When picturing success in basketball, one imagines sixteen champsionships and the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabar and Shaquille O’Neal. Those championship banners, trophies and the bright lights of the Staples Center where the Los Angeles Lakers play are all what makes this franchise one of the best in the modern era of sports. With the great Los Angeles weather, proximity to Hollywood, courtside celebrities and the legacy of winning, the Lakers franchise just oozes with success and flash, which has made it easy to bring in big name talent to continue its history of winning. So when the Lakers bring in future hall of famers Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the nucleus of virtual hall of fame locks Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the expectations are the same: championship or bust.
Fast forward four months and the Lakers are an abysmal 9-12 this season. That doesn’t appear to be too atrocious, because hey, they’re almost .500. But for a franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers, winners of sixteen NBA championships—a franchise that has only failed to make the playoffs five times in their history—this is a catastrophic meltdown. All around the league, people are wondering how a team with one of the league’s highest payrolls and four future hall of famers could start off so slow. Well, the answer to this glaring question isn’t so easy to produce. It is a conglomeration of multiple reasons.
Injuries have plagued the Lakers, but this is no surprise. The Lakers have assembled a team that they say only has a winning window of two years. True to the Lakers way, this is a win-or-bust mentality. The Lakers thus far have been the latter of the two. So maybe the Lakers front office should notice that it isn’t the coaching that is wrong, but the team. Along with an older roster, with aging superstars Kobe Bryant and two-time MVP Steve Nash, the Lakers have had to deal with an injured lineup. Backup point Steve Blake will be out six to eight weeks with an abdominal tear requiring surgery, and Pau Gasol has been suffering from tendinitis in both knees, leading him to produce career lows of 12.6 ppg and 8.8 rpg. But the most notable injured Laker has to be Steve Nash, who has been out since the second game of the season with a fractured fibula. Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash have experienced great success with one another in D’Antoni’s run and gun offense from 2005-2009, so naturally once Steve Nash returns, he will be the much needed boost that the Lakers have been pining for. To some extent this may be true, but it seems as if Coach D’Antoni has been using Nash’s absence on the team as a go-to excuse for everything relating to losses. However, there are such glaring faults in the Lakers’ defense, age, susceptibility to injury and bench depth as evidenced in the past few games, that Nash’s return cannot fix everything. To put it in perspective, this is a team that won 57 games last year, and was pretty formidable, all without having an above-average point guard or Dwight Howard.
Only recently has D’Antoni begun to realize that a 38-year-old Steve Nash may not be the savior that this team is hoping for in his addressing its many deficiencies. Despite the absence of success, Mike D’Antoni maintains a cavalier attitude, which to me doesn’t seem to be the way a coach should be behaving considering the Lakers’ previous coach, Mike Brown, was fired after a 2-3 start. All of Lakers nation seems to be in panic mode, wondering how a team with four future Hall of Famers and a proven coach could be putting up such poor results. For a fan base and franchise that are used to constant success, what is happening in the sacred name of the championship-winning Los Angeles Lakers is unfathomable, especially after such an eventful off-season with such high soaring hopes. The ever-smiling Dwight Howard, the franchise center, still expresses hope: “We’re too good of a team to let everything slip away here. We’re going to get it. It’s going to click one day and then all this mess will be over with.” Let’s just hope that this happens sooner rather than later.