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.