Wherever rock bottom may be, the Los Angeles Lakers can only hope they've found it.
A 100-94 road loss to Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers leaves the Purple and Gold at 9-13 through their first 22 games. The Lakers have lost their last three, five of their last six and seven of 11 since Mike D'Antoni first debuted on the bench on November 20th.
Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake remain sidelined by their respective injuries, but absences can only excuse the poor play of those able-bodied Lakers so much. Simply put, a squad built around a pair of All-Stars as prolific as Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard shouldn't be losing to the likes of the Cavs, the Orlando Magic, the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz (twice).
Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the Lakers have lost to teams with lesser talent on an all-too-regular basis. Six of their 13 defeats to this point have come against opponents who currently own sub-.500 records. They're also 2-7 on the road and 1-12 in games decided by 10 points or fewer.
However you slice it, the Lakers are in disarray right now. With the dearth of good news for Angelenos ongoing, let's have a look at who's to blame—and, proportionally, how much—for the Lakers' frustrating start to the 2012-13 NBA season.
Kobe Bryant proclaimed before the season that the Lakers were his team. And, since his team stinks, it stands to reason that the Black Mamba would shoulder a significant share of the blame for its futility. Even though, in many ways, it's absurd to blame Bryant for LA's woes thus far.
He's outperformed even the greatest of expectations that anyone could've had for him in this, his 17th NBA campaign. Bryant's leading the league in scoring and is doing so more efficiently than ever before. Case in point: Kobe scored a season-high 42 points on 16-of-28 shooting from the field in Cleveland, while the rest of the Lakers could muster only 54 points on 15-of-47 shooting.
What's more, Bryant's doing all this while handling a huge chunk of the Lakers' point-guard duties (i.e. dribbling, passing, running the pick-and-roll) since Mike D'Antoni took over. Such would explain why Kobe is also among the league leaders in turnovers.
By the same token, Kobe's penchant for taking over games hasn't exactly helped the Lakers. They're 1-10 when Bryant tops the 30-point plateau.
Not that his scoring is necessarily to blame in and of itself. Rather, one could argue that Kobe's domination of the ball leaves his teammates disinterested and disengaged from the game at hand. Which, inevitably, starts up the same "Chicken vs. Egg" argument that pro- and anti-Kobe crowds get into in times like this. That's to say, is Kobe doing so much because his teammates are terrible? Or are Kobe's teammates underperforming because he's doing too much?
Whatever the case may be, it's clear that the Lakers aren't responding to his rather harsh style of leadership. Kobe's "bad cop" routine has gone without complement since Derek Fisher was traded away last season (and Phil Jackson stepped back into retirement), and the results have been none too pleasant in Lakerland.
Nor does it help Kobe's case that his defensive effort has been generally lackadaisical, even as he rips his teammates in public for their futility.
The Lakers will be Kobe's until his contract expires in 2014, at the very least. At that point, the torch will presumably be passed (with or without ceremony) to Dwight Howard.
Though, with the way he's performed thus far in Purple and Gold, he still has a lot to learn before he's ready to be "The Man" in LA. His effort level hasn't been anywhere near as high or consistent as it was prior to the days of the "Dwightmare." He's shooting free throws at a career-low 48.8 percent rate, and Tuesday marked the sixth time this season that Howard's misses at the stripe exceeded LA's margin of defeat. By any measure, Dwight's rebounding numbers are the worst they've been since his rookie season.
Yet, it's not entirely fair to point the finger at Howard for the Lakers' failures, or even his own for that matter. His lack of lift off the floor would indicate that Dwight might've returned from back surgery too soon. Howard should work his way toward something more closely resembling 100 percent of himself over the course of the season, but until then, his production is unlikely to match that of his heyday with the Orlando Magic.
The Lakers haven't exactly done a bang-up job of getting Dwight the ball in his preferred spots to begin with. He's already logged six games with fewer than 10 shot attempts, and until Steve Nash's leg allows him to play, Howard will be without a reliable pick-and-roll partner.
Nonetheless, excuses won't cut it for Howard so long as he's out there playing. The Lakers won't achieve anything close to the success that'd previously been forecasted for them unless/until Dwight shows he's ready, willing and able to resume dominating on both ends of the floor.
You can blame Pau Gasol for being "soft" to some extent. He's seemed to lack confidence on the floor this season.
You can blame Pau for not making the shots he's taken (or, if you prefer, has been given). His career-lows in scoring (12.6 points) and shooting (42 percent from the field) are unbecoming of a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion who's pulling in the ninth-highest salary in the league.
What you can't blame him for, though, is his health and his role, both of which can ostensibly be charged to the Lakers coaches since Phil Jackson's departure. The 32-year-old's tendinitis-plagued knees first came under fire last season amidst never-ending practices and big minutes under Mike Brown. A long and grueling run to the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics didn't help Pau's health any.
And neither did a return to Brown's task-master-like training-camp schedule. Gasol's knees began to give in the preseason, but Brown insisted that Pau practice longer and with even greater effort so as to "adjust" to what would likely be persistent pain.
Pain that's grown so debilitating that Gasol has missed each of the Lakers' last five games.
Brown was also complicit in LA's plan to move Gasol away from his sweet spots (the paint, the low block, etc.) in an effort to make Andrew Bynum the featured big man in the Lakers offense. Pau's productivity declined as he spent less time punishing defenders in the post and more time throwing lobs and launching jump shots from the mid-range.
Mike D'Antoni's arrival only exacerbated the misuse of Gasol. As Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles recently recounted, it's D'Antoni's design to have Pau pick his spots pretty much anywhere outside of the lane.
Even though Pau is still one of the best post players on the planet. Unless, by some great tragedy, Gasol is no longer the guy who dominated Team USA down low just this past summer.
Steve Nash's share of the blame matches the number of regular-season games he's played in a Purple-and-Gold uniform, and rightfully so. Nash hasn't played since he suffered a slight fracture in his left fibula on Halloween against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The injury was originally supposed to keep Nash sidelined for only a week or two. But, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, his recovery has been prolonged by nerve irritation in that same leg.
The Lakers hope Nash will be back before the new year, at which point he may well fall in line as the latest scapegoat if/when the team continues to struggle.
Metta World Peace can only be blamed insofar as he's started every one of LA's 22 games this season. The Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest has been enjoying his best season as a Laker in 2012-13.
He came into training camp in phenomenal shape and is certainly reaping the rewards of his hard work during the offseason. MWP came into Tuesday's action averaging 12.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 38.5 percent from three, including an astounding 45.5 percent from the corners (per NBA.com's stats tool).
Not that World Peace has been perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He's converted just 31 of his 61 attempts in the restricted area and still falls prey to his own wildness from time to time.
But you can never blame MWP for a lack of effort. He's been arguably the Lakers' most consistent contributor on both ends of the court for most of the season.
LA's reserves ought to thank their lucky stars that their counterparts in Portland are as paltry as they've been. The Blazers are the only team in the NBA to have notched fewer points from its reserves than have the Lakers to this point.
In defense of the Lakers subs, they've performed much better since Coach D'Antoni took over. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks have started to score, Jordan Hill has been active and aggressive when called upon, and Chris Duhon, a throw-in from the Dwight Howard deal, has, at the very least, been passable at the point.
The problem for the bench, aside from mismanagement under the two Mikes, has been the degree to which it's been pressed into duty. With Nash and Steve Blake sidelined for most of the season so far, Duhon and second-year guard Darius Morris have been pressed into duty far more frequently than is advisable.
Jamison and Hill have sopped up minutes at power forward since Pau's exit, but, unfortunately, the former is a sieve on defense and the latter can't seem to make a layup with any consistency. Meeks has played hard for D'Antoni, but his shot is even streakier than advertised.
These guys didn't all "choose" to be a unit (Jim Buss played a part in that), but they are now, and for that, they share in some of the blame.
As with the players, there's no easy way to determine how responsible Mike D'Antoni is for the team's current failings. LA is 4-7 and has yielded a whopping 110.7 points per game since D'Antoni first assumed his spot on the sideline.
One might argue, then, that D'Antoni has only made things worse for the Lakers. They're struggling to play defense for a coach who's hardly known for such, they don't seem to have the proper pieces to play the uptempo style that D'Antoni adores, and, prior to Pau's absence, this so-called basketball genius couldn't seem to figure out how to maximize the sensational skills of his seven-foot Spaniard.
All of which has already caused D'Antoni to snap at some of the pushier elements of the LA media.
On the other hand, the issues with which D'Antoni has had to contend, both on and off the court, were established well before he was hired. The team was in disarray when D'Antoni arrived, and the members of the Lakers management who brought him aboard seemed to neglect the fact that the team lacked the array of shooters and athletes that made Mike's system a success with the Phoenix Suns.
This could all change once Nash returns to run the show. But counting on a 38-year-old coming off an injury may just as easily turn out to be a fool's errand for D'Antoni.
There's only one man whose fingerprints can be found on nearly every one of the Lakers' shortcomings this season, and his name is Buss.
Not Dr. Jerry Buss, the long-time owner of the team, but rather his son, Jim Buss. The younger Buss has been entrusted with the team's basketball decisions in recent years, with general manager/miracle worker Mitch Kupchak essentially relegated to the role of lackey therein.
It was Jim Buss who turned the sideline at the Staples Center into a carousel of coaches. His uneasiness about the organizational influence of Phil Jackson led him to hire Mike Brown (i.e. Phil's polar opposite) and purge the Lakers of a number of Jackson's disciples at all levels.
It's not out of the question, then, to presume that Jimmy's distaste for Phil played a part in his choosing D'Antoni once Brown was sent packing in November. The Lakers claimed that D'Antoni was a "better fit" for this roster, though the early returns would clearly suggest otherwise.
Still, it'd be unreasonable to give Buss a clear majority of the blame for the Lakers' failures. After all, he's not the one playing the games or coaching from the sideline.
But even that distance can only absolve Jimmy of so much responsibility for the mess he has on his hands at present.