5 Areas LA Lakers Must Upgrade This Offseason
Take one look at the Los Angeles Lakers, who finished this season prematurely with the worst record in franchise history, and what do you surmise? It certainly doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this team needs a major overhaul.
Regardless of injuries, and there were a lot of them, this Lakers team was just not very good. When you're only winning one out of every three games, there is an abundance of blame to be shared by players, coaches and management.
The 27-55 Lakers of 2013-14 head into a very long offseason with a laundry list of fix-it priorities. It's safe to say they've hit the bottom of the barrel. Reinforcements are on the way, only no one knows where they are coming from and when they'll arrive—and who they will be.
As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding points out: "No matter how bad the Lakers were, how they lacked key elements of pride and hustle and how fundamentally they didn't have suitable defensive personnel, there needs to be some continuity carrying over to next season."
That would mean at least a few Lakers will still be Lakers come training camp in September. While there are many areas in which the team needs improvement, there are at least five that cry out for help.
It all boils down to the Lakers being knee-deep in a rebuilding process that may take another few years to take hold. By the time this team is ready to lay claim to a 17th world championship, Kobe Bryant may be on the sidelines for good.
An Elite Point Guard
Almost every elite playoff team today can boast of having a top-notch point guard: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Damien Lillard, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Mike Conley, to name a few. And that's just the Western Conference of the NBA.
The Lakers have been searching for that leader on the floor ever since they failed to obtain Paul in a blockbuster trade the league blocked back in December 2011. Ramon Sessions came and went that spring, followed by a trade for an aging Steve Nash. And we all know how well that turned out.
To their credit, the injury-prone Lakers went out and found Kendall Marshall hanging around the NBA D-League last December and quickly signed him to play the point guard position. Marshall performed beyond expectations, directing the Mike D'Antoni-led fast-paced offense and putting up big assist numbers that will probably result in his returning to the team next season.
Yet Marshall, who started 45 games and posted nine assists per 29 minutes, is not the long-term answer at the point. He's a below-average shooter who started out hitting a high percentage from long distance with an old-fashioned, stationary shot but finished poorly the last two months, converting just 29 and 33 percent from three-point range.
With Nash being a big question mark , the Lakers are left with Marshall and Jordan Farmar, who impressed when on the court but also suffered a couple of injuries that kept him out of the lineup for half the season.
The best rumor of the week—from Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher—is that the Lakers are considering hiring Byron Scott as their coach and that Scott, in turn, would help recruit Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving to Los Angeles.
That would solve the point guard problem for the foreseeable future, maybe even a decade.
Defense, Where's the Defense?
Where do we begin? The Lakers defense was beyond woeful; it was downright pathetic.
- Points in the paint: Opposing players usually found the traffic very light and regularly scored on easy layups. The Lakers finished dead last in this category, giving up 49.2 points per game from up close.
- Fast-break points: As a team taking an inordinate amount of perimeter shots, the opposition often found itself on a fast break with little resistance. The Lakers finished last in this area, giving up 16.7 fast-break points per game.
Opposing teams put up 109.2 points against the Lakers on average. Only the dreadful Philadelphia 76ers, at 109.9, were worse in this category.
Los Angeles was 27th in margin of victory by their opponent (6.29).
Only five NBA teams had fewer rebounds than the Lakers this season. They finished 28th in defensive efficiency, according to TeamRankings.com. Opponents shot 47 percent against the Lakers, which was 26th in the league.
Defense needs a major overhaul in Lakers Nation. It starts with coaching and player personnel, neither of which were sufficiently adequate this year.
Conditioning: A Sore Point the Past Two Years
The Lakers lost a total of 319 player games this year due to injury, the most of any team in the NBA.
The year before, they lost 176.
During that 2012-13 season, the Lakers lost 17 players to injuries, including Steve Nash, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Pau Gasol, who suffered a broken leg, torn labrum, lower abdominal strain and plantar fasciitis, respectively. Kobe Bryant tore his left Achilles in the team's 80th game, and Dwight Howard never fully recovered from back surgery.
This year, the team went through six point guards: Nash, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake (injury and traded), Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks and Kent Bazemore at one time or another played the point for L.A.
The Lakers have one of the game's most respected athletic trainers in Gary Vitti and an exemplary staff that includes head physical therapist Dr. Judy Seto and strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco.
They were extremely busy this season, yet couldn't seem to keep their players on the floor.
Have the past two years of staggering injuries been a fluke, or was there more to it than that? Could the Lakers' fast-paced offense have resulted in more injuries?
Hard to say, but they'll need a major upgrade in the health category in order to be competitive next season.
Coaching: Should He Stay or Should He Go?
Supporters of Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni argue that he actually did a good job of coaching the team and its cast of young talent, despite its 27-55 record.
Supporters also claim that D'Antoni's practices emphasize defense as much as any team in the league. That would place blame for the Lakers' worst season in history squarely on the backs of the players. And that would be wrong.
After an embarrassing 48-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, D'Antoni was at a loss to explain how the Lakers managed to give up so many points just a few days after beating the Portland Trail Blazers on the road. It sounded more like a coach who had given up on his team than the other way around.
Coaching in the NBA is about managing egos, developing chemistry with the players you have and instilling a winning confidence. For two years, there have been rumblings among some key Lakers players that Mike D'Antoni is not a good fit, although others such as Jodie Meeks lauded his efforts.
If D'Antoni does return for the 2014-15 season, he'll need to change that mindset. His franchise player (Kobe Bryant) reportedly "has no interest" in playing for the coach, according to Sporting News' Sean Deveney.
Management should take that into consideration when making a final decision on the fate of D'Antoni. Does it make sense to bring back a coach when the face of the franchise believes it's time for a change?
Leadership at the Top
Who is running the asylum?
Ever since Dr. Jerry Buss fell ill and passed away a year ago, the Lakers front office has become disjointed and rudderless.
All great sports franchises have outstanding leadership at the top. The Lakers, under Dr. Buss, had that for many years. That aspect has gone missing, and it shows.
Jim Buss is in charge of player personnel but prefers to stay on the sidelines and leave all communication to the team's general manager, Mitch Kupchak. Meanwhile, Jeanie Buss tells the Mason and Ireland show on ESPNLA 710 (h/t ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne) that she is the boss and can make any changes, including those affecting her brother.
If the Lakers hope to regain their magic touch for winning championships, they will need to communicate a clear and concise message to their frustrated fanbase. That hasn't happened yet.
Why did management choose to give a recovering Kobe Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million extension before it knew if he would be able to come back and play at an elite level?
Why did the team trade for Dwight Howard and then hire a coach (D'Antoni) who wanted to turn him from a low-post player into a pick-and-roll center?
Howard was unhappy and left for the Houston Rockets. Bryant is unhappy but will play and hope changes are coming. Pau Gasol is a free agent and wrote on his blog (h/t Lakers Nation's Nick Barbarino) that he's undecided about re-signing with the Lakers.
The Lakers brass seems to have a plan in place to fix the franchise. It would be nice if it let the fans in on its big secret.