Fatal Flaws That Sunk LA Lakers' Season
As the Los Angeles Lakers have proven, just putting together a conglomerate of superstars may still yield enough flaws to ultimately tank a season rather than bringing instant contender status.
The most prominent concerns with bringing in a host of talent via trade and free agency rather than fostering them through the draft revolve around chemistry issues, whether the superstars complement each other and if the role players can supplement the stars effectively.
The Lakers ended up having all of these issues and more. With a coaching change and injury woes that would have made Greg Oden blush, these problems and more made up crucial hindrances that tanked the Lakers' season.
While the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat have been very successful in forming a conglomerate of superstars into a winning team, the Lakers and their many flaws are the epitome of everything that could go wrong with putting together superstars on a whim and expecting spectacular results.
1. A System That Did Not Maximize the Players' Talents
For a team that ranked sixth overall in points scored per game at 102.2, the Los Angeles Lakers didn't look like a top ten offensive team.
Their offensive numbers are deceiving because they play at a tempo and style that allow other teams to score effectively as well. Ranked 22nd overall in opponents' points per game, the Lakers allowed their Western Conference adversaries to average 103.6 points.
This is because the Lakers played an inconsistent up-tempo style under Mike D'Antoni that stagnated their offense and quickened the pace to a level that was uncomfortable for their aging roster and allowed their opponents to utilize the quicker pace to match the Lakers' scoring output.
This paradigm occurred because of D'Antoni's love of the run-and-gun system he utilized with Phoenix and his reluctance to alter that system to conform to the talents of his old and injury-prone roster.
D'Antoni simply didn't have the pieces for his system to be effective.
With Steve Nash not being healthy, Dwight Howard recovering from back surgery and not being the physical presence he used to be and Pau Gasol missing major stretches of the season, D'Antoni did not have pick-and-roll players he needed to anchor the half-court offense.
However, due to the Lakers' rebounding proficiency, they were able to initiate fast breaks as he wished. Despite their ability to initiate it, they were not good at it.
The Lakers possessed a myriad of streaky and inconsistent shooters in Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Metta World Peace.
Due to their lack of a consistent interior force and the inconsistency of their shooters, their up-tempo style did not yield the type of scoring output D'Antoni expected. On top of that, their quicker pace allowed other teams to generate more opportunities and stay in games.
Even before the Lakers implemented this system, they attempted to utilize the Princeton offense under Mike Brown, which slowed the pace to a crawl and made it even harder for them to score points.
With two offenses this year that lay on two separate ends of the spectrum, the Lakers would have floundered even worse if Kobe Bryant had not done his best LeBron James impersonation and became a facilitator and a creator for his team.
2. Dwight Howard's Regression
Although it may be unfair to pin the onus of the blame on Dwight Howard, it was clear throughout the season that Howard wasn't the Howard of old.
While Howard's 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game are right around his career averages, he was not the game changer he used to be.
Howard had to pick his spots and play a more cautious brand of basketball to garner his numbers due to the hindrance his back placed on him due to an early return from back surgery.
Despite it being a commendable gesture for Howard to return early from surgery, it was obvious from his play that he was never himself until near the end of the season.
Though Howard had a slight pass from fans and analysts not named Shaquille O'Neal for being unimpressive during his tenure, one fact continued to ring true.
Since the exposure of his nonexistent back-to-the-basket game in the 2009 NBA Finals, Howard has not gotten better in the low post.
Howard still isn't a consistent post scorer and the Lakers lacked a true interior scoring threat due to Pau Gasol being out during major stretches of the season and Kobe Bryant working more from the elbows and the high post.
Most critics and analysts will point to Howard's defensive dominance when putting him above Andrew Bynum as the best center in the league.
However, with his defensive skills being mitigated by the back injury and his offensive skills paling in comparison to Bynum's soft touch around the rim, it is clear that a regressed Howard ultimately ended up being less effective that Bynum was last season.
3. Bench Production
Ranking 28th in bench points per game with 25.8, the Los Angeles Lakers had almost no consistency from their bench mob.
Once a feared squad that hosted shooters, defenders and creators such as Sasha Vujacic and Lamar Odom, the Lakers current host of bench players can't create offense for themselves or defend against the more athletic benches in the league.
While Steve Blake played some inspirational basketball down the stretch and Antawn Jamison has shown some measure of consistency when given the minutes, the Lakers have no other true bench threat.
Jodie Meeks was heralded as a sharpshooter and a good defender when he was brought in from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Although he did hold his own in terms of perimeter defense, his less than eight points on 38.7 percent shooting is simply terrible production for a player with his talent.
However, this may not all be his fault. The bench just simply doesn't have a creator and the starting line-up really doesn't have one, either.
With Nash and Gasol being the two best creators, the Lakers lacked a true facilitator with both players missing a lot of games.
Even though Kobe Bryant further added to his legacy and greatness by showing shades of Magic Johnson and LeBron James in terms of playing complete, unselfish basketball, this isn't enough to generate production from a bench that can't create its own shot.
4. Inability to Stay Healthy
Although this can't really be classified as a controllable flaw, there is no doubt that there is no team this side of the Chicago Bulls that had to deal with as many crippling injuries as the Los Angeles Lakers.
It started with Pau Gasol's knees and Steve Nash's leg fracture, which plagued the Lakers for the early part of the season.
On top of those injuries, Howard's hindered back continued to plague his play for the majority of the season, and his torn labrum hampered his production as well.
With Jordan Hill missing most of the season with a hip injury and Steve Blake missing 37 games with an abdominal injury, the Lakers really didn't have their full roster for any stretch during the season.
The death knell for the Lakers was Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles tendon, which occurred just before the playoffs and killed any chances the Lakers had of even thinking about making it out of the first round.
While their other issues may have prevented them from really forming a cohesive unit, it is obvious that injuries played a major role in mitigating the cohesion as well.
5. Mike D'Antoni
Mike D'Antoni is an offensive genius. Innovating the run-and-gun system that was predicated on surrounding a duo of pick-and-roll players with shooters that would allow a high-octane offense that focused on obtaining the first available shot, D'Antoni injected the NBA with his own brand of excitement.
This system flourished back in his Phoenix Suns days with a roster that fit this type of style. He had shooters, athletic defenders, proficient rebounding threats and a dominant pick-and-roll duo in Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire.
However, the Los Angeles Lakers team he coached this season did not fit this system.
D'Antoni refused to accept this, and to start off his tenure, he did everything in his power to try and impose it on a roster that simply couldn't hold up to it.
He started off by making the controversial decision to bench Pau Gasol because Earl Clark fit his system better due to his athleticism and supposed three-point shooting abilities.
Despite Magic Johnson and other analysts describing how the Lakers needed to slow down the paint and emphasize Gasol's interior scoring ability, D'Antoni went against this notion and mitigated Gasol's contribution because he didn't fit into D'Antoni's system.
By alienating a two-time champion and showing favoritism to a hobbled Steve Nash and a very flawed Dwight Howard, D'Antoni showed that he did not have the ability to manage personalities and egos on a Lakers team that was filled to the brim with both.
D'Antoni also refused to play Gasol and Howard together in the early part of the season, even though their play and twin-tower dynamic in the tail-end of the season were a major part of the Lakers' resurgence to finish the year.
If D'Antoni had tried to implement the two of them together earlier in the season, the Lakers may have been able to find their rhythm. Instead, they floundered trying to run-and-gun with a roster that simply couldn't do so.
Not only did D'Antoni have trouble managing the personalities and altering his system, he also ran Kobe Bryant into the ground by playing him close to 48 minutes per game for seven straight games until he finally tore his Achilles tendon.
Although he did have his moments, it is clear that D'Antoni was more of a detriment to this team than a positive contributor.
What makes this even worse is that Phil Jackson was waiting in the wings before Jim Buss ultimately decided to appoint D'Antoni for the job instead of the Zen master.