Biggest Issue L.A. Lakers Must Solve Before the Start of the Playoffs

Richard LeContributor IIIMarch 26, 2013

Gasol's return hasn't done much to bolster the Lakers' playoff chances thus far.
Gasol's return hasn't done much to bolster the Lakers' playoff chances thus far.Harry How/Getty Images

Despite the Los Angeles Lakers' return to the playoff picture, they are still a very flawed team with problems that could ultimately result in an early exit. 

Though they have showed flashes of promise utilizing different lineups, they can't seem to perform well with their best four players on the floor.

The Lakers have zero wins and seven losses when Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard start at the same time. 

While the Lakers have found a formula for success that revolves around Howard's resurgence on defense and Bryant's balance between distribution and scoring, they haven't been able to maintain any sort of consistency. 

With this balance, they've managed to win a lot of games, including an impressive victory over the Indiana Pacers. However, they haven't been able to topple playoff juggernauts such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat or the Denver Nuggets during their recent surge up the rankings.

This may be due to the fact that although they have been clicking on both ends of the court, their talent level simply doesn't match up with the other playoff teams.

Gasol's return should have changed that.

However, despite his skill and versatility, they've reacquired a problem that had troubled them since the beginning of the season.

Seeing as Mike D'Antoni's system is predicated on floor spacing, shooting and the pick-and-roll offense, there really isn't a place for a low-post player like Gasol.

D'Antoni has never been comfortable conforming his offense to cater to post-play. This is evident through his struggles with Gasol and his failure to adapt Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns' offense during Shaq's initial stretch with the Suns.

The only way the Lakers will be able to make any sort of playoff push is to adapt their system so that Gasol can utilize his various skills to contribute to the team.

While their recent surge shows that they have the talent to win games against lower-caliber teams, they need Gasol's involvement in order to match the talent level of the elite teams in the league.

The most obvious method in involving Gasol is to utilize him on both the high and low blocks as a passer, creator and a scorer.

While a healthy Gasol is more than capable of spearheading this type of offense, Gasol's health issues this season show that although he still retains his versatility, he isn't up to par with the All-Star years that Laker fans have been used to seeing.

Also, Howard and Bryant may have their offensive effectiveness mitigated if the offense is solely focused on Gasol's post-play.

Thus, the most prudent method in integrating Gasol into the system is to try and develop a two-man rapport between Gasol and Howard.

As evidenced by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis, their high-to-low style of post-play and the way they work off each other is an effective way to utilize two big men that need touches in order to produce.

While Marc Gasol and Randolph produce, they still had a system that allowed Mike Conley and Rudy Gay (before he was traded) to create and score as well.

While Pau may not be as physically imposing as his brother, he is a better passer. Therefore, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to expect Howard and Gasol to develop a workable rapport that would enable them to share touches in the paint and be equally effective.

Having an organic offense that is predicated on the movement and communication between the two big men will be supported by D'Antoni's emphasis on perimeter shooting and the attention a superstar like Bryant would receive from defenders.

Ultimately, the biggest problem the Lakers face isn't finding a system that integrates Gasol. The biggest problem they face is whether or not they have enough time and chemistry to build a comfortable rapport between their two big men in the paint that would still be conducive to a balanced offense.