Edited by DanishLakerFan, December 07, 2012 - 10:38 AM.
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Posted December 07, 2012 - 10:42 AM
Nothing has gone according to plan for the Lakers, who already are working on their third coach, their fourth starting point guard, and tonight in Oklahoma City, their seventh attempt at getting back to .500.
This game was supposed to be a showdown of two Western Conference heavyweights, and instead we find ourselves using the singular form. Steve Nash has played six quarters, Pau Gasol is resting his aching knees, and Dwight Howard hasn't looked anything like the defensive dominator he was in Orlando.
And yet ... the Lakers really aren't that bad. Yes, going 9-10 against an easy schedule is disturbing, but this poor result has been driven as much by luck as skill. The Lakers are just 1-9 in games decided by 10 points or less, and have gone 8-1 in all the others. They beat Denver by 19, Golden State by 24 and Houston by 11. They've outscored opponents by 4.1 points per game, the sixth-best figure in the league, and are in the league's top eight teams in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency -- only the Clippers and Spurs can make a similar boast.
Those marks will go down once the Lakers start playing more road games against difficult teams -- like tonight's contest, for instance -- after starting with 12 of 18 at home against some fairly light fodder, Still, it doesn't sound like a team on the brink of collapse.
L.A. has also had some notable defensive woes late in games, most notably in the Orlando game, even if they've been solid overall. The Lakers might be eighth in overall defense, but they're 25th in the last five minutes of close games, according to NBA.com. This is a 21-minute sample, so we probably shouldn't obsess over it, but it does help explain why they've fallen short in most of their close games.
Nonetheless, these are the type of things that tend to even out in the long term. Step back and look at the big picture, taking into account the injuries to Nash and Gasol, the instantaneous coaching change, and the fact Howard is still recovering from offseason back surgery.
Sum all that up, and the Lakers haven't been nearly as disappointing as some might think. For me, the similarities to the 2010-11 Heat have always been there -- like that club, this one was throw together with star talent that needs to figure out how to play together. And like that club, this one gets virtually nothing from the supporting cast.
That Heat club, remember, started its season in similar circumstances -- they were 9-8, had lost a home game decisively to Indiana, and had vultures circling right around this same point. Miami went on to go 62-20 in its next 82 games before ultimately falling in the Finals to Dallas.
Of course, that Miami had one key attribute that the Lakers lack: Health. That will make the Lakers' attempt to turn things around much slower and more difficult; it's perhaps emblematic that even their coach is recovering from surgery.
But that also takes us to the key problem regarding the Lakers, one that is far more worrisome than the Hack-a-Dwight (which really shouldn't worry them all, since the percentages are in their favor unless Howard turns into Andris Biedrins) or their recent crunch-time defense (which should probably worry them a bit more).
No, the real issue for L.A. is this: How does a team with this many resources end up with a bench this bad? The Lakers still have the capability to challenge for a conference title when everybody is healthy, but right now injuries have exposed the crumbling support behind their four-star façade.
I find this fact amazing. The Lakers have a $100 million payroll, and everybody in the league is clamoring to play for them. Ask around the league and nobody will criticize them directly ... but you can see in the rolled eyes and wry smiles that most of the league's executives believe that they, too, could build a pretty decent team if they could outspend everyone else, they were one of the top destinations for every single free agent, and they could still ride the coattails of one spectacularly good 1996 acquisition.
Yet we're headed for a second straight season of near-total worthlessness from the second unit, and the year before that they were basically relying on one player (Lamar Odom). Amazing fact: A Laker unit with their top four bench players (Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Chris Duhon) is -37 in 46 minutes. Subtract Jamison and they're even worse: -50 in 58 minutes. Small samples, yes, but frightening all the same.
This, obviously, coincides more or less with the "take-under" of the Lakers' front office by Jim Buss, and it's a worrisome prospect going forward. Everyone fawns over the Lakers' offseason because they got Howard and Nash, but those two chose the Lakers as much or more than anything L.A. did.
When it really came down to the challenging decisions of building out the roster, this team is riding a three-year failure streak that starts with the four-year, $16 million deal they gave Steve Blake in the summer of 2010.
First of all, you never pay backup point guards like this: They're relatively easy to find cheaply, and their peaks are typically short enough that a four-year deal is madness. Second, they let a better player leave (Jordan Farmar) in order to do it. And third, Steve Blake? Seriously? He was 29 years old, had never posted a league-average PER, and wasn't any kind of defensive ace. In three years in L.A. he's been in single digits the entire time, and is now out injured.
Look around at other spots on the roster and you'll see a similar story. Meeks? He's there because they let Shannon Brown walk, even though they easily could have afforded him. Jamison? He's your new Matt Barnes (their one solid signing in the past three years), who left this past summer to sign a one-year minimum deal in the same city.
And let's not forget the ones who already came and left. I'd say the Josh McRoberts free-agent splurge was a wee bit disappointing. The Troy Murphy Era was a hoot, too. Hey, anyone have Theo Ratliff's number?
Of course, other teams have to roll the dice on inexpensive veterans too, and not all their gambles work out. Still, we've seen lots of teams with better hit rates than the Lakers. Atlanta, for instance, last season had players 7 through 12 on the roster all making the minimum salary, yet had one of the league's more productive second units. Somehow, the Lakers can only dream of such things.
Still, all this might have worked out OK if the Lakers had drafted anybody remotely helpful since the brilliant selection of Marc Gasol with the 48th pick in 2007. Admittedly, it's tough to pull off when picking where the Lakers do year after year, but they've also shed so many draft picks in salary dumps, cash grabs and quick fixes that they haven't selected in the first round since 2006.
The 2009 draft was a good example -- they picked 29th and in a deep draft had several potentially helpful players available to them: Toney Douglas, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham, Sam Young, Jonas Jerebko, Danny Green, Marcus Thornton, Patty Mills, and DeJuan Blair all were picked 29th or later that year.
L.A. didn't take any of them. They traded the pick to the Knicks for cash -- The Lakers! Trading for cash! -- and a 2011 second-rounder that became Andrew Goudelock, who struggled in his one pro season and was cut in training camp.
Their other second-rounder in 2011 was Darius Morris, who recently was pressed into service as the starting point guard and was so bad that he had a negative plus-minus while playing nearly all his minutes with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. (Morris played 190 of his 359 minutes with the other four starters; that quintet is -14 this year.)
All of which raises the question: Why don't the Lakers have good players on minimum or low-cost deals like everyone else? Jamison has been helpful offensively, even if he's the walking definition of toast defensively, but that's about it. A quick glance reveals that some pretty useful players -- Nate Robinson, Leandro Barbosa, Sam Young, Ronnie Brewer -- signed for the minimum, and a great many other signed for just a bit more. The Lakers, meanwhile, kept $1.5 million of midlevel exception money in their pocket after signing Meeks and called it a summer.
Any of these decisions might be defended individually, but taken as a whole, they paint a fairly damning picture. The Lakers have other issues -- making the Pau-Dwight frontcourt work, defending in crunch time, etc. -- but the biggest one is that the front office just hasn't given the key players enough help.
In the long run, they'll still probably be fine. L.A.'s record is something of a mirage right now, even with the injuries. Nash will heal, Howard and Gasol will figure out how to play off each other, and the weakness of the supporting cast will be a distant memory if the four stars can play 35-40 minutes a night in the playoffs.
But this rocky start isn't a total accident either. The Lakers' inability to build out a decent supporting cast for their star-studded core left them open to struggles like this, and it's a big reason they've lost ground to the West's other elite teams.
Posted December 07, 2012 - 12:12 PM
Posted December 07, 2012 - 12:18 PM
Posted December 07, 2012 - 01:26 PM
Posted December 07, 2012 - 01:50 PM
Yep bench has been pathetic since 2008 and 2009..
Posted December 07, 2012 - 05:53 PM
Posted December 07, 2012 - 09:30 PM
Posted December 07, 2012 - 10:15 PM
Posted December 08, 2012 - 04:17 AM
Posted December 08, 2012 - 09:45 AM
Posted December 08, 2012 - 08:11 PM
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