The Lakers entered the 2012-13 season as championship contenders in the eyes of fans and media members following a summer that added marquee talents Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. In fact, some fans and pundits were calling for a 73-9 record, which would eclipse the best regular-season record ever (72-10) by the Chicago Bulls.
In September of last year, I wrote that the Lakers would finish third in the Western Conference with a 59-23 record. That stance led fans to call me an “idiot” and a “joke." As it stands, even my modest prediction of third place in the Western Conference is laughable given how putrid the Lakers have been at times this season. I predicted that the Lakers would have a difficult time finding team chemistry, but nobody could have predicted just how inconsistent this team would eventually be.
Not only will the Lakers have an extremely difficult time competing for a championship, but they are also on the outside looking in at a playoff berth. There’s still a chance that the Lakers will grab a postseason seed, but it’s now fair to call their dream season dead for a variety of reasons.
As a Phoenix Suns fan, I’m a supporter of Mike D’Antoni and his offensive know-how in the game of basketball. Regardless of that fact, it’s easy to see that D’Antoni and his coaching style don’t fit in with the personnel he has in Lakerland.
D’Antoni is all about spacing, ball movement, spreading the floor by shooting threes and running the ball. As a result of that, D’Antoni has chosen to start Earl Clark over a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion in Pau Gasol.
Even though I have great respect for D’Antoni’s up-tempo offensive style that led to so many wins in Phoenix, if your offensive system says to play Earl Clark over Pau Gasol, you need a new system.
It appears as if D’Antoni has opened himself up to a slower half-court style of play lately, but there was a time (Jan. 21 to be precise) when Bill Simmons of Grantland.com and ESPN tweeted the following:
Mike D just told Sager that they need to be "running" more. They have the slowest team in the league! Is he trying to get fired???
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 22, 2013
The Lakers' coaching saga has been ugly to say the least.
With two isolation-oriented stars on the Lakers roster, Dwight Howard (in the post) and Kobe Bryant (from anywhere on the floor), Steve Nash’s effectiveness as a floor general and distributor has been virtually nullified.
No. 24’s brief stint as “Magic Bryant” or “Kobe Johnson” (depending upon your preference) continued to eliminate Nash’s abilities as a playmaker in the offense, as Bryant was the main distributor.
When Nash doesn’t have the ball in his hands on offense, he’s relegated to the role of spot-up shooter. While Nash is useful in this role because of his shooting prowess, he’s essentially as effective as a guy like Kyle Korver or Nick Young (a lights-out shooter who struggles defensively).
Nash is at his best when the offense runs through him and he’s able to set up teammates to score. Playing in a slowed-down half-court offense with Bryant and Howard is proving to be a poor fit.
Pau Gasol’s nightmare of a campaign has miraculously gotten worse.
Gasol’s frustrations with being benched and not playing consistently in the fourth quarter of games have been well documented during Mike D’Antoni’s coaching stint. The two clearly have differing opinions of what Gasol should be doing from a basketball perspective. However, the Spaniard’s recent foot injury has made any disagreements between the two a moot point.
According to the Lakers' official website, foot specialist Dr. Kenneth Jung “confirmed that Gasol has a tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot and is expected to be out a minimum of 6-8 weeks.”
Regardless of how Gasol was utilized in D’Antoni’s coaching system, this is a huge blow to the Lakers.
Even though Gasol was experiencing the worst statistical season of his career, he’s still a valuable veteran presence who has two championship rings to his name.
Prior to the Lakers/Celtics game Thursday night, basketball analyst and NBA legend Charles Barkley called Gasol’s injury the final nail in the coffin of the Lakers’ disastrous season.
It’s hard to argue with Sir Charles, because now that Gasol is expected to miss a minimum of six to eight weeks, the chances the Lakers are able to move him before the trade deadline become even murkier than they were already.
Trading an aging star set to make more than $19 million next season who is also experiencing the worst season of his career seemed admittedly difficult. Throw the injury into that mix of variables, and it seems all but impossible.
The intriguing back-and-forth "conversations" between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard that have been carried out through the media is one of the bizarre subplots to the Lakers' season.
Most recently, Bryant told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal. We need some urgency.”
Via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin on Twitter, Howard responded after having his competitive nature questioned by a reporter:
"I want to play," Howard said after shootaround Thursday in Boston. "I mean, why wouldn't I want to play? But, at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can't leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don't play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody's life is going to go on. I don't want to have another summer where I'm rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That's what I want to do."
Ultimately, Howard has to make the best decision for himself and his health. He’s not only having to return to form following back surgery, but he also has a labrum tear in his shoulder.
Bryant pushing Howard to play is understandable given their current circumstances, but if Howard manages to injure himself further, neither Dwight nor the Lakers will benefit.
Even if the Los Angeles Lakers manage to overcome abysmal defense (particularly in transition), the loss of Pau Gasol, setbacks to Dwight Howard and everything else that has muddled this season, they are still playing in a strong, competitive Western Conference.
If the Lakers somehow make the playoffs (imagine someone writing that before the season), they’ll have to contend with juggernauts like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers are 1-6 combined against those three teams so far.
Include the streaking Denver Nuggets among that group of three, and the Lakers are 2-8 against the top four teams in the west.
The Lakers are fighting to make a playoff appearance at season’s end. However, even if they make that a reality, the road will only get tougher, and the stats don’t back them up.
If only the Lakers had a reset button…of course, choosing to push such a button would possibly lead to L.A. reliving this basketball mockery.