Los Angeles Lakers: Does Blame for Losing Fall on Kobe Bryant or Phil Jackson?
When the Los Angeles Lakers are playing “the right way," it’s usually because the rest of the team is buying into Coach Phil Jackson’s philosophy and Kobe Bryant’s passion for hard work and execution at both ends of the court.
But, when the Lakers hit some proverbial bumps in the road as they did last week, panic buttons start getting pushed all across Laker Nation, and the same two individuals are often cited as cause of the sudden shift in good fortune.
After starting their Grammys Road Trip with four straight wins, including a well played signature victory at TD Gardens in Boston, the Lakers lost to a tough Orlando Magic team, and then were a no-show in two blowouts, suffering dismal losses to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats and the downright pathetic Cleveland Cavaliers.
You remember the Cavs?
Five guys masquerading as NBA players who last month in Los Angeles scored a total of 57 points in a 112-57 drubbing at the hands of the two-time defending champions.
So what is wrong with the Lakers? And can they fix “it” in time for the playoffs and a run at a three-peat? And to whom can we point some "blame fingers"?
While there has to be some responsibility taken by Kobe and Phil for the Lakers lackadaisical play and recent malaise, there are other factors and players that have contributed to this inconsistent, often lackluster play that is the Los Angeles Lakers season thus far.
Let’s take a further look.
1. Andrew Bynum: Will The Real Andrew Bynum Raise His Hand and Block Something?
It just doesn’t seem as if Bynum is progressing from his knee surgery as well as management would have hoped. But, then, maybe he's secretly conserving energy for the stretch run and the playoffs—he did, after all, tell reporters last week that the Lakers are built for the playoffs.
But that shouldn't mean it's OK to take off a month or two while getting ready for the postseason.
For a 23 year old, 7’0”, 285 pound center supposedly in great physical shape and full of energy, Bynum appears slow, lethargic and often disinterested. There’s no spring in his legs, which does not bode well for play against the physical teams that are double teaming him in the paint.
Bynum’s play against the Magic, Bobcats and Cavaliers left a lot to be desired—32 total points, 11 of those coming in a decent first half against the Magic. During the ensuing 10 quarters, Bynum scored just 22 points and against Cleveland, in what was one of the worst Lakers regular season losses in a decade, he scored just six points on 2-12 shooting.
Bynum inferred that the Lakers can basically turn on a switch when the games really matter, so fans should not be nervous about their recent poor play. That’s all well and good, but this current streak seems more severe than in year’s past.
As long as Bynum is the cornerstone of the Lakers future, he needs to take responsibility and play with passion for as long as he’s on the court.
2. Ron Artest: A Mixtape Off The Court, a Mixed Bag On It
Have the Lakers seen the best of Ron Artest? Are we talking about on the court or off?
During this season-long seven game road trip, the Jekyll and Hyde Lakers played inspired basketball against Boston and New York, only to fall flat against Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland. Artest seemed more intrigued with Lamar Odom's new fragrance, Unbreakable, then he did with the Lakers' embarrassing loss to the Bobcats.
Artest is responsible for taking on the tough defensive assignment, shutting down the opponent’s big scorer while giving the Lakers some quality points of his own. Of late, he's been giving the team none of that and seems to have checked out rather than checked into the game.
Artest accounted for one point in 18 uninspiring minutes against Cleveland. He had five points against the Magic, two rebounds and was 1-4 from three point range.
As the Lakers resume play tonight against Atlanta, Ron Artest is definitely focused on colognes and Twitter.
Which would be fine if this were August.
3. Three Point Shooters: How Many Ways Can You Say Air Ball?
During last week's three-game debacle, the Lakers perimeter shooters should have been cited and fined for "inexcusable, nonsensical outside shooting" by players being paid millions of dollars to occasionally sink a three pointer.
In the 14 point loss to the Magic, the Lakers collectively connected on just 2-16 shots from beyond the arc. They wouldn't have recognized a three point shot if it came up and introduced itself to them.
In Charlotte, the team took a total of 19 shots from three point range. They made three of them, and somewhere there was one fan setting off fireworks in celebration. The Lakers made five of 15 from long range against Cleveland, with Kobe going 1-6.
Shannon Brown was 0-7 from downtown against Charlotte and Cleveland. The team as a whole took 50 three point shots in those three losses and made just 10.
Ok, everyone back to the gym. You're staying late tonight.
4. Phil Jackson: Is He Starting To Think More About Montana Than Miami?
As head coach, the basketball stops here.
In other words, Jackson is responsible for getting his players ready and for their overall team effort.
If they fail, he fails, and I really don't think he enjoys failure. Or humiliation, which is what you feel when the worst team in the NBA, a team you crushed by 55 just a month ago, beats you on their home court.
The Zen Master has a long history (and 11 championship rings as a coach) of being able to motivate his players to do battle and come away with the big prize. But, while the team has shown occasional moments of brilliance, they mostly have looked like they were sleepwalking their way towards the playoffs.
Phil Jackson would be the first to tell you that he accepts responsibility for the team's recent play. He will not tolerate lack of effort, so expect the team to come out swinging this week. Whether or not that will translate into wins against Atlanta, Portland, the Clippers and Oklahoma City remains to be seen.
But, this is Phil's last hurrah, and you can be certain he'll do all he can to get his team ready to climb that mountain one last time.
5. Kobe Bryant: Los Angeles Needs The All-Star MVP To Step Up Down The Stretch
Like Jackson, Kobe Bryant will be the first to admit it when he thinks he didn't do enough to help his team win.
Although the 32 year old Bryant is in better condition than most players 10 years his junior, he still realizes that the ravages of 15 years and close to 40,000 minutes on the court have taken a mental and physical toll. He's trying to pace himself for the postseason; a very smart idea from one very smart superstar.
Still, Kobe wants to win every night and finds it extremely frustrating when the team and his own play let him down. The seven game road trip started well enough with four consecutive victories over New Orleans, Memphis, Boston and New York. But, then, fatigue set in and the Lakers found themselves on the short end of an 89-75 loss to Orlando.
Kobe leads by example, and his play against the Magic, Bobcats and Cavs was anything but stellar. He was just 24-62 from the field in those three losses, making three of 14 shots from three point range.
If there's any light at the end of a tumultuous tunnel, it illuminated on Sunday at the 60th NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. A rested Kobe made good on 14 of 26 shots in 30 minutes of action, scoring 37 points to go along with 14 rebounds and three steals.
He'll need to carry that momentum into this very important week for the Lakers as they seek to finish the season strong. Because, at the end of the day, the Los Angeles Lakers win if Kobe Bryant excels.
It's as simple and as complicated as that.