THE VECCHIO FACTOR SAYS...
I've been watching Laker basketball for over 30 years, and I can't remember ever seeing a Laker team play so unevenly as this year's team. They seem disjointed and distracted, with a noticeable lack of chemistry.
It's disappointing, not just because they lose games, but how and why they're losing them.
At this point, you should be concerned because San Antonio is seven games ahead of you in the loss column, while other teams are right on your heels for home court in the playoffs.
Watching the Spurs, they play together unselfishly. They play hard for 48 minutes, every game. They play DEFENSE. So far, this isn't happening with your Laker team.
Fact is, Mitch, age has seemingly caught up to some of your players. Kobe Bryant has lost a step or two. Derek Fisher, at 36, is about finished, except for spot duty, and should not receive starter minutes. Ron Artest is in a constant daze. Lamar Odom is back to playing every other game, seemingly distracted by his new-found celebrity. Pau gets out-toughed by younger, stronger post players and other than Andrew Bynum, you don't have any young, athletic, impact players available to spell or replace these players.
The trend in today's NBA, started by Boston's "Big Three," and mimicked by Miami's "Big Three," is to accumulate star players to play unselfishly together, and overwhelm teams without those types of players.
Sorry Mitch, you don't have that make-up on this team. Other than Pau, you don't have enough impact, star players to take the scoring and leadership burden off Kobe Bryant.
At this stage of his career, 24 simply cannot physically continue to match the stacked, star-quality players other teams like Boston or Miami have, and other teams like the Bulls and Knicks are trying to emulate.
Yes, you managed to beat Boston last year, but home court and an injury to Kendrick Perkins helped a great deal.
The fact is, this year you went from a somewhat younger team to a somewhat older team overnight, and the added age is now showing.
Did you happen to notice how easy Russell Westbrook went to the rack the other night? Or for that matter, any other young, quick point guard?
Like a knife through water!
This happens regularly when the Lakers face young, quick, athletic point guards.
But when a geezer like Jason Kidd, at age 36, did it to your Lakers recently in a loss to Dallas, that's reason enough to realize you must find a way to finally stop messing around and get a true, young, quick, POINT GUARD.
Here's a vivid example of what I'm saying to you. In a loss to Memphis at Staples recently, the Grizzlies had 28 fast-break points to LA's five. That tells you that your team is being out-quicked by younger legs who are playing in transition faster than your team's older wheels can play.
Bottom line, I am not privy to who's available, and what Dr. Buss's marching orders are for acquiring new talent, but as things stand, it's hard to see the Lakers repeating as NBA champions with this team's roster playing as they presently are, let alone getting out of the West.
At the moment, your opponents' youth is being served, and it's up to you, and Jim and Jerry Buss, to find a way to infuse some athletic, impact, star talent that can take Kobe out of his "one on one," "do it all by myself" mentality, and relieve him of putting the team solely on his shoulders.
Even though KB's unmatched competitiveness has not changed, his "solo" playing method doesn't work like it used to due to the fact that his age, accumulation of minutes and varied physical injuries have slowly eroded his skill level.
Couple this with a plethora of younger, faster, athletically gifted opponents now in the league, and it doesn't allow him to take over games as regularly as he used to.
Mitch, you and upper Laker management have some player decisions to make, not only for now, but for the future of the Laker brand.
As you know, I have been urging you to do this since I suggested trading Bynum for Bosh before the trade deadline last year.
We all know Kobe is headstrong by nature, but you must try to bring in a younger, IMPACT, star player or two to change the team's dynamic...for now and the future of Los Angeles Laker basketball.
Forty-six thousand minutes is a lot of minutes. Time waits for no one. No. 24 is not the same player he once was, and someone else needs to alleviate the pressure and shoulder the scoring responsibility besides him.
Which brings me to my next topic of discussion with you. As much as I've talked about Bryant and scoring, you still have a MAJOR defensive problem.
Why is it that Boston, Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, etc. can play tough defense, and your Lakers can't?
Sorry Mitch, it's not ONLY about the Triangle.
You know that defense & rebounding wins championships.
Over the past few years, I have suggested bringing in a defensive coordinator, à la Tom Thibodeau, the defensive architect of the Boston Celtics for the past three years, and present coach of the Chicago Bulls.
As the Celtics assistant coach in charge of defense, the Celtics never finished lower than fifth in scoring defense.
If you watch his Bulls team, they are active, move their feet, and contest every shot on the defensive end; perhaps that's why they are the fourth-rated scoring defense in the NBA.
Are you satisfied with the way your team plays defense, Mitch?
Perhaps you need a Tom Thibodeau type, or just maybe you need players who will commit to playing both ends of the court.
It seems too much emphasis is put on the Triangle offense, and not enough emphasis is put on defending and rebounding.
My question to you is do the Lakers play within a solid, defensive structure?
I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like they do to me.
Rather, I believe they play without a viable defensive scheme in place, sort of an unstructured, rotation-based, helter-skelter defensive concept, that works sometimes, and doesn't others, depending on the mood of the players and the team they're playing that night.
Could it be that most of your Laker players are strictly offensive-minded players, and are NOT committed to playing tough defense???
Remember, offense scores points, but defense wins championships!
Mitch, you have serious issues before you, and, in my opinion, you need to change things ASAP because, as of now, the make-up, the chemistry, the caliber of play and the confidence level of this present team is just NOT good enough to win it all again.
Perhaps there are things internally within the team dynamic that we don't know about, and if that's the case, I'm sure you will do all you can to rectify them.
However, when Lamar Odom, in his typical casual, nonchalant way says, "We'll be fine," I don't think Laker Nation believes it.
I wish you luck turning around this deep ditch your Laker team has dug for itself!
THE VECCHIO FACTOR