Prior to the 2012-13 NBA season, the relocated Brooklyn Nets and the revamped Los Angeles Lakers were seen as two teams in the running for championship contention.
Who would have thought that this early in the season, the Lakers would have fired head coach Mike Brown as they got out to a mediocre 5-5 record? Meanwhile, the reloaded Nets have jumped out to a 6-2 start, losing only to Minnesota and Miami.
The Nets have defeated a plethora of bad teams and aren’t overwhelming anybody, but they’ve still looked better than the “mighty” Lakers thus far. Brooklyn still needs to integrate Gerald “Crash” Wallace back into the rotation following an injury, but the Nets have beaten teams they should beat, which is a sign of a playoff contender.
The Lakers meanwhile have looked flustered and frustrated. Brown got fired, ushering in the Mike D’Antoni era in Los Angeles. Injuries to Steve Nash and Steve Blake have crippled the Lakers’ backcourt, but they’ve stayed afloat with a 5-5 record.
So which of these two teams has the best chance of having long-term success?
In the short term, the Nets have had the advantage of having steady coaching. Avery Johnson is the head coach in Brooklyn, barring some unforeseen circumstances, and that continuity has helped this team stay competitive.
In Los Angeles however, Brown was fired after a shaky start, and Lakers management decided to hire D’Antoni, the offensive guru, over the “Zen Master” Phil Jackson.
Many fans and (at least initially) one Earvin “Magic” Johnson voiced their displeasure with the decision. Via Twitter, Johnson said, “The reason I haven’t tweeted in two days is because I’ve been mourning Phil Jackson not being hired as the Lakers head coach.”
Johnson has since come around a bit on the D’Antoni hire, but he obviously was not thrilled at the initial decision.
Despite Jackson’s obvious popularity, the Lakers have a chance at becoming an offensive juggernaut with D’Antoni at the helm (much like the run-and-gun Suns teams of old).
Nash and D’Antoni each had their most successful NBA years together. Nash won two MVP awards, while D’Antoni gained NBA fame leading to a high-paying job in New York. Once those two get back together in Los Angeles, there’s a good chance they can rekindle their old magic.
The Nets have gotten off to a 6-2 start, and while it hasn’t been overwhelmingly impressive, they’re still four games over .500.
The Lakers certainly didn’t get off to the start they envisioned with all the talent on the roster, but with a new head coach and new philosophy, a lot could (and should) change.
In terms of overall competition, both teams have to be worried. The Lakers have to compete with the veteran San Antonio Spurs, underrated Memphis Grizzlies and defending Western Conference-champion Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nets meanwhile have to compete with the aging Boston Celtics, upstart New York Knicks and defending champion Miami Heat.
Neither team will have an easy road in the playoffs, should they get there.
While the Nets need to continue to improve, the Lakers have to prove that the move to bring in D’Antoni was the correct one.
The offense in L.A. has already shown flashes of brilliance, but games coached by the Italian moving forward will be a good barometer of their success.
Both of these teams will be contenders come playoff time, but developing more team chemistry as the season wears on has to be the goal for Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
(Note: Team records in this article are accurate as of Nov. 11, 2012, before the Lakers/Nets matchup).