At this stage in the 2012-13 season, with the Los Angeles Lakers stumbling to a 15-18 overall record, there’s nothing left for the team to do but embrace their age and try to make something (anything) work in their favor.
Superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant has already attributed the team’s struggles to the fact that they’re “old as s---,” via Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Following a New Year’s Day loss to the sub-.500 Philadelphia 76ers, Bryant went on to say, “You just saw an old damn team. I don’t know how else to put it to you. We’re just slow.”
There’s no question that the Lakers have appeared old, slow, flat-footed and, quite frankly, just plain uninspired. Bryant’s statements are certainly accurate: The Lakers are an old team. But should that be a valid excuse for their losing ways?
The average age of Lakers players is 28.9 years old.
In comparison, the average age of the San Antonio Spurs roster is 28 years old. That average, however, includes Nando de Colo (25), Patty Mills (24) and Cory Joseph (21). All of those players are averaging fewer than 12 minutes per game.
The average age of the New York Knicks roster is 31.3 years old, but that average includes the 22-year-old Iman Shumpert, who hasn’t played a single minute this season due to injury.
In the age category, these three teams are quite similar. However, the Spurs (27-10) and the Knicks (23-11) have vastly superior records compared to the lowly Lakers. So, although L.A. has an aged roster, other teams around the league have competed to an elite level with similar age. The Knicks and Spurs have embraced a majority veteran presence, and the Lakers need to do the same.
What has truly hurt the Lakers in comparison is a barrage of injuries that have plagued them all season. Of course, that was true even before the recent news that Dwight Howard (torn labrum) and Pau Gasol (concussion) will likely miss ample time (h/t Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times).
The Lakers are old and have experienced more injuries than most teams around the league, but that doesn’t even begin to excuse the championship hype this team faced to open the season. Some pundits and fans felt this team had a chance to beat the Chicago Bulls’ record mark of 72-10. At this rate, the Lakers won’t even make the playoffs.
There’s a dark cloud over Lakerland at the moment. Unless the Lakers can find a way to embrace being “an old damn team,” the weather won’t get any better. That change has to start with the players, but head coach Mike D’Antoni has to find a way to better utilize the talent available.
D’Antoni gained fame in Phoenix when he revved up the run-and-gun Suns teams that were a threat to score 120-130 points on any given night. The Suns ran after opponent misses and opponent makes. They were a relentless running team orchestrated by Steve Nash during his MVP years. The Lakers are not that team.
Somehow, D’Antoni has to shift his coaching philosophy to cater toward his group of old, banged-up superstars. Perhaps that starts with more half-court sets orchestrated by Nash.
If the Lakers can set up their offense in Nash’s hands, he can pick and choose who gets the ball by working the clock, penetrating and finding open teammates: Howard and Gasol in the post, World Peace in the corners for open threes or Bryant from literally anywhere on the court (he doesn’t even need to be open).
The Lakers clearly aren’t built to run the floor and rely on transition offense, which is fine because the offense has been solid all year (they rank fifth in the NBA in points per game). Where the Lakers truly need a complete overhaul is on the defensive end. (That’s precisely why I believe D’Antoni was the wrong hire for the Lakers, but the front office has to stand behind their man.)
The Lakers rank 26th in the league in opponents' points per game and are getting absolutely obliterated in transition. When teams get out and run, the Lakers have literally no answer. Case and point with the following example of pathetic transition D against the Denver Nuggets:
So, what’s the solution? Well, short of all-out effort, there’s no easy fix to the problem.
The Lakers may be able to turn things around if they can focus on possession-by-possession execution and slow games down to their old, slow pace. But even then, the Lakers may need a drastic roster change to shake things up.
At the end of the day, perhaps Laker legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson said it best:
Above everything else the @lakers players need to starthaving fun on the court!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 7, 2013