Thanks, But No Thanks, Luke Walton

Vincent VersherContributor IApril 1, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass around     Shaquille O'Neal #32 of the Phoeix Suns during the NBA game at Staples Center on February 26, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers defeated the Suns 132-106.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Go back a few weeks to March 11 and remember the last time the Lakers looked like the best team in the NBA

Lamar Odom is suspended for coming off the bench during a hard foul committed by Trevor Ariza a game before against Portland

Pau Gasol score s 20 points, and Josh Powell, filling in for Odom, scores 17 and grabs nine rebounds. 

Kobe Bryant gets into a trash talk match with Ron Artest—and Kobe being Kobe, fires back at Ron Artest with his own weapon of mass destruction, his basketball skills. 

Then there is the mistake, a three-way deal with coach Phil Jackson, former starting forward Luke Walton, and current starting forward Trevor Ariza.

Walton, after the team's worst loss of the season against Portland, 111-94, went to Jackson and asks to be moved to the bench and to allow Ariza to start in his place.  At the beginning of the season, Ariza literally begged Jackson not to be a starter and Jackson promised him that he would honor his request.

However, Jackson went against his word, and moved Walton to the bench and Ariza into the starting line-up.  Walton thinks that Trevor, a better player defensively and offensively as of late, may be a better fit with the chemistry of the starting line-up.  In turn it is presumed that Luke feels that he would be a better player to facilitate the bench offense.  Thanks for the coaching tip, Luke—but no thanks.

They lost to Portland was a bad night.  There wasn't a simple explanation.  Most teams who shoot 48 percent from the field are tough to beat on any night. 

When Andrew Bynum was in the line-up the bench had Lamar and Ariza coming off the bench and without a doubt they were the defense that led the offense.  Lamar was no doubt a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.  Lamar inserted by default into the line-up leaves only Ariza to play defense from the bench. 

Once you insert your last defensive threat in the starting line-up you lose the ability to maintain a lead when you rest the starters.  This is twice as hard to gain ground if your team is losing when you are forced to sub players into the game.

So why would Jackson shake things up?  Why would he place a guy who doesn't want to start into the starting line-up and a starter who wants to be benched in the sixth man slot? 

In back-to-back losses against Atlanta and Charlotte—a team six games under .500,  it became apparent that the Lakers are clearly struggling to keep leads on the road while resting starters. Why not ten games later realize that the bench defense is the problem? In back-to-back interviews Phil admits that one of the problems is the defensive stops and bench turnovers. 

This reporter doesn't think it's too late for Jackson to make the transition back to the formula that works with eight games left and the Western Conference advantage locked-in. 

Luke Walton, who is now the leader on the bench, has seen a fall in his numbers.   Where he was once known for his ability to be an assist leader, he now finds himself down to only two assists per game since the switch.  All of his numbers across the board are down. 

Thanks, Luke, for your noble NCAA-type coaching advice to let the better player take your role, but no thanks!  The old saying—if it isn't broke then don't fix it—rings true now more than ever.