This season has been a bore for Lakers fans, and apparently the Lakers themselves. They got off to a torrid start which elated wide-eyed optimists who had predicted 70 wins for this team.
But it's April and Lakers Nation is on edge. The team sputtered to a 16-12 record after the All-Star break. Several playoff teams have a better record than them during that same span, including their first round opponent. They ended up winning only seven more games than the No. 8 seed.
Lakers Nation has wrapped itself in the comfortable theory of "turning it on." The Kobe/Shaq Lakers turned it on while ignoring the regular season. Even last year's championship squad didn't turn it on until they had to (Game Five of the Western Conference Finals).
Lakers fans are banking on Kobe and Co. flipping that switch. It's all that's left. And they need to do it now.
Here are five members of the organization which will galvanize that change if they step up their games.
For all the quality that the Lakers possess in their starting lineup, the drop off in talent is from player five to six is chasm-like. The bench has been bad.
So bad, in fact, the Lakers are depending on the much maligned Luke Walton to save the second unit. Ok, that's too much. Any team depending on Luke to do anything significant is not a championship team.
However, if he's finally healthy he can have a positive effect on an ineffective bench unit. Luke knows three things:
1) he knows the triangle
2) he knows how to pass
3) he knows Phil likes those two aspects, and if he does them he'll get play time
His ability to move the ball saves the team from stagnation, and Phil will often inject him into the game for short bursts to rescue the triangle from erratic play or Kobe watching.
That said, Luke is at a low No. 5 on this list because I don't want him doing much. But if he can enhance the flow of the offense for a few minutes a game, those are well spent minutes that make the Lakers attack slightly more effective.
Kurt Rambis was the man in charge of the Lakers defensive resurgence last season, and it paid dividends for all 82 games plus the playoffs.
With Rambis departed for colder pastures, the defensive burden has fallen on the other assistant coaches. The Lakers started the season playing fantastic defense. In fact, surprisingly the Lakers were a better defensive team than offensive team, and wins were piling up.
That defensive cohesion has been missing for months, and the win-loss record in the first half of the season compared to the second half has paralleled that drop off.
Playing effective defense isn't an individual thing. The team relies on each other to provide help, rotate, block lanes, and cover each other. It's a cohesion thing, and the onus is on the assistant coaches to make that happen.
Fans hope the Lakers can flip a switch. This is the switch. And the onus is on the coaching staff to make that happen.
Fool me thrice...
For the third straight season, Bynum suffered a late-season injury, and for the second straight year, he'll be stumbling into the playoffs while trying to get his conditioning and timing back.
This time, we need him to come back and be great.
Bynum solves the issues from the previous two slides in a big way:
1) he pushes Lamar Odom back to the bench, which immediately improves the reserves with a talent like that as your sixth man
2) he covers many of the team's defensive deficiencies, as a long mobile center who gives opponents something to shoot over
But we can't have a repeat of last year, which was Bynum's post season baptism with a nearly invisible contribution to the team.
The Lakers were still able to win a championship which had the fans salivating at the prospect of a similar run, but this time with an effective Bynum playing a big role on both ends of the floor.
This season is different. The Lakers need Bynum. And they need him big. Anything less than the midseason fringe All-Star Bynum and we don't have a chance.
Fortunately, latest word is that Bynum is running and practicing full court and will definitely play on Sunday.
I'm sure most Lakers fans have Bynum pegged as the No. 1 player we need to step up, considering he solves so many of the team's problems.
But we have an even bigger problem. Our greatest off-court strength is our biggest on-court liability.
I have no doubt he'll rise up for some key three pointers this post season, but he will also get run through by speedy guards in every round we advance.
We need Farmar and/or Brown to step in. They're both fast and athletic, and we need them to hone that into a fiery defensive effort to stay in front of the opposition.
Dr. Buss didn't want to spend any more money and didn't bring in a new point guard. The renowned poker player gambled on the the three-headed (not so intimidating) monster of Fisher, Brown, and Farmar being good enough to garner his 10th championship as owner.
Unfortunately, our two backup guards (plus Sasha) are damaged with unheralded injuries of their own. A torn thumb for Shannon and a strained hamstring for Jordan makes the task even more daunting.
But our hole at PG is so glaring that these guys need to overcome daunting. It would be a miracle, but we need a solution at point guard and these two guys are all we have left.
One of the greatest players in NBA history. His work ethic is renown. His determination is legendary. His ability to finish games has never been more finely honed.
But he's been bad lately. Real bad. Larry Hughes on Golden State bad.
There's no doubt he will pull it all together in the postseason. Of everyone on the roster, Kobe is one we never needed to worry about. But whether it's his finger, knee, or everything after 1,100+ games and the longest summers of anyone over the past two years, we need Kobe back.
The unstoppable Kobe.
Any less and we cannot win a championship.
The greatest players are counted on to be great when it matters most. That's why he's been great for so long. Now the only thing left is to see how much longer the greatness will last.
Are the last few weeks the beginning of a trend like we saw with his contemporaries (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady) when they reached Kobe's age, or was it a merely the result of injuries and late season boredom?
We'll all the know the answer over the next few weeks. But one thing is for certain. An effective, efficient Kobe leading this team will win an NBA championship.
Like every other superstar, it's all on him.
No doubt you're caught off guard by a few selections. What about Pau? We could really use him to play physical, especially with Bynum injured.
What about Odom? We could really use his talents to materialize into All-Star production, especially with our bench woes.
What about Ron? We need him to shut down every other team's superstar, starting with Durant on Sunday.
What about Fisher? We could really use him to pull out one last strong effort on both ends of the court.
Truth be told, I've been satisfied with all their efforts, except Fish, and in his case, physically he can't play any better. He is what he is. I don't count on him to do anything except not turn the ball over and hit the occasional three.
Pau has been fantastic over the past few months. Ron has proved his dedication to team success and has slimmed down to be even more versatile. He's already had a number of outstanding defensive performances against great scorers and I'd expect him to be more focused than ever. And Odom is still underrated, especially his ability to make plays in crunch time.
I don't worry about those guys. They've all bought into the team and play their roles well. But the other guys on the list have responsibilities they need to cover, and if they step up the flip will be switched and we'll see the dangerous Lakers team we all know they can be.