are playing hard and inspired this summer, it is kobe that is uninspired, but we’ll give him a pass since it is preseason. As far as defensive rebounds, most of the time this is due to long rebounds and without lamar out their that is there weak spot. That means the guards and SF like Walton need to make up for LO’s absence.

  • PHANTOM

    ab4sure,

    you smokin crack again? kobe was first team defense last year!!! nothing wrong with his defense at all.

  • ab4sure

    he was first team purely on reputation. Most basketball observers recognize that. Why did PJ get so many email about Kobe this summer saying if PJ gets kobe to play defense like that then the Lakers would win the championship??? Kobe’s defense hasn’t been top notch for a few years now, yeah every once in awhile he will lock down a player for a few possesions,but that has been few and far between. Two guards around the league have a career games against kobe last year. You might want to give him a pass, but that only makes it worse.

    Never smoked crack. I guess your alittle familiar with that stuff. You must be on something to be so into kobe that you can’t see his faults. Perhaps, you need alittle detox center for yourself.LOL

  • Tim-4-Show

    Purely reputation?

    Keep in mind the people who vote these players in… the COACHES & they are not allowed to vote for their own players. I suppose the people watching and having to attack Lakers defense all season long weren’t paying attention and gave Kobe votes strictly on reputation.

    Was last year Kobe’s best defensive year? No. That was impossible, but even it were, so what. Is Kobe playing D up to his maximum potential? Again, no, and again he would need a better defensive team to maximize his potential in addition to having a team that could function on offense (such as Team USA). Even with this, he’s a top 5 defensive player in the NBA.

  • fatty

    “Kobe got 1st team all defense on reputation”

    Kobe was weaker than usual on the Defensive end as PJ said in the first half of season, but improved as the season went along. PJ also said Kobe needs to imrove this year on D, for the Lakers to contend.

    On the otherhand, the voters study game tape for a living and picked Kobe the best at his position. Kobe was good, but not great, even he admitted he needed to improve. I think it was simply that he was the best at his position, according to the coaches. This is one of the few awards that is actually voted on by experts. Unlike the media, where a reputation award could easily happen.

    If he did win, only on reputation, then its a rep well deserved, not something to knock him for. Like a Barry Bonds asterisk home run thing. Ab4sure, not saying your knocking him for that, just something I’ve heard at other blogs.