Three MVP awards, 33 All-Star appearances, four Defensive Player of the Year awards, eight championship rings…and zero accomplishments as a unit.
On paper, this Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup may be one of the best to ever assemble in terms of individual achievements across the board at all five positions. The truth of the matter, however, is that this starting five has yet to play a single minute together.
No matter how much hype accompanies this group, including Metta World Peace’s bold claim (via Sports Radio Interviews, h/t cbssports.com) that the team is on a mission to eclipse the 1996 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 regular season record by going 73-9, ultimately the team has to go out and perform.
Can the 2012-13 Lakers compete with Michael Jordan’s Bulls squads, Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, the bad boy Detroit Pistons or even the Lakers’ starting lineup of Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, James Worthy, A.C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a starting lineup that won back-to-back NBA championships in 1987 and 1988 with the same five guys?
It’s plausible, but truly great starting lineups are remembered for their hardware, not for individual achievements crammed together with high expectations.
Lakers fans know this all too well. When Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined the Lakers to chase the championship rings that had eluded them throughout their careers, the results were solid, but the season ended in disappointment when Los Angeles fell to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA finals in five games.
Malone struggled through an injury-riddled season and although Payton played respectable basketball as a Laker, “The Glove” had no answer for Chauncey Billups in the NBA finals. “Mr. Big Shot” averaged 21 points per game in the series.
Now, this is in no way projecting the 2012-13 Lakers as an encore to the superstar-laden 2004 squad. However, we’ve seen NBA teams fail in the past when they hoard superstar talent.
Additionally, four of the five Lakers’ starters are 32 years old or older. Those veterans with plenty of miles on the odometer could band together and have a great year, but the risk of someone breaking down along the way is evident.
The fact that the Lakers’ only starter under the age of 32 (Dwight Howard at age 26 who will turn 27 in December) is coming off back surgery for a herniated disk only exacerbates that problem. A player as athletically gifted as Howard could bounce back valiantly from the surgery and play up to his lofty level, but there’s no guarantee he won’t re-injure his back.
For this starting lineup to go down in history as one of the best ever (possibly even the single greatest of all time), they’ll have to not only win a championship, but multiple championships.
For that to happen, a 38-year-old point guard with a bad back of his own will have to continue playing at a high level, Kobe Bryant may have to reconsider the “possibility” that he could retire at age 35 and Howard will have to be re-signed to remain with the Lakers long term after this season.
If this starting five can join together and win a championship trophy in their first year as a unit, it will be nothing short of impressive. Even the loaded Miami Heat with the NBA’s best player needed a year to acclimate themselves before winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Nevertheless, in order for the Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol, Howard starting five to go down as the best in history, or at least near the best, they’ll have to win and win on the highest stage.
At this juncture, this starting five becoming the best of all time seems about as likely as hearing another Batman film by Chris Nolan is in production. Ultimately, fans can dream, but this starting lineup will be fighting an uphill battle from day one.
Let’s set the bar at one championship and re-evaluate if and when the Lakers get there.