After another Lakers loss has caused yet another media freakout, we should note that this 2012-2013 team has become absolutely impossible to analyze.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are so many confounding variables lurking to make a farce out of the Lakers analysis we hazard at. If Dwight Howard has a bad game, we don't know whether it's his back acting up or if it's just Dwight playing badly. If the Laker offense sputters, we don't know whether it's impossible to fix or if Steve Nash can right everything upon return.
The second reason for the impossibility of analysis is the impossible standard by which this team is judged. I happened to think—and happen to think—that the Lakers are a very good team, but one that won't make the Finals. Since the Lakers are "expected" to win a championship, such an opinion doesn't register. If you aren't fitting the Lakers for title rings, you must think they're "terrible," because a non-title fate would be regarded as such.
The current 8-9 L.A. team has a healthy plus-3.8 point differential so far. Obviously, they expected to be better after 17 games, but we should remember that their record is somewhat deceiving when margin of victory is considered. Their point differential is above what 9-5 Atlanta has done and a little below what 11-5 Brooklyn has done against a weak schedule.
So far, amid a Steve Nash injury, two coaching changes and constant media interrogation, the Lakers appear to be a 50-plus win team. They don't "suck," as many guffawed over Twitter last night (admittedly, it is a lot of fun to crack on the Lakers via social media during times of strife); they're a playoff team that features some talented, mismatched pieces.
While a lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard sounded oh-so-appealing, it was mainly because the foursome fit positional archetypes that we got used to in the '80s and '90s. Pau is a big, rebounding power forward who brings ball skills along with the boards. Dwight Howard is the "dominant" big man who owns the glass and blocks shots in equal measure.
Los Angeles' problem is that it's not the '80s or '90s. In an era of increasingly complex, non-illegal defense, versatility is required. A team like the Heat or the Thunder can shift into most any shape.
Miami and Oklahoma City can "go small" by playing their superstar at the power forward position. In Miami's case, that superstar can guard any position, their big man can space the floor like a little guy, and their shooting guard can match up with positions 1-3.
The Heat have clay pieces—parts that can be molded to fit one another depending on situational requirements. The Lakers have glass pieces. Against the wrong opponent, you can hear the "clink" of parts futilely attempting co-existence.
The Lakers have enough talent to win over 50 games and to outperform their record in the playoffs (we'll see less of their shaky bench in the postseason). In my opinion, it is that lack of versatility that will be their ultimate undoing in the postseason.
This is a far cry from calling the Lakers "bad," "flawed" or asking after what's wrong with them. What's wrong with the Lakers is that expectations are insane and wholly divorced from how hard it will be to win in a five-deep Western Conference.
I suspect that the Lakers won't win. I also suspect that, eventually, losing will be no remarkable failure.