Coming into the 2012/13 season, Lakers fans around the world such as myself had a lot to be excited about.
Great acquisitions in the offseason with the signings of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to their starting five; no significant losses (the loss of Andrew Bynum being the only one worth recognition); and the signing of a couple valid pieces to their bench (among which are: Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, along with the continuation of Jordan Hill and Steve Blake). Sounds like a championship contestant roster if you ask me (!), so I do understand and support all the hype surrounding it. I mean, just imagine the highlights! ‘Nash dishes the ball to Pau off the screen who passes it to Howard for the Alley-oop throw down!’ Kobe doesn’t even have to be involved in the play for me to get chills of joy just thinking about it.
The truth is, the Lakers have achieved nothing but losses in the pre-season (0-8) as well as in the start of the regular season (0-2), which gives them a 0-10 record in games played since the summer. Now, as much as we, spoiled LA Lakers fans, try to deny it’s worrying at all, we still have to look at it and deep inside ask ourselves a big, fat capital: “WHY?”
And that is why I’m going to try and (ambitiously) justify it in 5 concrete points from where I stand:
- Player Condition – Kobe, Nash and Dwight are banged up. Kobe with a foot injury. Nash with his ankle/knee injury, as well as the problems he’s been having with his back the last couple of years. And Dwight coming off a complex back surgery and still in the state of recovery. These are interestingly enough the 3 most important players we must rely on in order to raise banner #17. Apart from that, it’s early in the season and the players still lack on some pace because they know it is a marathon and not a sprint. I’m counting on seeing them 100% physically available by the end of November.
- Player Experience – As the Lakers are a veteran team, I don’t think they are as concerned about the way the season starts, as they are about the way it will end. And the way it ends will crucially depend on having a real bond built on and off the court. In my opinion, they’re focusing on building that now so that afterwards they can take profit from it when the Playoffs come.
- New Team, New Players – There are a lot of new faces on the Lakers this season. It’s the first time Steve Nash and Dwight Howard put on the purple and gold uniform and they are being asked to basically lead the team with the help of Kobe and Pau. The chemistry just isn’t there yet. The players don’t know how the other players move on the floor, where they’re comfortable shooting, their favorite moves, etc. And that is a big part of working as a team.
- New Team, New System – The beautiful and (oh so) glorious offensive system known as the triangle offense that the Lakers used for years under Phil Jackson is just not around anymore. Mike Brown’s system (The Princeton Offense) is definitely different and if the older players were struggling with it when it first came along, well… I feel they still are at times. Add that to the fact that the guy who starts the offense (Nash) and the guy who preferably finishes the play (Howard) are new to the team and the system. This is, in my opinion, the most influential reason the Lakers aren’t winning along with point 5.
- Defense – The championship team is not the team who scores 120 points any given night. This is the NBA and every team has players who can get the ball through the rim as easy as that. In such a competitive and talent-filled league, it is all about the team who outworks and outhustles the opponent on defense. Watching the Lakers on defense this season hasn’t been the same as watching a championship team on defense. They are slow to box-out and get the rebound; they are late to contest the shots in the perimeter; and they lack on what I like to call ‘on court solidarity’ which involves: talking to each other; helping on the penetration; preventing mismatches; hustling while defending the pick-and-roll, etc. Had the Lakers been playing offense from the beginning, I seriously doubt we would be looking at a losing record right now.
These, to me, are the 5 most influential factors on the way the Lakers are playing at the moment. I know some people keep mentioning the second unit, and how it was an issue last year and can be an issue again this year. As I mentioned before, it should be a matter of conditioning because as long as the bench players go in and add intensity and pace to the game in order to wear the other team out, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Now, once the Lakers get over all these issues will they start winning on a regular basis? I do believe so. Is achieving this within reach? Absolutely. So, is there a reason for Lakers fans to be concerned? Well, I’d say the only concern should be the players’ health. Kobe, Nash, Pau, Jamison and company aren’t young anymore, but as long as they keep themselves healthy throughout the season, and especially in the playoffs, I envision a very successful season for the PNG.