3 Moves for Los Angeles Lakers to Improve in Short Term
Before the season began, I was one of the few who took a cautious approach to this rebuilt Lakers team. But there was no way I figured the Lakers would be 16-21 after 37 games. Even the most ardent Lakers hater wouldn't have said that in all honesty.
However, that is where the Lakers stand. And likely, there are no more big trades to make. This is the roster that will have to make its way back from the lottery in the next three-and-a-half months. Thankfully, the talent is so immense, that a bunch of big fixes are not required.
So, here are my thoughts on the three moves the Lakers need to make to get back into playoff contention. Here we go with No. 3...
No. 3: Remove Antawn Jamison from Rotation
Seems like a bad time to state this, as Jamison is coming off two of his better games of the year. But the larger truth is this: For all the offense he brings, Jamison is that much of a liability on the defensive end. And the Lakers have enough offense most nights. Their problem has been a lack of effort and energy. I don't think it is the effort from the North Carolina power forward, but his ability to defend has always been an issue.
So, if you take away a guy giving you seven points a game, where does it come from? I would say playing Devin Ebanks more for his athleticism and defense should be something D'Antoni considers going forward. My rationale will be explained in just a second. For now, Jamison and Jodie Meeks, the two big signings for the Lakers bench, should be benched.
What does that mean?
No. 2: Steve Nash Needs to Shoot More
He shoots 53 percent from the field, 36 percent from behind the three-point line and has not missed a free throw this season. Yep, that's Steve Nash. A cynic would say those numbers exist because he only averages 8.2 shots per game from the field and 1.3 from the line.
But those with fully functioning brains know better. Nash in one of the all-time great shooters in NBA history. I would go so far as saying for this team, only Dwight Howard is a more efficient scorer. So ask yourselves, who would you rather see take certain outside shots: Metta World Peace or Steve Nash?
I think I know your answer. The reality is twofold with this: One of the Lakers' biggest issues is transition defense. Poor shots lead to run outs, which lead to easy baskets for the opposition. The more efficient the offense is, the more controlled the pace is. That's not to say the Lakers have to play Mike Brown slow ball. But with this team, they have to maximize possession efficiency. Having your best shooter shoot more can only help that.
No. 1: Earl Clark's Play Should Push Pau Gasol to the Bench
For all of the Lakers' individual talent, they have been missing cohesion and athleticism, two things that have cost them in close games this year. Of all the players to help remedy those two elements, it appears to be Earl Clark, a throw-in in the Dwight Howard trade.
But Clark's recent play (12.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 blocks on 51 percent shooting) over the last week seems to be more the product of opportunity than a fluky stretch. And should it continue, it gives coach D'Antoni the impetus to finally make a move that probably should have been made weeks ago: Move Pau Gasol to the bench.
When you add that the Lakers' junkyard dog, Jordan Hill, has been lost for the season, it becomes an even more practical solution. Gasol would immediately be the Lakers' best playmaker and would likely work much better with Robert Sacre, who does not demand the pivot space Howard does. This gives both units the chance to generate continuity over the final 40-plus games of 2013. One can only hope this happens.
Winning against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers is one thing. Winning against the Milwaukee Bucks would be another thing. But the harbinger for whether this Lakers team will actually improve comes once they hit the road again. There is no simple solution for this, but there are some choices that can be made.
Production wins out, not past name value or salary. Right now, Earl Clark is a better option to start than Pau Gasol. Right now, Steve Nash can be as valuable to the Lakers shooting the basketball as passing it. Thankfully, there are some things that can be done to help this team pull itself back to .500 first and foremost.
16-21 is not where anyone wanted to be. But it most certainly is not where this team has to remain. It starts with effort. But practical choices added to that will only benefit a team that still has the time and the talent to salvage this difficult season.