Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban became the latest person to question the chemistry of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, going as far as to suggest that one of the team's new superstars may not even want to be there.
According to SportingNews.com, Cuban compared this version of the Lakers to the 2003-04 team that included Gary Payton and Karl Malone. While that team did match expectations by reaching the NBA Finals, it is still ultimately considered a failure because of its inability to win on that stage.
Presumably, the player Cuban was alluding to not wanting to be there was Lakers center Dwight Howard. By including Howard in his critique, Cuban's true motives are revealed for his theory on the Lakers.
Failure for the Lakers in 2012-13 would be sweet vindication for the legions of NBA fans that hate the Lakers anyway and, in Cuban's case, it would also mean that Howard might be available for the taking at the conclusion of the season.
Success, on the other hand, would almost guarantee a long run for Howard in Hollywood, which would effectively ruin Cuban's offseason (again) and create an atmosphere of hopelessness around the rest of the NBA.
Chemistry is not the only issue surrounding a 2013 NBA Finals trip for the Lakers, but it must be the biggest, as things like age, athleticism, injuries and the Lakers bench are rarely mentioned.
It seems like everything keeps going back to chemistry when discussing the Lakers and their potential for greatness. Most fans, like Cuban, feel Howard would be the most likely culprit to blow that chemistry up, and understandably so.
No one really knows what to expect from the youngest member (26) of the team's starting five, especially since his offseason back surgery has prevented him from establishing any chemistry with his new teammates on the court.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol may be two of the most unselfish players in the history of the game, and Kobe Bryant's only concern at this point in his career is winning championships. Bryant understands how pivotal Howard is to that goal.
So if any chemistry issues do arise, it makes sense that Howard would be the likely source. It also makes sense for the Lakers detractors to place their faith in this potential flaw, because if Howard is healthy and motivated, a path to the NBA Finals becomes much clearer for the Lakers.
Durant and Bosh were not conceding anything to the Lakers by acknowledging their talent, and the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder should be considered favorites to reach the 2013 NBA Finals—at least until the games begin.
Most people feel Oklahoma will not be an easy out for the Lakers, regardless of how much they have improved over the summer, but if the Lakers are as good on the court as they are on paper, it will be an out nonetheless.
The Thunder's 4-1 series victory over the Lakers was a lot closer than most people acknowledge, and if not for a complete Bryant breakdown in Game 2 and subpar play from Ramon Sessions, Andrew Bynum and Gasol throughout the series, the outcome could have been vastly different.
It's hard to picture Nash failing to trump Sessions' 6.8 points, 3.0 assists and 35 percent shooting average from the field against the Thunder in the conference semifinals, and he can't be as bad as Sessions was defensively.
If you accept the theory that Nash is a huge upgrade over Sessions, then you have to believe he will perform better than Sessions did under the same circumstances. The same can also be said for Howard.
Despite being the biggest player on the floor, when Bynum was not engaged, he had the tendency to disappear against the smaller, quicker Thunder post players.
Howard may not get as many touches as Bynum did with the talent surrounding him, but his field-goal percentage suggests he will be more efficient when those opportunities come. But for the Lakers, his biggest impact will be on defense.
Howard has the rare ability to dominate a game without scoring a single point, and he is more athletic, has better lateral mobility and is far more active and aggressive in the paint than Bynum.
Bosh's Heat would present a different challenge for the Lakers, and as Miami's fans are quick to point out, its team made some notable changes as well this offseason.
Adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis gives the Heat two more proven sharpshooters on the wing and strengthens the small-ball concept that was so successful for the 2012 NBA champs.
Miami will be a matchup nightmare for most teams, including the Lakers, but with Howard in the fold, the river will flow both ways.
In four games against the Heat last season, Howard averaged 19.3 points and 18.3 rebounds per game (and that was without Nash, Bryant and Gasol picking up the slack).
Those numbers suggest the Heat had absolutely no answer for Howard in the paint, and there is nothing Miami did in the offseason that changes that dynamic.
In fact, the Lakers might cause more problems for the Heat because two of their areas of strength, point guard and center, just happen to be the defending champion's greatest weaknesses.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the Lakers should be automatically favored in a series with the Thunder or Heat, but the fact that fans of those two teams have been more vocal when it comes to pointing out the Lakers' flaws, also means they feel the most threatened.
The rest of the NBA realizes how good the Lakers can be if Howard is healthy and is able to assimilate, and so do the fans who follow the games—even if they don't want to admit it.
The NBA's new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to prevent the Lakers from monopolizing the free-agent market, and provisions that have yet to begin will strongly discourage other teams from taking this approach in the future.
Nevertheless, the Lakers still managed to play within the rules and build what could possibly be one of the greatest rosters ever assembled.
Hoping the Lakers fail may not be the most rational or practical emotion, but for the people who are sickened by the Lakers' consistent success, it sure beats the alternative.