Listening to the media after the Lakers' 99-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, you would have thought the world was coming to an end. This was supposed to be the start of another championship season in Los Angeles and for 48 minutes on Tuesday, the star-studded Lakers lineup got pushed around by the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs at home.
On "knee-jerk reaction Wednesday," fans across the country are wondering what happened to the supposed juggernaut the Lakers built in the offseason?
Let's be clear: the Lakers are still a great team and will make the playoffs with relative ease in the Western Conference. This point is nearly inarguable. But when it comes to discussing a championship, things get a little more complicated.
The Lakers have a huge issue that won't be fixed, and it's the same issue that the Miami Heat had two seasons ago: there is no depth on the bench to make a prolonged run.
No matter what anyone says, depth is key to making a run at the NBA title. Last season, the Thunder got significant contributions from James Harden, Eric Maynor and Nick Collison. The Heat received help from Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Norris Cole. Few of those are big names, but they had a defined role and played it to perfection.
The Lakers have a bench in shambles. Antawn Jamison is the only legitimate threat off the pine, but he's aging. He has very questionable shot selections and can't play defense to save his life (at a position that requires defensive aptitude). Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks don't scare anybody. It might be the worst bench in the entire league.
Over an 82-game season, the Lakers will have to get significant contributions from their bench. Steve Nash is 38 and Kobe Bryant is 34; both are still great players but will need to be spelled often in order to save their legs. No team can possibly be confident replacing either guy for any amount of time with the pieces that ride the pine in L.A.
If the depth players the Lakers possess fail to progress and step up, it could be a wasted season in L.A. No team is complete without role players and the Lakers have none outside of their starting five. Oklahoma City recharged its bench in the offseason, grabbing Perry Jones III in the draft and getting Kevin Martin from the Rockets. The Heat made significant upgrades, signing Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to go along with a bunch of role players that were instrumental in helping Miami win a title last season.
The Lakers could have all the talent in the world in their starting five, but if the bench doesn't do anything, the team won't go anywhere. It's that simple. Unfortunately for L.A., the problem is a bit too large to hope to have fixed by the end of the year. It could be a disappointing season for fans if the lack of depth is ultimately the reason for coming home empty.