Charles Barkley is a funny man. Both funny and wrong, I should say.
As we all know, the Los Angeles Lakers' recent five-game winning streak came to an end against the Denver Nuggets. Most would interpret such a loss as a minor bump in the road, a rough patch even. Especially after the team had just won five consecutive games.
But not Sir Charles.
Charles Barkley said Thursday he never thought the Lakers' "super team" was going work and doesn't believe the Lakers are a championship contender.
“They’re old, slow and unathletic,” Barkley told Mike Hill and Mark Schlereth on “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio. “I have great respect for Kobe Bryant but I never thought this thing was going to work. Everybody went crazy when they won a couple games in a row but they’re old, slow and unathleltic.
"I said that when I broadcasted their game about two or three weeks ago. They’re not a contender. Everybody wants to go crazy but they’re not a contender. Never start a conversion with, ‘There’s help on the way from a 39-year old.’ That’s never a good way to start a conversation. There’s help on the way, but he’s 39 years old. It’s not going to work. They’re not a contender.”
Now, Los Angeles may be considered the Land of Make Believe, but who's the delusional one now?
I understand that the Lakers currently sit below .500 and are outside of the Western Conference's early playoff bubble. But do we honestly believe that they won't contend for a title? Can we, in good conscience, deem the Lakers incompetent and thus incapable of winning?
No, Barkley shouldn't take Los Angeles' recent winning streak as a sign that it's a legitimate contender. I wouldn't want him to, and I myself haven't.
But I'm also not ready to declare their convocation a failure, to conclude that the Lakers' cause is a lost one. It's far too early to make such assertions of any kind.
Sure, the NBA's season is more than a quarter gone, but Steve Nash has only been back in the lineup for three games, Pau Gasol has only been back for four and Dwight Howard has not yet fully recovered from back surgery.
I'm not trying to make excuses; those are facts. And the Lakers' victories over playoff contenders such as the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks actually happened. Barkley can't just ignore that in favor of an "old, slow and athletic" narrative.
Are the Lakers old? Yes, but so are the Knicks—the oldest team in NBA history, in fact—and they're still winning. Plus, that still-38-year-old point guard he refers to is averaging 9.3 assists per game since his return. How does that not help?
As for the team being slow, its 10.4 fast-break points per game (23rd in the league) suggest that it is, yet it's also scoring 102.9 total points a night, fifth-most in the league.
Should the Lakers be concerned that they're allowing 100.6 points a contest? That they're allowing opponents to score fewer points with Howard on the bench? That Gasol has been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis?
Of course, but Los Angeles should also be encouraged that Kobe Bryant leads the league in points per game (30.2) while also shooting a career-best 47.8 percent from the field, that it's fourth in total rebounds (45.7) and currently houses four perennial All-Stars.
It seems Barkley has ignored this. It seems he has ignored everything:
The Lakers got an old team. I hate to keep repeating that. Mike D’Antoni is a very good coach but I never thought they were going to be able to sustain it. You look at the teams in the West. Obviously Oklahoma City is the best team. You got Memphis. You got the Spurs. You got the Clippers. They're not one of the four best teams in the West so they can get over that and get ready figuring out what they want to do with Dwight Howard. That's going to be the key, if he's going to want to stay there or not. That's going to be the really big decision they got to make.
Barkley is correct, the Lakers are not one of the four best teams in the West—right now. Who's to say they won't eventually be, though?
Remember, this team has played all but five games with all four of its key components together. That's far too small a sample size from which to draw any conclusions.
And when attempting to discredit an entire blueprint, such stipulations matter; they mean everything.
This is not to say that the Lakers are guaranteed to win a title this season, nor is it to imply that Los Angeles is perfect, because it isn't. But it's not the poster team for implosion, either.
Are the Lakers legitimate title contenders?
Factions of this magnitude, regardless of age, take time, they take patience. Expectations are obviously higher because the Lakers call one of the most demanding markets in the country home, but that doesn't mean instantaneous results will be achieved or are even possible.
Yet it seems that most in Los Angeles, including Kobe and Co., are willing to accept that while the Lakers were built overnight, collective progress takes longer. They seem to have faith in this team and its schematic.
Barkley, however, cannot even remain logically impartial. He has resorted to rendering unfounded and unfledged verdicts.
And yet, there's something even more troubling at play here than the sentiments he offers.
Like the fact that he seems serious.
All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 27, 2012.