It's Officially Time for the LA Lakers to Hit the Panic Button

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

Dec 9, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) reacts on the court during the game against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry, Buzz Lightyear, but Woody was right—this is the perfect time to panic.

We're more than a quarter of a way into the NBA season, and the Los Angeles Lakers currently sit at 9-12.

To put such a wretched start into an even clearer context, a team that boasts the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash stands at three games under .500.

Worse yet, with $100 million in payroll, each of the Lakers' wins have cost them more than $10 million apiece.

So yeah, this is the perfect time to panic.

Los Angeles is just 4-7 since Mike D'Antoni officially took over. Sure, we're less than halfway into the season, but time is no longer an excuse. Nor is the absence of a training camp to implement D'Antoni's seven-seconds-or-less system.

And you know what? The absence of Gasol and Nash are no longer cause for a pardon either.

Los Angeles is posting a record of 6-6 against teams at or under .500 to go along with a 3-6 showing versus teams with winning records. The team is 2-6 on the road and barely over .500 at the Staples Center.

How is that not cause for alarm?

On paper, even without Gasol and Nash, the Lakers are a quality team. We've watched both Howard and Bryant carry past teams to prominence on their own, so putting forth a competent effort on a daily basis should be a cinch together.

Or so you would think.

Bryant has dropped 30 or more points 10 times thus far, but the Lakers are just 1-9 when he accomplishes such a feat.

Lakers lose 117-110 to fall to 9-12. Consistency? These guys don't know the meaning. Kobe scores 34, but L.A. now 1-9 when he goes for 30

— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 10, 2012

To be fair, Los Angeles' struggles cannot be attributed to Bryant alone. He's played porous defense on a number of occasions, but there are stretches where he is literally the only Laker playing with a sense of purpose on offense.

Gasol's struggles before heading to the sidelines haven't helped Kobe's cause. The Spaniard is currently averaging 12.6 points on 42 percent shooting from the field, both of which are career lows.

More troubling, however, is Howard's lack of offensive aggression, a deficiency that has gone almost unnoticed in the wake of Gasol and Nash's woes.

The once perpetually smirking Howard is putting up 18.4 points on 58.6 percent shooting from the floor, but he is attempting just 11.6 shots per game, his lowest number since the 2009-10 season.

In 12 of the Lakers' 21 games, in fact, Howard has put up less than 12 shots. Los Angeles' record on these occasions is 4-8.

Something tells me that's more than a coincidence. Mostly because Howard's smirk is nowhere to be found. 

And yet, Howard's offensive shortcomings, to go along with Gasol's struggles and Nash's extensive absence, aren't the only causes for panic in Hollywood.

Amid various individual lows, the Lakers are still scoring 101.8 points per contest, the seventh-most in the league. They're also posting the sixth-highest offensive efficiency rating, putting them slightly behind five other teams—all of which are title contenders.

The other problem then? 

Defense, defense, defense.

Los Angeles is allowing 98.7 points a bout, the 13th-most in the league. While that doesn't scream awful, the Lakers have relinquished 100 or more points 11 times this season, and in five of their last six games.

Truth be told, that would not be as big an issue if the team were winning. But the Lakers are losing.

It's gotten to the point where Howard can be found shaking his head and even scolding Bryant on the defensive end.

To the point where the Lakers are allowing the second-most points in the fourth quarter of any team.

To the point where even Nash's return alone cannot instill enough hope into this reeling franchise.

Most notably, though, it's gotten to the point where neither D'Antoni or Bryant can provide a concrete diagnosis of why the Lakers are playing so poorly. 

D'Antoni on Lakers: "Um, we're not very good right now."

— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) December 10, 2012

And when conflicts begin to present themselves without resolutions, that's a cause for panic.

D'Antoni and the Lakers can anxiously await the return of Nash all they want, but he's not going to solve their defensive issues. He can't force Howard to take more shots and ensure that Los Angeles' offensive rating doesn't drop by seven points when the big man is on the floor.

Simply put, he cannot change everything, nor can Kobe or Howard. This can't even be put solely on the shoulders of D'Antoni.

Which is what is so troubling. There's no one answer to fix what was supposed to be the league's most formidable entity. And the Lakers now find themselves out of the Western Conference's playoff picture as a result.

How are we supposed to shrug this reality off any longer?

It's not as if Los Angeles is playing the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder every night. The Lakers are being manhandled by mediocre teams like the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Dwight-less Orlando Magic.

More than 20 games into the season, injury-plagued roster and all, a grace period is no longer needed. Not when you have the fifth-leading scorer of all time in Bryant and the league's best center in Howard, healthy and ready to go.

Not when you have over $100 million invested in the team's roster this season alone.

And certainly not when you can't even fathom why the team is struggling.

The Lakers are playing without intent, without the faintest idea of what it's going to take to right this ship, turn the season around and make the championship push they were supposed to make from the beginning.

The same championship push that is slipping further out of reach with each passing loss.


Note: All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 9, 2012.


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