Why Dwight Howard's Improved Health Will Quell L.A. Lakers' Chemistry Concerns
Nothing cures chemistry issues (or masks them temporarily) quite like success. Even John Lennon and Paul McCartney had their druthers, though that hardly hindered The Beatles from becoming one of the most popular bands of all time.
The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the 2012-13 NBA season with a "Fab Four" of their own—between Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard—and the usual smorgasbord of questions that tend to dog such successful outfits.
Namely, "How's this thing going to work?"
The answer? Quite well, actually, so long as Ironman doesn't step on a crack and break his own back.
From a pure basketball perspective, the high-profile parts that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has amassed couldn't fit together much more perfectly on paper. There's Kobe, the wing scorer who, though getting up there in hoop years, can create his own shot and take over games in crunch time. There's Nash, the wily veteran point guard who keeps the ball moving and his teammates happy. There's Gasol, the skilled big man who can pop out to 18 feet (and beyond) and roll to the basket with equal acuity.
And then there's Howard, the athletic freak who dominates down low, leaps tall buildings in a single bound and is a game-changing force on the defensive end.
Fitting those four into the Princeton offense should only lubricate whatever on-court tensions might arise from amalgamating such a transcendent collection of talent. The peculiar combination of ball movement, player movement and spacing that Eddie Jordan is currently preaching to the Lakers' stars will make them all that much tougher to defend and, in turn, open up that many more easy shots within the flow of the offense.
Naturally, though, it will take time for everything to come together, as so many expect it will. The new faces will need a moment or two (or perhaps many more) to figure out how they fit in with each other and with the "old guard" (i.e. Kobe and Pau). Likewise, the team's holdovers will have to adjust their own roles and expectations to allow the new guys to flourish.
Everyone, old and new, must get used to setting screens and running back cuts in Pete Carril's scheme for this grand experiment to work.
How the personalities blend together (or don't) is another story entirely, though one that might require a doctorate in sports psychology to speak to with any accuracy. How will Kobe, the team's undisputed "Alpha Dog," share the ball and the spotlight with the people-pleasing Nash? How will the serious-minded Black Mamba get along with the goofy-but-wanting-to-be-lovable Superman as the season wears on? How will Pau accept a de facto demotion to being, perhaps, the fourth option in a star-studded offense?
So far, the answer seems to be "just fine, thanks" to the first two inquiries, at a minimum. Those answers don't figure to change so long as the team continues to improve in practice and in the locker room and as that collective effort translates to positive results when the games start to mean something at the end of the month.
Which of LA's "Fab Four" is most important to the Lakers' title hopes?
Or, in Lakerland, once mid-April comes calling.
Reaching that point will require Kobe to acquaint himself with a lighter and more efficient workload, Nash to learn to play within the confines of the Princeton and alongside a backcourt "ball hog," Pau to settle in as a passer and pick-and-pop shooter and (most importantly) Dwight to come back strong from major back surgery this past April.
As important as the former three are to the Lakers' foundation, it's Dwight who makes the biggest difference. The Lakers weren't truly back on the championship radar until they essentially swapped out Andrew Bynum for Howard, at which point L.A. (and Las Vegas) went berserk.
He'll be the lynchpin of a defense that features four guys in their 30s, only two of whom (Kobe and Metta World Peace) have ever been credible stoppers. He'll also be the primary post player in an offense that's designed to operate from the inside out.
Kobe, Nash and Pau are the brains of the operation, but Dwight is the brawn, the sheer muscle who can and should elevate the new-look Lakers from finesse to forceful. He's the young star entering his prime who'll be asked to breathe new life into one of the NBA's oldest rosters and revitalize one of the league's oldest traditions.
That is, the Lakers reaching the Finals, as they have on 31 occasions, and hoisting the championship trophy, which they've pulled off 16 times.
Another such trip (especially an ultimately successful one) would do plenty to wipe out whatever drama may or may not arise as the season grinds along. That all depends on whether Dwight's back is fit for domination or flaky to invite—and incite—criticism of all kinds.
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