Lakers often looked puzzled after winless preseason
Okay. After another blowout loss, the Lakers officially ended the preseason 0-8. That's right, zero, zip, zilch, nada. The same amount of wins a third-party Presidential candidate will have in the modern era after the Nov. 6 election.
Yes, that has some people out there panicking. I will admit, after my initial post on the preseason after the fourth game, I wasn't that worried. Ladies and gentlemen, I have some concerns now.
So enough with the exposition, let's get right into the conflict. Here are the three things we now know about the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers.
For the Lakers' sake, there better not be much of this in 2013
Player for player, you are hard pressed to find a better starting five than the one a healthy Lakers team will possess. There are two problems with that though. One, we have only seen that team together one time! Yes, yes, it's preseason. But with increasing rumors (err, reports) that Kobe Bryant may miss the beginning of the regular season, the question becomes when exactly will this dream team assemble?
As curious as that is, it pales in comparison to the second fact: Once again, the Lakers lack a very good bench. Sure there are some names in Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake. That's all well and good. But this is a disjointed unit. Blake is not a good enough play maker to get other players their shots. Which means Meeks won't have the premium looks he was acquired for.
Which means Jamison, who is basically a knock down shooter at this point, isn't getting open looks. Jordan Hill is a very good energy player. That said, he is not a premium option in terms of dumping it in the post and letting him go to work. The potential is that Robert Sacre, who has been a revelation in these eight games, may help with some of that in the regular season.
But don't hold your breath. Plenty of guys have starred in the preseason only to fizzle when the games count. Normally, I wouldn't get excited, but we saw this same formula last year and really, in 2011 as well. Lamar Odom's absence is still being felt. Heck, the Lakers don't have someone to fill the void of Matt Barnes.
The real harm here is not scoring, it is defense. Far too often, the second unit is playing transition defense and players like Eric Bledsoe, Aaron Brooks, etc. have feasted in the preseason. L.A.'s lack of quickness was precisely my rationale for going after Leandro Barbosa. Now, he's in Boston with the Celtics, and the Lakers are just as vulnerable in the second unit as ever.
It will be interesting to see if Chris Duhon may get some time at point guard if the bench continues to struggle. Duhon doesn't give you much in the way of offense, but he is a more than serviceable perimeter defender. The more of that the Lakers can trot out, the better.
The future and present standard bearers
New players, new system, rough preseason. Sound familiar? It should if you're a long time Laker fan. That's exactly what happened back in the fall of 1999 as Phil Jackson brought the vaunted Triangle offense to Los Angeles. The Lakers struggled mightily throughout that preseason and were without Kobe Bryant at the beginning of the season.
The problem is, Mike Brown (and really Eddie Jordan) isn't Phil Jackson. Sorry to the two of you out there who disagree. And there are no on-the-floor instructors to this offense like Ron Harper and John Salley were for that team. This is much more complicated in the sense that unlike having a prime Shaq to throw it in and play off, this team has much more dynamic parts without a defined nucleus to be centered off.
As a result, the Lakers have been at times, razor sharp. Other times, well, they have looked lost in the sauce. We can't really use this as a true barometer with all the reserves and training-camp bodies that played, but the Lakers averaged a measly 85.8 points, never once cracking the 100-point mark.
More disconcerting was the fact that Los Angeles struggled to shoot better than 40 percent in the majority of the games. The truth is, all five of the starters have been used to playing with the ball in their hands. Nash at times gets lost in the shuffle on cuts and picks and seems misused in that kind of role. With two exceptional bigs, the Lakers might be better running more pick-and-roll with Nash to begin the year.
Because the Lakers don't generate many turnovers and fast-break points, it will be even more incumbent on them to learn this offense. But without the ability to score cheaply, I expect the inconsistencies to be a major issue until around the All-Star break.
How long will Howard go before injuries take a toll?
Basketball is often a zero-sum game: The best player with a good enough set of supporters ends up winning big. Usually at the rest of the league's expense. For the Lakers, their best player right now is Dwight Howard. Not Kobe Bryant and not Steve Nash.
But all three of them are dealing with either age, injury concerns, or both. While Bryant has a work ethic and pain threshold that seems to border on superhuman, he's not as young as springtime anymore. The fact that he may very well miss the beginning of the season is a sign that the Lakers may not just be a talented team, they might be a talented old team.
Most Laker fans were frustrated with the haphazard regular season in 2011-12. Beware, you might be in for a repeat performance in 2012-13. Howard's back is still very much a question mark over the long term. As a matter of fact, so is Steve Nash's. And the reality is, the drop in quality from those two players is very steep.
So going into the season with injury concerns, it is a safe bet to believe that they will be issues throughout an 82-game season. Nash will probably have monitored minutes, which makes the Lakers' lack of quality depth profound. Bryant's playing through pain might be more of a hindrance than a help if he is impacted like he was in stretches last season.
And oh yes, Dwight Howard. The jewel of this offseason's NBA movement, he has to be treated with kid gloves. If the Lakers have any designs of unseating the younger Thunder in the Western Conference, Howard has to be as close to 100 percent as possible in May, not December. That means, he may get the Shaq treatment and miss a few games this year.
The end result could be some basketball that is hard to watch by Lakers' standards. But the objective is not to look good on Christmas or some TNT national broadcast, but in the playoffs, when the performance of this assembly of talent matters most.
Got any more plays, Coach?
So, four more games and four more losses that mean nothing in the big picture. But I don't care what anyone says, going winless is not a good thing. We won't have anything to really say or react to until after Tuesday night's opener with Dallas.
But right now, the Lakers are a team still in transition. If the NBA title is a cake that has to be baked and served, the Lakers are still sifting the flour. In other words, it's really early. That can be a good thing (i.e. the team ascends as they get acclimated).
Or, worst case scenario, this could be a harbinger of a disappointing season. I think it's way too early to call anything in this race. But like a horse that acts funny before entering the gate, there are ominous signs thus far with the Lakers.