Lakers' superstar formula hasn't produced a winning team
By Benjamin Hochman
The Denver Post
It's springtime in 2043, and a father and son decide to go on a trip. They pack up their hovercraft and head to Springfield, Mass., to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Dad wants to teach his son about the stars from his childhood, so he shows him exhibits about Hall of Famers such as Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
"And you wouldn't believe this," the father says. "In 2013, they were all on the same team!"
"Are you kidding me?" the son says. "Four Hall of Famers? Surely they won the NBA championship. Did they win every single game that season?"
"Actually, son, they didn't even make the playoffs."
With only 25 games left, the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended now. Hollywood, it seems, has churned out another horror show.
The show's on display Monday in Denver at the Pepsi Center."
"I think the whole thing for me is, the fragility of an NBA team is based upon your team's togetherness and chemistry as much as it is on your team's talent," said Nuggets coach George Karl, who has lost three recent playoff series to the Lakers, the team he said on media day he despises. "I think Nash getting hurt early hurt them. Now the Gasol injury has hurt them, and because of all that, I don't think they've ever gotten connected in a confident way.
"I don't know how many wins it will take them, but it will be interesting to see if they can get in (the playoffs). You've got a team that will play desperate the rest of the way. Talented players — they might not get along — but they have a way, when they're desperate, to figure out how to like each other."
Watch the Lakers lose and it appears they don't know one another, let alone like. Nash, even in a familiar offense, can't seem to maximize role players (the Los Angeles bench is bad). Also, Nash and Howard, who's not playing at 100 percent, seldom click with the pick.
"We'd like to get him in the pick-and-roll more," Nash told The Orange County Register. "That's how he was really good in Orlando. He'd pick and he'd dive, and they'd swing and put it in to him, so he could get deeper catches and the help side has a more difficult time coming to him.
"It's been difficult, really, to get him into that game, running into pick-and-rolls, diving hard, looking for the ball. We really haven't found that rhythm from him yet."
Then there's Bryant. This was supposed to be his quest for a sixth championship ring, his foray toward Michael Jordan. Bryant added the Jordan-era equivalent of John Stockton and David Robinson to do just that. But this might be the season that besmirches Bryant's legacy. He has tried everything.
He led the league in scoring early in the season. Then he went on an assists rampage, trying to prove he could be a facilitator. He has complained, seethed, scowled and even tweeted for the first time. Nothing has consistently worked.
But the Lakers have begun to play better. Still, they continue to lose to good teams, although they have a recent win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the past month, the Lakers have lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat (twice).
"I'm surprised where they are right now, but I still have a feeling that they'll make the playoffs," Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said of the Lakers. "They'll be a tough out at the eighth or seventh seed (in the West). I think they'll make a little bit of noise, because the first and second seeds aren't going to want to play them."
Bryant thinks so too. Bryant told Sports Illustrated the Lakers would make the playoffs and that he doesn't fear any team in the Western Conference. Is it another tactic? A prideful prediction? Or will the proclamation just be another in a series of dubious moments in the most surprising season in NBA history?
There is some hoops hope. The Lakers, once 17-25, have won 11 of their past 15 games, including Sunday's national-TV win vs. Dallas.
Leave it to former NBA star Charles Barkley to sum it up.
"The Lakers are old, and they are not going to make the playoffs," the TNT analyst said last week. "If by happenstance they do make the playoffs, they're going to get beat like a drum in the first round."
Benjamin Hochman: 303-954-1294, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/nuggetsnews
Prove 'em wrong, fellas.