Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers Will Turn Things Around, Just Not Soon Enough

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers confers with head coach Mike Brown during the game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on December 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 96-71. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterNovember 9, 2012

If only the Los Angeles Lakers had the same temporal luxuries that the Rolling Stones once enjoyed, a special 2012-13 NBA season might not be so difficult to envision, much less realize.

Which is to say that time has become something of a menace for the Purple and Gold. Every game that passes without a victory becomes another talking point for pundits to rehash, another point of reference to drive fans and observers ever closer to pushing the proverbial panic button.

Not that the Lakers' early season struggles are entirely surprising. There were bound to be plenty of growing pains in Lakers Land, what with six new players, three new assistant coaches and a new offensive system to mesh into a functional team.

Folks within the organization knew it wouldn't be easy. In late October, head coach Mike Brown appeared on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption, wherein he told Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon—two of the loudest talking heads on television—that the Lakers' latest experiment might not yield satisfactory results until after the new year:

So far, his predictions have proved prescient, though they haven't done much to massage the concerns of a notoriously impatient fanbase. Preaching calm to Lakers Nation is about as futile an endeavor as telling eager children to wait to open their presents on Christmas morning.

But the Lakers have credible cause for emphasizing such a long-range outlook.

Dwight Howard is on the mend from spinal surgery. Steve Nash has been out since Game 2 of the campaign with a fracture in his fibula. And Kobe Bryant has been dealing with a strained foot that he says is now feeling "a lot, lot better."

As a result, L.A.'s "Fab Four" has played but a game-and-a-half of live action as a unit—two-and-a-half if you include the one exhibition game in which they all participated.

Talented though they may be, this group was always going to need time to gel and simply hasn't had that yet. Even the Miami Heat, who now look so unstoppable with their "Big Three," took a while to come together.

The difference, of course, is that the pressure and expectations to which these Lakers are currently subject are immeasurably more suffocating than even those that plagued LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during their first two years together. Such stresses, internal and external, weren't necessarily endemic to Miami but have long been staples of life with the Lakers.

But as familiar as Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and most of the higher-ups within the organization may be with Southern California's anxious underbelly, the Lakers' newer elements—Nash, Howard and, of course, Mike Brown—are likely still adjusting.

Brown, in particular, has emerged as L.A.'s biggest scapegoat. Despite an excellent track record dating back to his days with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brown can't seem to gain the trust of anyone in Lakers Land—players included, according to Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register

Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss says he has Brown's back, as does Kobe, but how long will that last? More importantly, will it last long enough for Brown to see his project through, for the Lakers to come together under their current head coach?

To be sure, the Lakers have had their fair share of success with midseason coaching changes. They won the championship in 1980 after Paul Westhead replaced Jack McKinney, who suffered a near-fatal head injury from a bicycle accident after just 14 games.

By the fall of 1981, Westhead had worn out his welcome on the sideline. Magic Johnson agitated for the ouster and got his wish, with Pat Riley taking over and leading the "Showtime" Lakers to the '82 title.

It helps that those Lakers had a young Magic, a sturdy Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a supporting cast comprised of stars like Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper. It also helps that they happened upon solid coaches not once but twice, the latter of whom turned out to be one of the best ever.

The current Lakers aren't exactly short on talent, though. One could also argue that their coaching options are even more abundant. Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan is unemployed, Mike D'Antoni is taking it easy after an ill-fated stint with the New York Knicks, and Phil Jackson is probably drinking tea and getting his Zen on in Montana.

It does seem unlikely that Jackson would show up for a third go-round, even less so in the middle of a season. If you thought implementing aspects of the Princeton offense was a nightmare, imagine how difficult it'd be to get these Lakers on the same page in the Triangle amid such time constraints.

Would any of the other candidates be keen to step into such a sticky situation?

None of those three would be as natural a fit as Westhead and Riley were in their debuts. Both had been assistants on the bench under their respective replacements. And both took over much more stable situations.

The Lakers of 2012 are anything but, and they would be even less so with a coaching change at this juncture.

Hopefully, then, cooler heads will prevail, and the Purple and Gold will start to show signs of progress. Perhaps they'll defend more consistently, turn the ball over less frequently and give Kobe reason to smile rather than stare in disgust.

Even if Brown survives and the Lakers get their act together, there's still the not-so-small issue of keeping pace in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies, the San Antonio Spurs and the cross-hall Clippers have all had their moments of excellence in the early going. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be there in the end, and the Denver Nuggets figure to join them in that regard.

The longer it takes the Lakers to get on track, the worse their playoff seed and the bumpier their road through the postseason figure to be.

It's too early to panic, especially with a six-game homestand upcoming.

But time isn't on the Lakers side, even if, in reality, it probably is.

 

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