During the off-season, the Lakers made a lot of noise with the off-season acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Over the course of the season, the Lakers have been on a roller-coaster ride. First they lose their point-guard Steve Nash to a knee injury, and then they lose their star power-forward in Gasol due to tendonitis in his knees. Things for the Lakers looked like they were going downhill and five games into the season they fired head coach Mike Brown. Many analysts were saying the Lakers team did not fit well in the system that Mike Brown preached. The question: Is the answer Phil Jackson and the Triangle Offense? Apparently, the Laker organization thought otherwise and narrowed down the coaching job position to Mike D’Antoni and Phil Jackson. The obvious choice the Lakers would pick would be Phil Jackson who knows the organization and whose system has proven big with this team. WRONG! Instead, the Lakers answered by hiring Mike D’Antoni; under D’Antoni, the Lakers have struggled mightily. At first, it did not seem like a good fit as the Lakers were losing games they should have won and were not playing defense. After losing to the Knicks, the Lakers defeated the Wizards to start a five-game winning-streak which put them at .500. During the streak, the Lakers were rejoined with Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Since the winning streak, the Lakers have struggled again and look like a team with no identity. There are four main reasons for the Lakers’ struggles.
1. Mike D’Antoni’s System (No D)
For years many people have asked me what did I think of D’Antoni’s system. My answer was always a bitter-sweet one: It’s a good offensive system, but it lacks defense. D’Antoni’s system is all flash but no substance and what the Lakers need right now is substance [and less flash]. The Lakers are built for an offensive system that preaches defense at the same time. The system the Lakers need is a Phil Jackson system since the team is built for a triangle-offense with defensive pieces. The Lakers are giving up 101.4 points per game and that is 26th in the league. The Lakers are not playing good basketball, not even mediocre basketball. D’Antoni’s system does not fit the Lakers well and it shows in their 19-25 record. The Lakers are a pretty seasoned team and most of the players cannot withstand one full season in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced game. Another problem with this system is that D’Antoni needs shooters that can run and knock down shots efficiently. If people look at the roster, there are not many shooters on the Lakers team that can fit in this style of play. Another flaw with D’Antoni coaching the Lakers is the 7 or 8 seconds or less rule cannot be utilized by the Lakers since they are old. The Lakers need to stop looking for a quick basket every possession and try to get the ball to Howard or Gasol down low and take advantage of their best asset: Size.
The question going into this season was the Lakers health. Can Kobe stay healthy long enough to get a ring? Will Dwight Howard be the same dominant force like before? As pre-season concluded, the Lakers faced a big loss when Steve Nash went down with a leg injury. Many Laker fans thought this wouldn’t be a problem as back-up point-guard Steve Blake would take over the Laker offense. After starting five games with the Lakers, Blake suffered an abdominal injury which required surgery to repair. Next, Lakers’ star Pau Gasol had tendonitis in both of his knees which hurt the Lakers a great deal with no starting power-forward. Then All-Star center Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (again) became injured with a shoulder injury and a concussion (respectively). Taking the place of Dwight Howard, the Lakers used Jordan Hill as a starting center. Hill played pretty well when Howard was out until he suffered a hip injury which required season-ending surgery. The Lakers got their All-Star center back until he re-aggravated his shoulder injury. With all these injuries, the Lakers look like they might not make it to the playoffs in one piece.
3. Mamba vs. Everyone Else
Kobe is tied for second in the league in scoring with 29.2 points per game, which shows that Kobe has not slowed down one bit. The problem with this is that no one on the Lakers team has stepped up on the offensive end or the defensive end. In games where Kobe has scored +30 points, the Lakers have lost 14 games. During most of the games this season, Kobe has guarded the fastest guard on the opposition, such as Paul and Westbrook, due to Nash’s inability to keep up and contain these fast guards. It seems like the Lakers expect Kobe to do everything for them: score and play defense. The TNT crew thought that one of the Lakers’ problems is that Kobe is doing everything by himself and that the team needs to get more involved. Most of the games I have seen, the Lakers just stand and watch as Kobe goes to work on the offensive end and on the defensive end no one on the team steps up besides Kobe and occasionally World Peace. It is not like Bryant is not passing the ball because he is averaging 4.7 assists per game. In order for the Lakers to get back to .500, they need to step up offensively and especially defensively. Kobe just cannot do it all by himself in order for this team to think about getting to the playoffs.
4. No Identity
The Lakers in past seasons have had a team identity as a triangle-offense team that plays an inside-outside game and that goes to the free throw line quite a lot. These past two seasons it has been a different story. When the Lakers acquired Mike Brown as coach everyone thought the Lakers would switch to a defensive system. This was not the case as the Lakers were still an offensive system that just happened to still play defense. When Mike D’Antoni became coach of the Lakers, the team went straight into an offensive focus. The Lakers, as the season goes on, continue to have no identity; sometimes they are an offensive team that just shoots threes and other times they are a team that goes straight to the post and plays in a half-court set. Only three people on the team seem to know their role: Kobe, Nash, and Howard. Metta World Peace likes to start fast-breaks and never pass the ball to the open teammate (Kobe for the most part). He also likes to drive strong to the basket and think he can dunk on everybody, as well as shoot fade-away three-point shots. As far as Gasol goes, Gasol has not stepped up at all this season and looks very confused on the court. As a big man, Gasol is supposed to get rebounds and take contact, not complain about the contact. Gasol some times plays like he did in 2010, but other times he plays like the soft Pau Gasol we all know and hate to see. In order for the Lakers to fully turn it around they need to find an identity that works and they need to stay with it.