August 31, 2012
The Los Angeles Lakers recently acquired a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash, and a perennial MVP candidate, Dwight Howard in free agency and trades. With their addition to a veteran roster that already includes Kobe Bryant, a former MVP, and Pau Gasol, a premiere power forward, the team appears to be primed for a highly anticipated championship run. Though he is aging, Kobe is still the 2nd best shooting guard in league history. And though Nash’s skills are on a slow decline, the Lakers now boast the NBA’s best distributor over the last decade, and the reason for the NBA returning to its run-and-gun days. The Lakers have the best passer, the best two guard over the last ten years, Pau, the most skilled big man in the league and Dwight Howard, the most physically gifted big man. Throw in Ron Artest and company, and a championship seems likely.
However, the Lakers will not win the NBA championship in the 2012-2013 season. Theoretically, Los Angeles will put the best basketball team on the court every time that they step into a basketball arena this season. But, games are not won in theory. The Lakers have three substantial obstacles hindering them from winning the NBA Finals, chemistry, coaching, and egos.
Los Angeles has had this level of talent before and failed to win. In 2004, the Lakers fielded a squad with 4 future Hall of Fame athletes, but lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals in 5 games. They were lucky to win the one game that they did. The Lakers had more talent on paper than most teams in NBA history, but they were outplayed on the world’s biggest stage because they lacked team chemistry. In basketball games, they were a collection of separate individual talents rather than a cohesive defensive unit and a fluid offensive squad working together towards a common goal. Shaq and Kobe were bickering on the court, in the locker room, and openly to the media. Karl Malone was past his prime and subjugated to being a role player while Gary Payton’s skill set simply did not fit the offensive strategy. The 2012 version of the Lakers have similar continuity issues. The addition of Steve Nash lends the LA offense to the pick and roll, but does that relegate Kobe Bryant to being a spot-up shooter? Kobe is too talented to just shoot jumpers, and there may not be enough basketballs for Nash and Kobe. Then, the next question is can Gasol and Howard coexist with the volume shooter, Kobe Bryant? Gasol has always sacrificed his stats to appease Kobe, but at this point Dwight Howard may be a better option on offense than Bryant. The offense should run through him and Nash. But, will it run through those two or will they have to defer to the alpha dog?
Which leads us to the second obstacle that the Lakers face, coaching. Mike Brown has proven to be a good defensive mind in his short stint in Cleveland and in this past season in Los Angeles. His defenses have ranked in the top ten in the NBA in every year of his career except the last, but Brown has proven not to be the best strategist in games. He rarely if ever makes in game adjustments with good results, and he has been out-coached regularly when facing top tier opponents. Plus, Mike Brown did not seem to have control of his team last year, with Andrew Bynum regularly undermining his authority in the press, and multiple player control incidents throughout the season. Phil Jackson, a Hall of Fame coach with one of the highest playoff win percentages in NBA history and the most titles for a head coach, could not bring a more talented squad to the promised land, so how could Brown. Jackson was a master tactician and psychologist. He moved pieces on the court and challenged his teams mentally with some of the best results in National Basketball Association history. Brown has some trouble with simply finding good offensive combinations on the floor. He may prove to be just detrimental to the Lakers success as anyone.
But, the last issue that may stop LA from winning the NFL crown is related to the first two. It is ego. In order to be a great basketball player, there is a certain amount of ego that a person has to have. It is why a great player can miss the 12 preceding shots consecutively, but hit the game-winner with the clock running down. It is why a player having a bad series can turn in a 50 point game while recovering from the flu. Ego is one of the driving forces behind greatness. But, it also the reason that teams with great promise (like the 2004 team) can fall short. For a team to function, players need to acquiesce to the game plan and allow the most talented of the players to lead them. If this Laker team hopes to contend, then Kobe is going to have to donate some shots to his new teammatets, Howard is going to have to dominate the paint, Gasol is going to have to shift into a role player position, and Nash is going to have to facilitate for everyone. Mike Brown is going to have find a game plan that allows all of that to happen, and he is going to have to massage a lot of egos. If LA is going to win another title in 2012-13, then a lot of things are going to have to fall into place.
The Lakers have a gifted team with all the pieces needed to win a NBA championship, but it probably will not happen for them regardless of their talent level. They need a game plan, continuity, and a leader that can direct them. The Los Angeles Lakers could be world champions at the end of this year, but they suffer from selfishness, a lack of togetherness, and a lack of direction. And when they lose this year, they will only have themselves to blame.