Another long night for Bryant and the Lakers
Tonight's 95-83 loss to Chicago was indicative of the season it has been for the 2013 Lakers. Another guard (this time Kirk Hinrich) explodes for a big night. Another less than inspired effort. Another road loss, their sixth straight (5-14 overall) and another Kobe Bryant brick fest.
The truth is, the kinks in this team's armor have been slowly expanding and chipping since the bad opening night loss to Dallas, who was without Dirk Nowitzki. The Lakers play poorly against up-tempo guards, frequently look disjointed on offense and often play without any sense of desperation or passion. I have been dubbing them the "Hollywood Lakers" since mid-November and the moniker still fits. Except instead of a Dark Knight blockbuster, Staples Center has seen Gigli and Ishtar on many nights.
So the crux of my point is this: With a team on pace for 34 wins and a letdown that rivals the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, 2008 Detroit Tigers and 2009 San Jose Sharks as recent teams with big expectations that completely fell short, it is time for Laker management to make some hard and fast decisions about where this team is headed the next few years.
I hate to say it, but a full year of Mike D'Antoni changes nothing. This roster as constructed does not fit in the current NBA. The Lakers look like the old lady in the Buick as 25 other Camaro's and Challenger's blow past them. And there is no short term turnaround on the horizon. This is a 40-41 win team at best. I'm saying it now: The Lakers are missing the playoffs.
Who/what is most to blame for Laker failings in 2013?
What that means is, while there is still time and space, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss should strongly consider making moves to expedite the move into next year. For starters, it is time to get value for Pau Gasol. Now. It is only going to get worse for the Spaniard. As the losses will likely pile up on this road trip, the Lakers can use Gasol's improved play to get pieces that could mesh better with the remaining roster.
Of course, this looks really bad if Dwight Howard flees after this year is over. And honestly, with all of the strife and losing, is it really a stretch to think he won't at this point? Plenty of teams (headed by Dallas) are lying in wait and their hopes that the Lakers' stars would fall to earth has come true. Now it is time for Los Angeles to start living through the Dwightmare. Each loss leads to greater scrutiny and less fun for a guy who seems to live strictly for a good time.
In other words, it is time to make choices. The Lakers will be no closer to a title next year with this group intact. That much is clear. Management has to decide if a mercurial center who has already shown the affinity for greener grass on the other side of the fence will return, or if it is best to get value for him before he has the chance.
Management also has to decide what to do with a player who does not fit their scheme of things, but is still one of the 20-25 best players in the world and could be a big benefit to a fringe contender. Yes, Pau Gasol is still that player. If you disagree, just find highlights of the 2012 Summer Olympics. He just doesn't fit what the Lakers are doing now.
And while one of the safer things to do is keep Gasol around and try to have him as insurance in case Howard bolts, the truth is, a window of Nash/Bryant/Gasol has closed. That is just too much age in a nucleus to win a title. Which leads to the most controversial and yet curiously practical move the Lakers could make after this season.
Amnesty Kobe Bryant. Yes, I said it. Bryant is slated to make an obscene $30.43 million in 2013-14. With Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith all set to hit the market, it is totally conceivable the Lakers could subtract the again legend in Bryant and a departing malcontent in Howard and replace them with sufficient talent to be players on the fly in the West. If done right.
But ultimately, this is not a roster that can stand pat. The next two weeks will bear that out as the Lakers likely fall off the map for good. The comparison that was made was to 2004. Hey, for all the drama that year provided, at least they made the Finals. This team is crumbling like Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius erupted. The only thing that is left to do now for the Lakers is get what you can now and get out before the carnage really ensues.