In the NBA (much like every other professional sport), most franchises take their cue from the teams at the top of the proverbial mountain. Finding someone to admit to it may be something of an arduous task, but there's no shame in trying to follow the lead of the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Last summer, the Los Angeles Lakers made a few moves that appeared to vault them to the top of the pile. But in a cruel twist of fate, we've seen their approach to the "superteam" concept crash and burn in front of our very own eyes this season.
In the wake of a relatively uneventful trade deadline, it's fair to wonder whether the Lakers' early-season implosion made general managers a little gun shy when it came to pulling the trigger on potential deals. Sometimes—particularly in the case of the teams that didn't make a trade for Atlanta Hawks' forward Josh Smith—the best deal is the one that you don't make.
The Los Angeles Lakers figured to be the big dog in the Western Conference yard this season once the team landed both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the span of a month. With four All-Stars in the starting lineup, what could go wrong?
Reality paid the Lakers an unwelcome visit long before the games counted in the standings. A winless preseason and a slow start (due, in part, to an injured Steve Nash) led to the dismissal of head coach Mike Brown. And a brief flirtation with Phil Jackson strangely resulted in the hiring of Mike D'Antoni, a man whose "seven seconds or less" offense doesn't seem like a good fit for the personnel currently on the roster.
It definitely wasn't a good fit for Pau Gasol, who openly and privately clashed about his role on the team. Add in Howard's balky shoulder, and you have a recipe for disaster (or a 21-24 record—D'Antoni's mark on the bench so far this season).
If we didn't know before, we certainly know now: It's impossible to just throw a bunch of players together and expect them to immediately play at a championship level. Despite his propensity to clown around, even Howard realizes how important it is for everyone on the court to be on the same page.
"[Chemistry is] something we have to do to get better," said Howard in a January interview with ESPNLosAngeles. "We have to play like we like each other."
It's clear that the Lakers' woes go far beyond the icy relationship between Howard and Kobe Bryant, but it's also clear why Metta World Peace's preseason boast of 73 wins was foolish. It takes a ridiculous amount of chemistry (and luck) for any team to win 89 percent of its games over the course of six months, much less a team where two of its four stars—Howard and Nash—arrived in town just weeks before.
You can't buy chemistry, and it certainly doesn't come as part of the package when you trade for a player. Chemistry is something that develops over time, and those teams that have it are often better off than teams who have more raw talent, but less experience playing together as a cohesive unit.
It's why the San Antonio Spurs have been perennial contenders for more than a decade: Their core group enjoys a certain comfort level with each other that is a valuable asset during the course of an 82-game season. As long as Tim Duncan wears a Spurs' jersey, you won't see them make a big splash at the deadline that could ultimately upset the apple cart.
And for as much grief as the Miami Heat caught for not winning the 2011 title (and deservedly so given their frequent boasts), they should almost be commended for finding themselves two games from the Larry O'Brien Trophy that season.
Which is why Oklahoma City's decision to part ways with James Harden was puzzling, to say the least. As a small market team, it was clear that the Thunder couldn't afford to re-sign all of their talent, so they essentially "chose" Serge Ibaka over Harden and sent the 6'5" guard to Houston.
Oklahoma City appears to be headed toward great things this season, but its situation is an outlier. And as well as the Thunder are playing, it remains to be seen if this "era of good feelings" of sorts can carry over into the playoffs.
To say that the new collective bargaining agreement was the only reason for the lack of moves at the trade deadline is a bit short-sighted. Fans aren't the only ones who are engrossed in the "Lake Show" this season: GMs around the league are watching and taking note. And thanks to everything that happened on the West Coast so far this season, many of them chose to sit out this past week in fear of repeating the same mistakes that the Lakers made.
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