Opposing team fans are freaked out. Lakers fans continue to pull their hair out. Sports writers across the country have come up with a myriad of reasons for the Lakers' erratic play. Rival teams and executives are no doubt clueless. The Lakers, of course, remain carefree throughout it all.
Why all the hoohah?
Because everyone thought the Lakers were loaded with talent.
Because everyone thought they had the best basketball player on the planet.
Because everyone loved their speed, length, and versatility.
Because everyone thought they had one of the best coaches the game has ever seen.
Because everyone thought they were hungry from last year.
Because everyone thought they were champions. And champions do not play like this.
In the basketball world, it is assumed that there is a specific formula for a championship.
You need to have dominant big men or Michael Jordan.
You need to play defense (read East Coast) like your life depended on it.
You need to have outside shooting that is absolutely lethal.
You need to have a great coach and, over and above all, the proverbial "fire in your belly".
If you don't have all of this, you cannot win a championship. This is what the conventional wisdom says.
If a team which is considered to have championship material does not play with this particular formula, it is quickly dismissed as lacking one of the required ingredients and hence does not have a chance of winning the national title.
Everyone expresses their chagrin at being let down and obituaries for the season are quickly written. Everyone is expected to play and win in a particular way that has been agreed upon by the system and any team that deviates is considered a huge exception, or, as previously mentioned, would have had a certain MJ playing for them.
In similar fashion, every writer in the country doubts the Lakers' "championship mettle," because they seem to lack a few ingredients.
Now, the Lakers have big men, but they are anything but dominant. They got mauled in last year's finals and have simply not showed up in some games these playoffs.
The Lakers play defense when they feel like it, but most of the time they simply ignore that entire aspect of the game.
They supposedly have excellent outside shooters, but they have amazingly defied the law of averages to suck continuously game after game.
They have a great coach and a transcendent superstar, but he is the only one with fire in his belly. His teammates mostly look like they're quite bored with the sport and would rather have chosen other career paths.
All this, of course, leads to them being severely doubted by the gurus in the national media and all the other people in the system, who cannot understand how a "championship caliber" team can play in such a manner.
I ask of you all, why do the Lakers have to play a particular way to win? It's not like they've played any differently before. When did they previously play the way you ask them to? What makes you expect them to start playing like that now?
When did they consistently play with an edge for two to three games in a row? When did they last get tough and nasty for an entire series? When did they play this "East Coast defense" that you keep talking about? When was the last time they looked, played, and felt like a team on a mission?
Yes, it's happened in very short spurts. But that only goes to show it's all very contrived. This is Los Angeles people. Get used to it.
This is the city of "Showtime," Shaq and Kobe feuding and fooling around, somehow getting to three titles with several game sevens, breakdowns, questionable calls, loads of luck, and a highly casual style.
This is the team that led Phoenix 3-1 in a series and then proceeded to hand over the series on a platter, like they were above it all.
This is the team that was fighting to get to 2-2 in the Finals last year and contrived to blow a 25 point lead at home.
This is the team that managed to lose by 39 points in a championship deciding game.
This is the team that was supposedly desperate for home court advantage throughout the playoffs this year and still managed to lose to the Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, and Philadelphia 76ers.
Why are people still foolish enough to expect them to play like a team that is a straw man for an example of a championship winner?
The Lakers are simply too talented, too casual, too cool, and too focused on offense and putting on a great show to be bothered with all these other requirements of winning a championship.
If they manage to win a title while they're at it, that's all well and good. I just don't see how they'll suddenly morph into some 90s, East Coast style team, emphasizing defense, cutting out the fancy stuff, locking down opponents, consistently owning the boards, and registering blowout after blowout.
When was the last time the Lakers won a playoff game in a blowout? You have to go all the way back to Game 2 of last year's Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, if my memory serves me well.
So, essentially, the Lakers are a fake show as far as the establishment is concerned and conventional wisdom suggests. But they could possibly win a title without doing most of the things people typically think are needed.
Let them just play. They are a severely flawed team, but which book says flawed teams cannot win titles?