The Los Angeles Lakers have won 16 NBA championships and made a record 31 Finals appearances. They've won titles as recently as 2009 and 2010, with current members Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace leading the way.
Unfortunately, those days appear to be distant memories. So how can the Lakers reclaim their throne atop the NBA?
This is what L.A. has been attempting to figure out since the opening game of the season. From their 1-4 start to their current record of 18-25, we've rarely seen the Lakers perform at the level expected of them.
In fact, we've hardly ever seen the Lakers perform at a respectable level for any caliber team.
Fortunately, the Lakers have the type of talent that can flat out dominate any opponent they're tasked with defeating. One glance at a rotation of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace inspires a mix of fear and awe.
As we all know, however, games are not won with paper rosters.
In order for the Lakers to reclaim their spot as the elite of the elite, they must embrace the word "balance." Whether this is on one end of the floor or both, it is imperative that L.A. places an equal value on all aspects of the game.
If they fail to do that, the results will continue to disappoint.
Fortunately, L.A. began to show signs of life on January 25 when they defeated the Utah Jazz by a score of 102-84. It was just the second time the Lakers held an opponent under 90 points since December 28, 2012.
For that reason, it's only fair that we start on D.
The Los Angeles Lakers are 11-4 when they hold opponents to 95 points or less. They're 7-21 when they allow the opposition to score 96 points or more.
If that's not a clear definition on what is necessary for success, what is?
The Lakers have the tools to be an elite defense. Even with back and shoulder injuries, Howard remains a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The difference in Los Angeles is that D-12 needs help.
Metta World Peace may not be the athlete he was in 2004, but he won the Defensive Player of the Year award for a reason. He's a tenacious defender with superb footwork and an uncanny ability to get under an opponent's skin.
The Lakers need that version of MWP. Now.
Furthermore, Kobe Bryant is a 12-time All-Defensive Team selection. The key for Bryant to return to that level is to stop ball watching and focus more on his assignment.
Bryant can still lock down any caliber opponent during on-ball sets. The key is for KB24 to do so with more consistency.
Beyond the three main pieces, the Lakers must receive balanced efforts from their perimeter and interior players. Whether it's the athletically gifted Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks or the veteran Pau Gasol, everyone must apply their focus to defense.
Upon doing so, L.A. will return to their days of glory.
If it's not defense, the number one deficiency with the Los Angeles Lakers is how heavily they've relied on Kobe Bryant's scoring. The number to dispel the belief that L.A. needs Kobe to score is as follows.
L.A. is 15-10 when Bryant has at least five assists. They're 3-15 when he doesn't.
"When [Kobe Bryant] decides he's going to get assists and find other players, it gets us in our rhythm, gets us ready to shoot, and today guys were knocking down shots and it was a great win," said Clark.
"I thought Kobe was brilliant," said Nash. "He was looking to get into spots where he could draw a crowd and find his teammates. It shows how talented and capable he is. If we can get that type of balance from our team we could be pretty good."
Yes they could.
Kobe's teammates were not alone in this level of praise for Mr. Bean Bryant. In fact, the star player of the Utah Jazz offered up some high praise of his own.
Al Jefferson, take it away.
"He had 14 assists tonight and he's only had 12 assists in the last 20 games," exaggerated Al Jefferson (Bryant had 13 over the three previous games). "When he's moving the ball like that, the way they..he did tonight, it just gives everybody a chance to get in a great groove. They became a difficult team to stop."
And that's the bottom line.
When Kobe has the ball in his hands, every person in the arena expects him to shoot. For that reason, it is inevitable that Bryant will draw double-teams and create openings for his teammates.
Perhaps even more so than Steve Nash.
This leads to a level of responsibility that Bryant must accept. Although his scoring numbers may take a hit, Bryant must look to facilitate and capitalize on the open looks he creates for his teammates.
Keep in mind that Nash is much more than just a facilitator—he has a career slash line of .513/.413/.967. He has the most .500/.400/.900 seasons in NBA history.
It's time to let the man shoot.
No One is Safe
The Los Angeles Lakers should not be coming out and threatening players with trades or coaches with firings. With that being said, they shouldn't be assuring job security or creating comfort within the organization, either.
Instead, the Lakers must make one thing clear: no one is safe.
Not only are the Lakers too talented to play this poorly, but they have far too much at stake to let it all slide. The most significant reason for that statement is the matter of age.
Steve Nash is 38 years old, while Kobe Bryant is in his 17th season in the NBA. Bryant is also 34 years of age.
Furthermore, Pau Gasol is 32 and Metta World Peace is 33. The window is closing for the Lakers to win with their current core.
To make matters worse, Dwight Howard is going to be a free agent after the 2012-13 NBA regular season. If the window wasn't closing before, it is halfway shut at this stage of the game.
That is why it's so mind-boggling that L.A. is playing without a sense of urgency.
Nash has never won an NBA championship. Howard hasn't, either.
Bryant is approaching the end of an illustrious career in which he's yet to tie Michael Jordan's number of championship rings. As we all know, that is the driving force behind everything Kobe does.
Furthermore, Gasol and World Peace are in their 30s and only have championships to look forward to.
In order for the Lakers to realize their potential, it is imperative that the organization makes one thing very clear. No one is safe from getting the axe.
It is then, and only then, that L.A. will reclaim their throne atop the NBA.
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