Following his team's embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 2, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni needs to put his foot down with some of his players. His run and gun system is very specific, with each man having a certain role and needing to stick to it in order for everything to work.
In Los Angeles, forcing a championship-caliber team to do just that has been easier said than done. The Lakers are still struggling at 8-9 and will continue to do so until each and every player on the roster buys into D'Antoni's system. Otherwise, the team will be doomed to underachieve after entering the season as favorites to win a championship.
Let's start with the most guilty player on the team, power forward Pau Gasol. He has struggled not only in D'Antoni's system, but all season long. Gasol is averaging 8.9 rebounds per game, but has posted a career-low 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting.
Gasol has also complained about not having enough opportunities in the low-post and too much time taking jump shots, as D'Antoni's system calls for the power forward to do. The man has simply refused to even try adapting to the new offense, and it is clear just by watching him that he is unhappy. His aggression is gone, and he has become passive.
The situation with Gasol has gotten to the point where star guard and team leader Kobe Bryant has called him out, practically pleading with him to adjust so that the Lakers can live up to their full potential.
Speaking of Bryant, he too is adjusting to his new place in D'Antoni's offense. With point guard Steve Nash still recovering from a leg injury, Bryant has assumed the role of both leading scorer and playmaker. He is currently leading the league with 27.3 points per game, and is also posting 5.1 assists per contest.
However, Bryant is clearly still having some issues in terms of trusting his teammates to score points effectively. Some nights, he'll play an absolutely selfless game and the results will speak for themselves. Other times, he'll go into selfish mode and take twice as many field-goal attempts as some of his teammates, as he did against Orlando.
Yes, Kobe Bryant is the Lakers' best scorer, but the team's problem the past two seasons was that the offense relied too heavily on him. He has solid go-to guys in Dwight Howard and Gasol, not to mention a a rejuvenated Metta World Peace, so to not get them involved while handling playmaking duties in Nash's absence is just foolish on his part.
That leads us to Howard, who is playing on a (seemingly) balanced team after years of carrying the Orlando Magic on both sides of the floor. As a center playing for D'Antoni, his job is to be explosive on the pick-and-roll on offense, but his greatest value right now is as an elite interior defender. He is currently fourth in the NBA in rebounding, at 11.4 per game, and is also fourth in blocks with 2.6 per contest.
Howard is averaging 18.7 points per game on offense, but he should be focusing on his defense until Nash gets back. The Lakers are currently 14th in points allowed, and the three-time Defensive Player of the Year should be willing to give up at least a little bit of scoring until Nash returns and the pick-and-roll is fully back in business. Offense may win games, but defense does indeed win championships.
That leads us to the Lakers bench, which has shown flashes of fine play throughout the season but is still inconsistent as a whole. Sixth man Antawn Jamison has only averaged 7.4 points per game on the season, and appears content to let the starters do most of the work.
This completely defeats the purpose of a sixth man. The role of such a player is to come off the bench and play starter minutes, not to mention put up starter numbers. Jamison is averaging just under 19 minutes per game for the season, but has seen his playing time increase over the last five games, over which he is averaging 28.2 minutes.
Jamison's scoring over that stretch has been 16.2 points per game but in L.A.'s loss to Orlando, he only took seven field-goal attempts. This was just one game after a 33-point effort against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 30, and D'Antoni's system calls for the sixth man to be a solid scorer off the bench like Leandro Barbosa was for him in Phoenix. Jamison just needs to demand the ball more often, and the Lakers offense will be all the more balanced.
That all being said, it's clear just what the Lakers' problems are. What's even more clear is that each and every one is fixable. This is not a duty that falls on D'Antoni, but on the Lakers players themselves.
Pau Gasol needs to buck up and start being more aggressive on both sides of the floor, working on both his jump shot and interior game. Howard needs to chip in on offense, but only as needed and keep his focus on defense. Bryant just needs to remember that he isn't the only savior on the team anymore, and the bench needs to just play consistently.
Can the Lakers fix their problems?
Each and every player on the Lakers now has a role, and it is up to them to play it well enough to the point where the Academy may give them a call once the Oscars roll around. Think of the Lakers as a movie, with a championship putting them at Ben-Hur status.
However, if the Lakers don't start stepping up and adapt to their individual roles, they'll forever be doomed as Leonard Part 6. Just as that movie was for Bill Cosby, the Lakers season will thus turn into an epic waste of talent.
Thus, it's time for the team to step up, embrace its individual roles, and start winning some games.