Right now, there's bad, there's worse and then there's the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 2012-13 campaign wasn't supposed to be a struggle in Hollywood. Los Angeles' acquisitions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and even Antawn Jamison were supposed to change things—they were supposed to change everything.
And to an extent, they have. Just not how the Lakers envisioned.
After 21 games, Kobe Bryant and company sit at 9-12, a pitiful record that has them sitting outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.
I know what you're thinking: $100 million well spent, right?
Well, any anxiety would ultimately prove futile. Once Nash returned, everything would be corrected, the Laker's ship would be righted and title contention would once again be within reach. And as luck would have it, his return was coming soon.
Or so the Lakers thought.
Though Nash himself all but committed to a timetable that put him back on the court by December 16th, his rehabilitation has taken a not-out-of-character turn for the worse.
According to David Leon Moore of USA Today, Nash pushed his return back yet another two weeks, citing conditioning as the primary reason:
D'Antoni speculated Sunday that Nash might return at some point on the upcoming road trip but Nash told USA TODAY Sports that won't happen.
"I think it will be at least another two weeks," Nash said. "I can move. I can shoot. I just can't run full speed. And I'm not even in shape. I'll probably need at least a week of practice once I start running."
Now, while rushing Nash back to the court is anything but smart, the sub-.500 Lakers simply cannot afford another setback.
Thus far, the narrative surrounding Los Angeles has preached time. The team needed time to gel, time to adapt to Mike D'Antoni's offensive system and, most importantly, time to heal.
But time is now of the essence in Tinseltown. The first quarter of the season is already in the books and the Lakers have proved incapable of making a playoff-worthy push with Nash on the pine.
Of course, there are those who like to look at Los Angeles' sixth-most efficient offense and conclude that the absence of Nash isn't the problem, that he isn't going to solve the Lakers' defensive woes.
That he isn't going to make that much of an impact.
And you know what? Such conclusions may prove to be accurate. Or they could be completely wrong.
Obviously Nash, a lackluster defender from all perspectives, isn't going to jump-start Los Angeles' defensive attack. That said, he stands to correct the Lakers' biggest problem.
Clearly, I'm referring to Pau Gasol.
Except that I'm not.
I am, in fact, referring to Howard.
The hope remains that Nash can correct the worst statistical season of Gasol's career, and while that is of the utmost importance to the Lakers' aspirations, Howard's problems offensively are more pressing at the moment.
With Dwight on the floor, Los Angeles is scoring at a rate of 107.4 points per game. When he's on the bench, however, that number jumps to 114.1.
For those wondering, that's not just unacceptable, that's borderline panicking.
Except this one.
A large part of Howard's game is predicated on pick-and-rolls, but without Nash in the lineup, he has been reduced to Bryant force-feeding him in the post. Improved back-to-the-basket game or not, that's not Howard's strong suit.
Playing alongside a ball-wielding point guard like Nash, however, is. Just ask Jameer Nelson.
Yes, the Lakers need Nash to reinvent Gasol's offense, but they're actually scoring more points while allowing less with him on the floor. He's a problem, but he's not the most pressing issue.
Statistics won't ever tell the whole story, because Howard is clearly the best defender the Lakers have. Yet he hasn't been able to impact Los Angeles' matador defense the way the team originally had hoped. The Lakers are actually allowing less points with him off the floor.
Second unit argument and all, such a notion is more than troubling.
Clearly, defensive lapses on Bryant and Antawn Jamison's behalf have not helped Howard's case, nor has D'Antoni's shoot-first, get back on defense later offensive blueprint. But that's the reality all the same.
And if the Lakers and Dwight are going to be forced to battle defensive shortcomings all season, the team needs Howard to be at his offensive peak. Even more than Gasol.
But that's not going to happen without Nash. The Lakers and Howard are not going to climb out of this hole they've dug into and subsequently barricaded themselves within sans their crafty point guard.
Nash is the one who will ensure Howard isn't attempting fewer than 12 shots more than 57 percent of the time.
He's the one who can allow Howard to play within his comfort zone.
He's the one who will make it so the Lakers' defensive end-all doesn't actually impede their offensive attack.
And yes, he's also the one who will prove to be the difference between a playoff berth and an unforeseen lottery finish, rendering further setbacks not just inconvenient, but detrimental.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 10, 2012.
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