The Los Angeles Lakers experiment is finally starting to turn the corner as they've won five of their past six games. However, it's been a lot of work to get to this point, and we can all learn a little something from this team's journey.
Los Angeles was a train wreck for a good portion of the season. The Lakers were losing games in bunches, players were getting injured left and right, and the team just never fit together throughout the 2012 portion of the schedule.
They did put together a run of games here and there, but inconsistency has left quite a bit more work on their plate than they could have hoped for at this point in the season.
A lot of us had pegged the Lakers to win the Western Conference before the season, yet at this point we're still speculating as to whether or not they can even make the playoffs.
Given time, they should be able to string together enough wins to make the playoffs—in which case we'll all look back at this and laugh. Until then, there are a handful of lessons to be learned from what the Lakers have done so far this season.
Coming into the season, it appeared as though Los Angeles could be content with a rather formidable bench, at least on paper.
The Lakers had a solid energy defender with Jordan Hill, a proven scorer in Antawn Jamison and a guy who at least knows what he's doing while running an offense in Steve Blake.
Hill and Blake got injured, and Jamison hasn't panned out half as well as we thought he would.
Over the course of the year, Mike D'Antoni put heavy minutes on his starters, and he relied on the bench sparingly until injuries forced his hand. This led to more minutes for the likes of Earl Clark and Jodie Meeks, both of whom have given the Lakers positive contributions.
When a team is struggling, there's no reason not to go deep into the bench to figure out who can give the team a bit of a boost.
When putting a team together, it's easy to get enamored with names when you know money is no issue and figure that there's no way putting them together is going to end up with negative consequences.
After all, if they truly are the best players in the league, they should find a way to adapt and play together, right?
A few months into the Lakers project, it's obvious that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can't simultaneously play huge minutes and be at their peak of productivity. They just don't fit well together.
Howard clogs the lane far too much for Gasol to do work in the post, and Gasol can't hit jumpers consistently enough for him to be the mid-range threat that the Lakers need to space the floor. It's like trying to jam two corner pieces together on a puzzle.
Beyond that, it seems as if Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in their truest forms aren't capable of working together and providing maximum output.
It's important to know that throwing three guys together who average 25 points apiece doesn't mean that they're going to combine for 75 points a game. They have to learn to not step on each others' toes and fit together as well as possible.
The Lakers spent a huge chunk of the season playing through Kobe Bryant as the main contributor in their offense.
It's been that way for a decade now, so why change things coming into the season just because there are a few new players on the team?
Well, as this season was looking like only the second time in the past decade that the Lakers were on course to miss the playoffs, there was obviously something wrong with the way the team was playing.
The Lakers' biggest problem overall was their defense, but watching them on a day-to-day basis made it obvious that there was something more they could do offensively to help them straight-up outscore their opponents.
So the Lakers started passing more, Kobe shot less, and the Lakers started winning games as a result.
If Kobe continues his role as the team's main distributor and holds himself back from shooting nonstop, then it seems the Lakers have actually increased their chances at making the playoffs.
On the surface, it seemed as if Mike D'Antoni was the right choice for the Lakers after firing Mike Brown. Of course, Phil Jackson would have been a fine selection, but that's a completely different story altogether.
D'Antoni had Steve Nash under his tutelage again, an athletic freak of a big man in Dwight Howard, a terrific post-scoring big man who can hit a jumper in Pau Gasol and one of the NBA's best players in Kobe Bryant.
He had all the tools necessary to work some of his offensive magic that he's been known for over the years. All that was left to do was play some basketball.
The only problem was D'Antoni was glutted with star players, as opposed to two star players and a handful of good offensive options—a roster set with which he's had the most success.
He was never able to smoothly work Carmelo Anthony together with Amar'e Stoudemire, so why would he be able to do the same with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, among others?
It seems as if the Lakers were after another big-name coach—somebody recognizable who had had a relatively successful career—without ever looking at how his style of coaching fits with the players on the roster.
They're starting to come around, but it seems they would have figured things out more quickly even if they would have stuck with Mike Brown or Bernie Bickerstaff.
With that in mind, it seems like you've got to give a bit of credit to the Miami Heat for sticking with Erik Spoelstra while everyone was calling for his head in the first season with the Big Three.
Stemming from the fact that they fired Mike Brown and then went out and hired Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers were forced to put together a game plan on the fly. That has been a significant factor in many of their sub-.500 troubles.
There was a very concrete plan coming into the season. It might have been a misguided plan with the Princeton offense, but it was a plan nonetheless.
Out goes Brown, in comes D'Antoni.
The Lakers went from running an offense based around movement to a point guard-driven offense based around the pick-and-roll, transition buckets and three-point shooting.
Not only that, they had to figure out what their personnel was going to be, who was going to fill what role and how they were going to divvy up minutes.
It's possible to win and make midseason adjustments under a new head coach when you've got a group of guys who have been together for a few seasons. But when trying to build chemistry and fit guys into a system, hiring a new head coach can be a disaster.
It's not enough to throw a bunch of good basketball players together onto a basketball team, roll a ball out there and tell them to play ball.
The Lakers are slowly starting to figure out how to play together, and it's proving that there's more to winning than just having four superstars on the floor together.
You need the role players who know where they fit into the team, you've got to know how your teammates play in order to fit well into the team's system, and you've got to know personalities to know how to please your teammates.
The Lakers came into the season thinking that they would have plenty of time to figure things out, but it has proven to be a much bigger struggle. Thankfully for the rest of the league, this has provided an important cautionary tale for future reference.