The Los Angeles Lakers are officially in trouble. It's still extremely early in the 2012-13 season, but without newly acquired star PG Steve Nash, the current team appears incapable of making what looked to be a surefire run at an NBA title.
The Lakers are sitting at 9-10 and in a dead heat for what would be the final playoff spot. Such is the nature of the stacked Western conference.
It is one thing for a team to return its typical superstar player after an injury hiatus, but the fact that Nash hasn't been able to grow accustomed to playing with his new teammates likely means that this Los Angeles squad's growing pains will continue.
The one distinct advantage Nash brings to the lineup is in-depth prior knowledge of new head coach Mike D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" offensive scheme.
That has been a source of problems for the Lakers, as All-Star PF Pau Gasol has struggled to fill a role for D'Antoni. Nash's presence would allow Gasol to utilize the pick-and-roll and spot up for high-percentage, mid-range looks at the hoop. That duo's passing ability would also help ball movement across the board and improve the fluidity of the offense.
Gasol has been the subject of trade speculation recently due to his perceived misfit nature, but NBA analyst Ric Bucher insists that it won't happen:
...The Lakers landed Steve Nash by promising him he would get to play with Gasol. Nash made it a prerequisite for passing on offers from Toronto and the Knicks that Pau would be around, the source said.
Unfortunately, the potential for that to work won't happen for the foreseeable future. According to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Nash will be out for another 10 to 14 days as of Tuesday, which is still a pretty significant chunk of time missed.
The slate doesn't get any easier on Friday night at Oklahoma City, where a hot team awaits. Road wins in Houston and New Orleans have softened the blow of Nash's absence, but the team still faces seven of its next eight games away from the friendly confines of the Staples Center.
Will Steve Nash's return key the Lakers to turning around their season?
This road trip will prove a lot about his team, which is still trying to fulfill the promise of winning a championship. Even with the addition of Dwight Howard, that may not be possible without Nash.
The only backup point guards on the Lakers roster are Chris Duhon, Steve Blake and Darius Morris. With Blake also set to miss time with an injury, LA simply doesn't have the caliber of point guard to keep up in the NBA.
Although LA has gotten enough scoring for the time being in Nash's absence, the Lakers won't be able to consistently compete with the best in the West without Nash.
The mentorship he can provide to the younger point guards, as well as the indoctrinating and catalyzing he can do within D'Antoni's system, will help accelerate players' understanding of the scheme, and create a more efficient offense that can get back to the other end to get stops on a more consistent basis.
It's not quite time to hit the panic button in LA due to the plethora of talent and the promise Nash brings upon his return to an offense in which he has won two NBA MVP awards.
But Nash must reemerge and establish chemistry with his new teammates before the season becomes a massively disappointing lost cause.