Or should they?
The Lakers are currently listed at 5-to-1 to capture the title (according to Bovada), but with the way they have performed thus far in 2012, these odds should be much worse—or better, depending how you look at it.
After all, they fired their head coach Mike Brown after five games. Their two-time MVP-winning point guard Steve Nash has exactly eight assists on the year. Pau Gasol, their All-Star power forward, is being mentioned in trade rumors almost hourly and their new superstar center Dwight Howard has been much more like the Tin Man than Iron Man. Plus, their defensive effort is pathetic.
And despite the fact that their superstar, Kobe Bryant, is arguably having his most efficient season to date, the Lakers still own a sub-.500 record after 21 games.
This is the Lakers we are talking about. Anything associated with the purple and gold across the NBA realm will always have backers. And at 5-to-1, that is likely the highest number you will see the rest of the year because this team really has nowhere else to go but up.
The Lakers are learning an entire new scheme under head coach Mike D'Antoni, while trying to get the stink of the Princeton offense off their backs.
That’s going to take time. If this were another strike-shortened season they’d be in real trouble, but they have another 60 games to right the ship.
And help is on the way.
Remember, no one knows how to run D'Antoni's offense better than Nash. Right now, the Lakers are running their offense with Darius Morris and Chris Duhon, the same guys who were behind Steve Blake on the depth chart before he got injured. Not exactly a title-contending tandem, but Nash will eventually be back to take the reins.
Enough really cannot be said about Nash’s absence. Just think how bad the old Phoenix Suns teams would have been had he not been out there. The same can be said about this Lakers team, especially now that D’Antonoi is at the helm. Nash is an outstanding facilitator, and L.A. will not be the same team that you have seen this far when he returns.
And as backups, Morris and Duhon aren’t all that bad.
Right now, Howard just does not look right. But why would he? He is, after all, coming off back surgery. It’s going to take some time for him to get into game shape and get accustomed to his new surroundings. Plus, if David Stern gets his way and eliminates the “Hack-a-Shaq”, Howard’s season and career will be as bright as anyone’s. Once Dwight gets a full bill of health he will be back to his dominate ways.
Then there’s Gasol—who couldn’t be playing much worse.
Add in his tendonitis and his season is starting off as bad as anyone's in the NBA. However, when Nash is healthy and back in the lineup, who better to get Gasol integrated into D'Antoni's offense. The Lakers are wise not to panic and take whatever they can get for him in any deal.
It’s best to wait it out and see how well Gasol plays when Nash is leading the offense.
Another issue is depth. And so far this season the Lakers bench has been awful. But that’s because most of the subs are either forced into the starting lineup or having to play starters' minutes. Nine different players have entered the starting lineup so far this year, and the team has played only 21 games!
Once everyone is back and on the same page, the Lakers starting lineup and bench will look a lot more comfortable and productive.
Despite the treacherous start the Lakers have endured this season, being a 5-to-1 favorite to win it all won't seem so delusional when the team is back healthy. And when the entire team gets comfortable under D’Antoni and his system, the Lakers will be right back where most observers thought they would be at the start of the season: as the favorite to win the Western Conference title.
As they get more comfortable and healthier, the Lakers defense will have to improve. Of course, it really can't get much worse than it is right now.
Sure, the Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and now even the Los Angeles Clippers have a say as to who should be the favorite to come out of the West. But if the Lakers start performing the way that their talent suggests they should, they should be the Western Conference team with the best shot of winning the NBA Finals.