Los Angeles Lakers: A Three-Pronged Plan to Get the Lakers Back to the Finals
As I watched Kobe Bryant remind Kyrie Irving that he does not stand a chance of beating Kobe in a game of one-on-one, I no longer felt frustrated that the 5-17 Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers; I felt apathetic.
After their third straight loss and their fifth in six games, the Lakers do not only look out of playoff contention, but they also just look awful.
The Lakers have transitioned from one of the worst offensive teams in the league under Mike Brown (averaging just 97.3 points per game) to one of the worst defensive teams in the league under Mike D'Antoni (giving up more than 100 points per game to opponents).
Despite such disturbing trends, newly signed Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni insists on staying the course.
If you ask me, that sounds eerily similar to a previous Lakers coach whose course now consists of navigating the lines of Chick-Fil-A.
On his current course, D'Antoni has coached the Lakers to a 4-8 record.
While this is slightly better than the 1-4 record Mike Brown posted, this is not good enough for the franchise synonymous with championships and the team that has 33 All-Star selections in its starting unit alone.
I have developed a three-pronged plan that will not only get the Lakers back on track to a winning record, but will also catapult them to the top of the Western Conference on their way to the NBA Finals.
Step 1: Fire Mike D'Antoni
Mike D'Antoni is not a good coach.
And in order to win a championship, you must have a great coach.
By waiting any longer, the Lakers would only be deceiving themselves to believe that Mike D'Antoni will change into the coach the team needs.
The Lakers are underperforming in some of the most important statistical categories vital to winning games.
And these are statistics that can be immediately improved with a different coach willing to place more importance upon them in practice.
First: free-throw percentage.
Ask the league-leading Thunder if you do not believe how important free-throw percentage is. They hoist the league's best record of 17-4 and the highest free-throw percentage, shooting an incredible 83.4 percent from the line.
The Lakers are shooting an anemic 67.5 percent from the charity stripe, which is the embarrassingly worst in the league.
"Steve Nash, who is tied with Mark Price for the best free throw shooting percentage in NBA history at 90.4 percent, offered to help Dwight Howard shoot free throws."
Despite the offer from the greatest free-throw shooter of all time, Howard declined, responding,
"Listen, he was just suggesting some things, but it's not something that we've already talked about or anybody else has suggested," Howard said via ESPN. "My mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw. I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up in what everybody else is saying, because that's when I miss."
Note to Dwight: Stop catering to your ego and take the advice. I know you said you have heard similar advice from people, but you haven't, because there is only one best in the world, and Nash is the best.
Not only is this unbelievably ignorant this is, but it is also outrageously unacceptable.
These are supposed to be "free" points.
What makes matters worse is the Lakers are averaging over 30 free-throw attempts per game.
The Lakers' record in games decided by three points or fewer is an NBA-worst 0-3. And the Lakers' mark in games with margins up to 10 is 1-12.
With 30 free-throw attempts per game, if the Lakers were to improve their measly 67 percent just to a league average of 75 percent, their record would be several wins better.
Time to practice free throws!
The next thing D'Antoni overlooked during his coaching tenure in Los Angeles is defense.
The Lakers defensive rating, which is a stat that accounts for points per 100 possessions, is 104.4, one of the highest in the league.
And sadly, somehow their defense is getting worse.
In the Lakers' last four losses (excluding their most recent in Cleveland), they have given up an average of 113 points per game to their opposition.
That is more than 10 points per game more than the worst defensive team in the league.
The worst thing about the Lakers defense is that there is not just one problem. There are many.
The Lakers look confused on defense and are not rotating to the right player on the weak side of the floor.
Most likely, according to D'Anotni's offense strategy, the Lakers guards do not box out, but rather leak out down the floor, giving up too many offensive rebounds.
One of the most unfixable problems is simply that the Lakers are slow defensively on the perimeter.
D'Anotni could have employed defensive strategies such as funneling players baseline and even form a zone to try to minimize the disadvantage the Lakers have for being just a little bit slower and older: Kobe is 37, Chris Duhon is 30, Metta World Peace is 33 and Steve Nash is 38.
But D'Antoni has done very little to bolster the defense with his strategies, and it has become overwhelmingly evident that unless a serious change is made, the Lakers will not be able to stop anybody.
Lastly, the Lakers offense has been abysmal.
While this may be a contentious claim because stats would indicate the Lakers offense has been anything but abysmal, this is where basketball logic and understanding needs to be applied.
When watching the Lakers offense under Mike D'Antoni, you will notice there isn't really a lot of ball movement, and there are a lot three-point shots taken.
Even though this sounds like a lot of fun for the Lakers, this is not how successful teams win basketball games.
Phil Jackson believed with his triangle offense that putting the ball in positions close to the basket and taking a higher percentage of shots wins games.
Phil has 11 championships, and D'Anotni has zero, so I am going to go ahead and give the edge to Phil here.
The worst part about D'Antoni's offense is that the myriad of three-point shots and little ball movement is by design.
D'Antoni's offense is reactionary in nature, meaning that the offense will do as the defense dictates.
If the defense shades the low post more strongly, then they shade the three-point line...
You guessed it; the Lakers are going to be shooting threes.
This abundance of three-point shooting represents the biggest problem of D'Antoni's offense. His scheme fails to dictate an offensive objective for each possession; the ball is not directed towards higher percentage positions on the floor.
Not only does this completely contradict Phil Jackson's approach to the game, but it also completely neutralizes the effect of having the best big man in the game in Dwight Howard.
When you take closer shots on offense, generally closer rebounds come with it, giving the advantage to the taller teams with the better rebounders and inside players.
When you take shots farther away from the basket, not surprisingly there are farther rebounds, effectively nullifying any advantage you had inside with the better and taller rebounders.
In addition to this, taking longer shots hurts the defense as well.
The Lakers take a multitude of longer shots so there are a multitude of longer rebounds, which makes it easier for teams to push the ball in transition against the Lakers and score easy baskets.
In the Lakers' past two games, they have given up an average of 24 fast break points per game, which would be a resounding league worst.
After a 4-8 (33.3 winning percentage) record, it has become overwhelmingly clear that the Lakers are not headed in the right direction with Coach D'Antoni.
Even if the Lakers' owners feel that the return of Nash can somehow revitalize the team’s energy, he will not be able to salvage a system that was flawed from the start.
Step 2: Trade Pau Gasol to Minnesota
As great as the two-time champion Pau Gasol has played in purple and gold, he is past it.
Pau has developed severe tendonitis in his knees, which is an extremely debilitating injury for an NBA player. Your knees control everything to do with movement, and movement in basketball is vitally important.
At 32, Pau isn't getting any younger, and the Lakers need to.
As teams have built their franchise around young, explosive, athletic talent, the Lakers team has gotten old.
The Lakers are the fifth-oldest team in the NBA. And while age isn't everything, some young legs would certainly help compete with the younger teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, and the Lakers crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers.
The trade that was discussed with the Timberwolves in June was a package trade sending Pau Gasol to the Minnesota Timberwolves in return for Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic.
Derrick Williams would be the perfect fit for this Lakers roster.
Derrick Williams, a 21-year-old California native, is a 6'8" forward who was selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Williams is an incredible talent. Unfortunately, Minnesota has failed to realize such, only playing him an average of 20 minutes per game in his young career.
If Williams were to play an average of 40 minutes per game, he would average 18 points per game with 11 rebounds. Most impressively, Williams is producing a PER (player efficiency rating) of 14, several points higher than Lakers starting small forward Metta World Peace, who is averaging a much higher 34 minutes a game.
Williams, a ferocious dunker, would bring a much-needed athleticism to the Lakers lineup.
Analysts have raised a red flag regarding Williams due to his less-than-stellar shooting percentage in Minnesota.
I think this is mainly because he plays so few minutes; he has a very difficult time finding a rhythm on the floor.
Even though college is not the barometer for success in the NBA, he shot an unbelievable 57 percent from the three-point line for Arizona. While the three-point line is shorter by a few feet in college, this certainly shows he knows how to shoot the ball if given the opportunity.
Even more important than how his offensive abilities can help the Lakers is his defense.
The two best players in the NBA right now are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, respectively 6’8" and 6’10". Before this trade, the Lakers' best chance of matching up against these players would be with a much slower Metta World Peace.
Peace is no longer capable of staying with these players because they are simply far superior athletes, and they are much faster.
Williams may not be able to completely shut down these players, as no one can, but he is the perfect matchup of size and speed to prevent these players from lighting up the scoreboard against the Lakers, demanding a double-team from the defense.
It is very rare to find players with such a combination of size, speed and athletic ability, and Williams is one of the few.
If the Lakers were to receive NIkola Pekovic, he would immediately become the league's best back-up center. Nikola Pekovic is a 26-year-old, 6'11" center currently in his third year in the NBA and an extremely impressive player.
In just his second year, he began dominating the paint in the NBA. He averaged 14 points per game grabbing seven rebounds and shooting a very high 57 percent. He achieved all of this while playing under 30 minutes a game.
Pekovic would be a viable starting center for most teams, let alone a back-up for the Lakers.
The most important thing this trade would accomplish for the Lakers is that it would solidify their struggling bench.
If the trade were to occur, the Lakers could move Metta World Peace and Antawan Jamison to the bench.
This would more than make up for the scoring woes the bench has struggled with earlier in the season, giving them a 12-point-per-game scorer in World Peace, a eight-point-per-game scorer in Jamison and a 14-point-per-game scorer in Pekovic.
Step Three: Beg Phil Jackson for forgiveness, and hire him
The Lakers greatly disrespected a living legend.
Phil Jackson is not only the greatest coach of all time, but is also arguably one the most influential figures in basketball history.
If Phil Jackson is willing to take an interview, you give him the job.
It does not really matter what he asks for, you give him the job.
What the Lakers did is like the equivalent of asking Michael Jordan to come in for an interview for an open shooting guard spot on the team, and then without telling him, hiring Brent Barry for the job instead.
All because Jordan requested special treatment.
You are absolutely right; Jackson requested special treatment, and he has earned it.
I am not able to presume I know the extent of what Jackson asked for, but when he asked for control over basketball decisions (it seemed to bother Buss), this appeared like Phil just wanted enough control over the team to give it the best chance of winning.
Why deny him this? He is Phil Jackson! He has more championships under his belt than half of the teams in the NBA combined!
Assuming the Lakers are successful in hiring the Zen Master, he would not find a line-up better suited for him to coach in his entire career.
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Derrick Williams
PG: Jordan Hill
C: Dwight Howard
PG: Chris Duhon
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Antwan Jamison
C: Nikola Pekovic
They are big, they are athletic and most of all, they are phenomenal rebounders. The Lakers would not only have the best rebounding team in the league on both ends of the floor, but they would also dominate teams defensively with their size in the frontcourt.
Nothing is more suited for Phil Jackson than a big, physical, grind-it-out kind of team.
With these changes implemented, the Lakers would have a great chance of playing for a title, as the three major competing teams all have weaknesses.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost a major component of their team in James Harden. This has severely weakened their bench unit as he is a playmaker and exceptional at creating open shots for players ordinarily not capable of creating their own shot. They will also rely much more heavily on Russell Westbrook to handle the ball in the fourth quarter to close out games, which can turn out to be a blessing or a curse.
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of the most talented teams in the league; however, they lack a great coach in Vinnie Del Negro. And without a great coach to make in-game adjustments and recalibrate matchups on the fly, this could prove costly for the Clippers.
The defending champion Miami Heat have gotten one year older, which is bad news for everyone on the team except for LeBron. Their team, as loaded and athletic as they are, has never had a great inside presence.
Chris Bosh plays a great deal on the perimeter, and their starting centers are either undersized or lack great basketball skills. This is a weakness that so far has yet to be exploited, but could prove to be a major problem if facing a great rebounding and inside scoring team.
If the Lakers follow the three-step plan, not only will they have the better bench capable of outscoring the Thunder’s, the better coach capable of out-coaching the Clippers’ and the better inside players capable of out-muscling the Heat’s, they will also have the best team in the league most prepared to take home yet another championship.
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