We’re only a week into 2013 and already Lakers fans are bugging out. The team has lost all of its games in the new year, including last night’s disappointment to the Denver Nuggets at home, which dropped them to 10-8 at the Staples Center (not counting when they play the Clippers as the road team). They’re also a meager 5-10 on the road. They’re in the bottom five of the league for turnovers, and almost dead last in free throw percentage (thanks Dwight). They’re a mediocre basketball team with a huge payroll and a ton of expectations entering the year. With all the new pieces in the rotation, two new offenses, two coaches, a new point guard to run that offense and all that compounded by injuries, they were bound to struggle. Even the 2010-11 Heat (without injuries) struggled out of the gate, but it’s how you handle that adversity that marks a franchise, and so far they Lakers have handled their ills about as well as their fans.
We’re not even at the halfway point of the season yet, and it’s increasingly looking like the Lakers brass is panicking almost as fast as their fans. The reports from The New York Post are newsworthy, but they’re unconfirmed and some, including ESPN LA’s Ramona Shelburne, already think they’re BS. Kobe Bryant has a long and storied career where he’s been pretty vocal with the press when he didn’t think his teammates were up to par, so it’s weird that we haven’t really heard him lambaste Dwight yet.
This has been a halcyon season for the Lakers, and it’s not looking to abate any time soon. The best thing for the franchise and the fans is to calm down, and stop looking at every loss as the sign of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, there are four future Hall of Famers on the team, but that’s just a silly coincidence.
First, fans and executives should stop worrying about team chemistry. It’s the defense that’s really faltering as Janis Carr mentioned in today’s Orange County Register. Yes, it’s better if teams really like each other, but the Celtics were rah-rahing about Rajon Rondo‘s leadership qualities this offseason, and how close they’d gotten as a group (Ubuntu, or something close to it). But they’ve stumbled to start the season too, and you don’t see anyone in Boston throwing in the towel or talking about Doc Rivers‘ job security. Yet the Lakers already fired Mike Brown after four games this season (FOUR GAMES!) and that was just the beginning of their soap opera season. After four games, you know very little about a team, let alone a coach, but already they were done with Brown. Now, Mike D’Antoni is driving the bus, and already people are calling his quarter season as coach a bust. Hey, at least he got more time than Brown. Now it’s okay if the fans want to cheer “We want Phil” like they did last night, but a basketball team shouldn’t make personnel or coaching decisions based on what a few drunk Lakers fans decided to holler after a tough loss at home. Remember, this isn’t the first super team to go through these issues.
A large part of the reaction to the Lakers is what happened to Miami after LeBron James and Chris Bosh arrived in the summer of 2010. People were actively looking to pick apart everything they did, and that’s a lot of pressure. Unwanted pressure at that, which can make things awkward in the locker room. People repeatedly called for Erik Spoelstra to step down and for Pat Riley to step up as their coach after they started 9-8. But that’s all media fluff when you consider what’s happening on the basketball court, and eventually Miami won a title (although it took a second year). The Lakers aren’t very good, and that’s as much a fault of Kupchak as it’s on the players he brought in.
Maybe Mitch should be disappointed in the bench players he signed rather than the team? Did he really think Antawn Jamison was gonna light it up AND finally learn to play defense? Was he going to rely on Steve Blake as their backup point guard all year when it was pretty obvious Nash couldn’t go more than 30 minutes a night last season in Phoenix? Injuries have effectively knocked out their starters a lot this season, and after their Big 4 and Metta World Peace, their bench leaves a lot to be desired. If you look at the individual plus/minus for the team, only their starters are in the positive, via 82games.com. That’s on Kupchak, Jimmy Buss and anyone else involved in forming the Lakers’ roster this summer. Pau Gasol (Plantar Fasciitis), Steve Nash (fractured leg) and Dwight Howard (back and now shoulder) have all experienced either lost games or diminished skills because of injuries, and that has to be taken into account when evaluating the first 33 games of the season. But did the Lakers not see this coming? Nash is now in his 17th season (as is Kobe). Pau is in his 12th season, and his lithe, 32-year-old body has broken down after repeated years getting beat up on the block and playing long into the postseason; it’s not like seven-footers, not named Kareem, usually have a lot of staying power in the NBA. Dwight is younger, but back problems are always a red flag, and especially for a guy like Howard whose dominance is predicated on his supernatural athleticism. Basically, the Lakers don’t have anyone to blame but themselves.