9 Things the 2013 Lakers Can Learn from Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Lakers
What we've got brewing over in Los Angeles is the closest thing we've had to the Showtime Lakers since the Show ended and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989. It's hard to argue that there could be anything less than a show every night in Staples Center as L.A. has become the talk of the NBA.
Sure, there are a lot of moving parts yet to put together and Dwight Howard's back is keeping him out of the game until...well until we hear anything about Dwight Howard's back getting better so a lot of things need to fall into place before we can really call it a revitalization of Showtime.
What is Showtime, however? At the core what was the build of the team that won five titles in the 80s and really set the wheels in motion for the basketball revolution. Michael Jordan shoved basketball into the eyes of every child around the world in awe of what a single man can do, but Showtime put basketball into the mainstream and paved the way for what basketball is today.
Superstars became super-duper-stars and the media microscope that constantly held Hollywood in a petri dish was both a curse and a blessing. It exposed every pimple and magnified every point of pride, effectively turning the Lakers into the talk of the country.
Rivalries were born, fuel was fed to old rivalries and basketball during the 80s became this point of reference that everyone points back to remembering fondly. The game would have been great without Showtime in the 80s, but the Lakers just put it all over the top.
In hopes that the Lakers can add even more pop to the already exciting league, and take a run at a title in the process, let's take a look at what they can learn from the Showtime Lakers, good and bad.
Yea, I know what you're saying, the Lakers ended up winning a title with Magic Johnson in his rookie year alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. What's more, they did it without Kareem in the sixth and deciding game in the Finals. There's reason to believe that they can go out and win a title immediately.
There's no doubt that they've got a decent chance of winning a title this year, but one of the downfalls of new teams, and we're talking in any situation, not just with the Lakers, is getting antsy too soon. A few losses start to pile up, guys get tight and start to play worse.
The point here is that even in the case of Showtime, everything doesn't always fit together perfectly right off the bat. While they were able to work out a 60-win season their first year together, they were far from perfect, finishing near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, free throw attempts, turnovers and points allowed per game.
On the other end of the spectrum, they were able to outscore opponents with the second-most potent offense in the league, rebound well and pass the ball.
What made them great was they were able to lean on what made them good and work on what they were bad at simultaneously.
Keep an Eye on What You Say
This is something the Lakers are going to have to be diligent about, as they've got a few players who have grown infamous for speaking publicly about what makes them unhappy.
Back in 1981, just the third year of the Johnson-Kareem tandem, Magic Johnson was upset with the offense that Paul Westhead was running and publicly demanded a trade. Westhead was fired the next day. Amidst the turmoil surrounding the team that season...well they won 57 games and the NBA Title.
Still, it was more of the work from Pat Riley becoming the team's head coach than it was the team coming together after Magic sounded off. Publicly complaining about your team or teammates rarely ends up being a good decision in the long run.
This incarnation of the Lakers has a Kobe Bryant who is fond of calling out guys who he thinks aren't putting forth the full effort and a Dwight Howard who, well, who hasn't really learned what should and shouldn't be said to the media.
If anything will be their undoing, it is mistrust and throwing around loose words through the newspapers.
Fast-Break All Day Long
It was the trademark of the Showtime game and what really brought them onto the national stage, making them the hottest ticket in town. Showtime was fast-break basketball at it's finest, and with the team they had to run it, it's hard to say it's been done any better since then.
The 80s Lakers were constantly near the top of the league in points per game, finishing no worse than fifth in points per game in any season, consistently averaging over 110 points per game. Of course, it was a different era when points were easier to come by and defenses were more restricted in terms of playing the zone, but what they did is no less impressive.
The current Lakers are definitely a different makeup than the then-Showtime boys, but the style of play is still possible. Their point guard isn't a young buck, but he's capable of amazing passes and running all game long; their center isn't an offensive mastermind, but he can use his physicality to get to the hole; and we haven't even mentioned the low-post mastermind of Pau Gasol and the one-on-one prowess of Kobe Bryant.
Los Angeles is capable of running a beautiful fast-break game, albeit less often than the Showtime boys did it if age proves to slow them down.
Share the Wealth, Share the Weight
During their run together, the Showtime Lakers never put on a two-man show with just Magic and Kareem. Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Spencer Haywood, Michael Cooper, Jim Chones, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Bob McAdoo, Byron Scott, Maurice Lucas, A.C. Green and Mychal Thompson all made a name for themselves alongside Kareem and Magic, and countless others contributed to the greater good.
Even further, in the five titles they won, the Lakers touted three different Finals MVP winners, including a span of four seasons when Kareem, Magic and Worthy each took one home.
The point is, there doesn't need to be a structure to this Lakers team in terms of who should shoot a certain number of times and who should get a certain number of minutes. Nail down a rotation, see who fits best and ride the hot hand when the hot hand deserves to be ridden.
There are no glory hogs when there's an overabundance of glory to go around.
The Best Defense Is a Good Offense
Showtime was always an offensive juggernaut, and really it's what made them what they were. They had their seasons when they were effective defensively, but they were rarely monsters when it came to keeping other teams from scoring.
Instead they were happy to spend games outscoring their opponents, rather than keeping guys from outscoring them.
While they didn't keep in the top half of the league defensively until about 1985, they were always able to create turnovers via the blocked shot or a steal, which was really what made their defense effective, as it fed their fast-break offense.
Where the current Lakers stand, they're looking at having a pretty good defensive team with Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace still holding some prowess around the perimeter and Dwight Howard holding it down in the middle, but if their offense runs well enough, it will give them an opening to gamble on defensively to potentially further feed their offense.
Get Acquainted to the Point Guard Early
One of the few real problems the Showtime Lakers had going against them early on was getting used to Magic Johnson's flashy style of running the point. Turnovers were at a peak in Magic's first season with the Lakers and it led to them giving the ball up nearly 200 times more than they took it away.
Of course, they still won 60 games that year and dominated the league, but it was a problem nonetheless. Once they got used to Magic's no-lookers and behind-the-back dimes, all was well and Showtime was running with gusto.
It's probably going to take a bit less getting used to for the Lakers of today, as the game today has seen the flash and sizzle from point guards more often than in the late 70s, but getting used to Nash's cues and subtleties in general is a must.
The offense is run through the guy with the ball, and as it seems like that'll be Nash in most cases, so these Lakers are going to need to really get acquainted with him.
Offensive Efficiency Is Key
You know, we always hear that Showtime was built around the fast-break, and it was, but it was much more sophisticated than just running really fast and getting a shot off. This wasn't your 2007 Golden State Warriors or any kind of Mike D'Antoni run team; this was a well-oiled machine.
The Lakers were able to have such a high-potency offense because they knew how to run it and they had guys who could score efficiently. For the duration of the Kareem-Magic duo in Los Angeles, the Lakers finished with the third-best field goal percentage once, second-best five times and led the league in shooting five times. Of course, L.A. had Kareem's sky hook, Magic finding open guys and offensive spacing that would make D'Antoni swoon.
That's the real key to running a successful fast-paced offense. Get the ball out in front of you, but don't rush any shots and always make the extra pass to the open man. Sure, it sounds like common sense, but it takes a lot more work to run an efficient offense rather than just run a high-scoring offense.
There's a lot to say about a team who can make adjustments to their team from game to game, but a team that can completely change the script from year to year is downright stunning. Just take a look at the Spurs from last season. For years they were a team built around defense, running a successful half-court offense that was efficient and well-oiled. Suddenly, in 2012, they decide to run-and-gun and have one of the highest scoring offenses in the NBA.
Showtime never really needed to make changes that drastic, but there were two key adjustments they made over the years. The first and most obvious was dealing with a declining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, using him as more of a bail out option rather than a key component.
However, what really impressed about the Lakers evolution in the 80s (and probably grew out of the declining role of Kareem) was their evolution from the three-point line. It was new and scary in the early 80s and they mostly shied away from it like most teams in the early days, shooting between 94 and 100 threes from 1979 until 1983. They made just 10 threes in 1983; there was no threat. Suddenly, the very next season, their three-point percentage jumps 15 points and they're one of the best long-distance teams in the league.
It's a trend that continued until they led the league in 1987 and hovered there until the end of the decade.
That's not necessarily saying that the Lakers should concentrate on making threes, just that they should never rule anything out just because they didn't do it effectively in the past.
Embrace the Show
More than anything else, the media microscope that Los Angeles can be is what teams make of it. It can be a disaster if things get tight and people start letting loose lips get the better of them, but it can be the center of the basketball universe if everything goes right.
There's going to be a whirlwind coming up in terms of media scrutiny, talking heads and snobby bloggers (ahem) picking them apart for doing this or that wrong, whether they're actually struggling or not.
More so than anything else, the Lakers need to ride the tide as it ebbs and flows and enjoy the ride while it's taking them along. It might not be a decade that they run the basketball world, but they definitely have a shot of making things very exciting for a few short seasons.
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