Don’t be fooled by what you see of the Los Angeles Lakers when they play in the friendly confines of Staples Center. This is an average basketball team that just so happens to have some extraordinary talent.
Kobe Bryant is still the most skilled, determined and driven basketball player on the planet. Pau Gasol is still the most versatile and gifted big man in the game. Andrew Bynum is finally becoming the beast Jim Buss envisioned when he insisted on drafting the young 7-footer fresh out of high school.
Outside of that we’re looking at a team clinging to respectability, struggling to find an identity, all the while dying a slow and miserable NBA death.
Let’s be clear about something. There is no magic bullet out there. No single trade, no matter how big a blockbuster it might be, will take this current team from pretender to contender. The Lakers only have so many chips to cash in for a big prize. Thus whatever they get in return won’t be adding to a relevant roster, it would only reinvent the persistent problems.
This team has the depth of a Slip ‘N Slide. You don’t even need to watch the team play to know that. Just observe the box score from last night’s listless loss in Detroit. The second unit combined scored 7 points going 2 of 12 from the field. That’s not good enough to beat anybody in the NBA. Mike Brown’s experiment with bringing Metta World Peace of pine was a failure. That was the only wildcard the team could play to improve the bench.
Trading Lamar Odom was a financial move. Clearly the front office saw more than enough from this roster during last season’s playoff performance. The page is being turned and we’re the ones left to read the obituary.
No help is on the way. The Lakers are unwilling to take on added salaries, unwilling to part with draft picks and other teams aren’t going to give them any leeway. When the NBA took its communist stance with Chris Paul the writing was on the wall.
Coach Brown can’t convince anyone in the locker room that they’re playing for a title contender. He can’t even explain why his team is unable to meet the challenges of playing on the road.
Let me help him out.
If you’re working for a company you know is going to be out of business in a matter of months how likely are you to try and give it all you’ve got everyday? Will it truly make a difference if you did? Highly unlikely.
The season began with the front office showing Gasol and Odom the exit without so much as a courtesy call. To Gasol’s credit he’s still shown up with a professional attitude. Even then Mike Brown has made it very clear that Bynum is the man in the middle with Pau an ancillary piece to the puzzle.
Meanwhile Kobe Bryant is being asked to carry the team in a manner that he struggled with in his youth. Now as vet, after finally getting another drink from the dynasty cup, he’s back to begging for more help.
The reality is the true nature of the Lakers is revealed whenever they hit the road. They’ve shown the class necessary to compete with the NBA elite. They’ve also shown a general disinterest in giving it all they’ve got when it is most necessary.
From here the season will continue to roll along with the Lakers likely to be in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff standings. From there they’ll be lucky to even have the chance to be embarrassed in the second round again. That is the reality the players are dealing with and it’s the reason why they can’t get it together on the road.
Why put in all that effort if in the end you’re going to be bounced from the NBA tournament before the champagne is on ice? Such is the nature of a veteran team that can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Younger teams might be hopeful that the light is a glimmer of freedom. Those that have been there and done that know the reality is that it is a train coming their way.