Los Angeles Lakers: What the Rest of NBA Can Learn from Their Disastrous Season
The Los Angeles Lakers' season has certainly provided the rest of the league's teams with plenty of valuable lessons. Ironically, though, most of the instructive takeaways from L.A.'s epically disappointing campaign have been cautionary tales.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, at the direction of out-of-his-depth owner Jim Buss, has put on a clinic on how not to run a franchise. Nobody would have suspected that to be the case a few months ago.
If the Lakers somehow put together a run that helps them sneak into the playoffs, it will almost certainly be because their top four players (all of whom are unaccustomed to losing) sort out the current mess amongst themselves. Whatever success the team might squeeze from this rotten season will have little to do with the disorganized front office.
Buss and Kupchak have officially lost the benefit of the doubt, and they may be falling behind the times.
The NBA is changing. Salary cap rules and analytics are forcing intelligent teams to make tough decisions. And while it might still be the case that the best collection of talent ultimately produces the best team, we're seeing that accumulating that talent without considering how it'll work together can produce results that are less than ideal.
The season isn't over, but, right now, there are a whole bunch of valuable lessons the rest of the league's teams and GMs can take from what has, so far, been a disastrous Lakers season.
The Past Is Not the Future
Sounds pretty deep, huh?
Actually, the notion that teams should be looking forward, not backward, when constructing rosters is a simple one. Unfortunately, the Lakers failed to grasp the concept.
In bringing in the 38-year-old Steve Nash and the surgically repaired Dwight Howard, the Lakers seemed to think they were getting the past versions of both players. To be fair, plenty of other people thought so, too.
But Nash didn't suddenly revert to his two-time MVP form when he donned the Purple and Gold, and Howard's back prevented him from being anything close to the dominant defensive force he once was. So now L.A. is stuck with a pair of so-called cornerstones that aren't sturdy enough to serve as a viable foundation.
GMs around the league should now know to focus more on what players are likely to do in the future than what they've done in the past.
When the Boston Celtics assembled their Big Three in 2007, everybody seemed to think the league was headed toward a top-heavy, "stars and scrubs" era. What people failed to realize was that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce actually fit together nicely.
Putting All-Star talent together is a great idea in theory, but it only works if the players involved have complementary skills.
In L.A., the Lakers weren't concerned by the obviously foreseeable issues that would arise when pairing two ball-dominant guards in the backcourt. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant built great careers as primary ball-handlers, but Kupchak and Buss should have known that there would be potential problems when they threw them together.
In the same way, pairing Gasol, who is unequivocally a center, with Howard had its own share of predictable glitches.
The Lakers' offense has been pretty solid this year, but its stars have changed roles on a weekly basis. In short, nobody is sure about what they should be doing and nobody is maximizing his talent.
Star power is great, but the fit matters more.
Mike Brown got his walking papers after just five games this season, but based on the way the Lakers have played since his exit, we now know that he wasn't totally at fault for the team's early struggles.
Aging players, poor chemistry and the almost total lack of bench production combined to create a 1-4 start. And since the front office couldn't admit that it had made a number of serious personnel miscalculations, the coach took the fall.
Nobody's saying Brown is even an average NBA head coach, but the knee-jerk reaction by L.A.'s brain trust to can him after five games is a little rash. Worse than that, the decision clearly showed that the franchise's impatience obscured its ability to rationally analyze the Lakers' problems.
Defense has been the issue all season long. Under Brown, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff and now Mike D'Antoni, the offense has scored with top-10 efficiency. Getting buckets was never the issue, no matter which offensive scheme L.A. favored.
But Brown is clearly the coach that had the best defensive pedigree of the three, and he probably had the greatest chance of helping the Lakers in their most obvious area of need.
Instead, he's unemployed and the Lakers still can't stop anybody.
Pride Goeth Before a Fall
Depending on whom you believe, either Jim Buss or Phil Jackson let ego get in the way of what could have been the Lakers' best chance to save their season.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Jackson made a bunch of outrageous demands and only wanted to revel in the feeling of being asked for help by a man (Buss) he has clashed with for years.
But if we consider Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register's take on things, Jackson didn't make any such demands and the real ego came from the Buss family, who didn't want to be viewed as bowing to Jackson as their savior.
Whatever the case, the lesson here is that pride and ego need to be put aside in the interest of winning. If the Lakers could have hauled Jackson in, who knows where the team would be right now.
No Middle Ground
The Lakers went into this season without a "Plan B," and their struggles are going to make other teams wary of a similar "all-or-nothing" approach in the future.
If you look at other well-run clubs around the NBA, there are already indications that GMs have seen the Lakers' errors and are taking action to avoid repeating them.
The Oklahoma City Thunder looked ahead, favoring cap flexibility and financial solvency over the temptation to retain James Harden for a year before watching him walk away for nothing.
The Memphis Grizzlies made a pair of salary-cutting moves this year, dumping a first-round pick and three players to the Cleveland Cavaliers in one and letting Rudy Gay go in the other. Whether they've dealt their present title chances a deathblow is highly debatable, but there's no question that their financial future is stable and their options are open.
L.A. has just two options at the moment: ride it out or blow it up. Of course, the second option is sure to involve taking back either less-than-equal value or more bad contracts for players like Pau Gasol, so it's hard to call their position flexible.
With the league tightening the rules on spending, going for broke is no longer the smartest play. The Lakers have learned that the hard way.