Yes, the self-obsessed, hyperbolic Los Angeles Lakers have been bad. And everyone talking about it hasn’t helped. But this is sports in 2013, where a team still seeking its groove before half the season is through, is scrutinized like Kim Kardashian jogging in Malibu.
Dissecting the Lakers can be equally harsh. The main problem with the offense has been its lack of movement. This new star-stacked L.A. team is the victim of nothing more than bad habits, chief of which is ball watching. A typical trip down to the offensive end, for example, sees four Lakers cemented on the perimeter, while either point guard, Steve Nash, or two guard, Kobe Bryant, single-handedly manufacture a play. When Nash does it, at least he’s sniffing out opportunities for others. Bryant, however, desperate to right all wrongs, is hoisting balls at the hoop like the apocalypse is coming. In his mind, it might be.
Obviously this squad lacks cohesion, but what’s worse, there’s not an inkling of glue holding them together. Of course, calling your team old, as Bryant has, or sulking around the bench, as Dwight Howard will do, won’t really improve camaraderie.
Much of the disjointedness starts with Bryant, who has a tendency to halt others, hold the ball at the apex of the key, and then barge his way into the paint, where he inevitably fades back into a jumper or struts in for a lay-up. Young Kobe got away with this. Older Kobe needs to be more thoughtful and creative—if this team is to challenge for the title. Don’t get me wrong: he can still score, and score in high volumes. He just dropped 31 on the Milwaukee Bucks, after all. It’s just questionable if he can learn to adjust to his new teammates and get them winning consistently.
Steve Nash still does his thing with aplomb—that being organizing, patiently waiting for crevices to open, and then threading the ball to an open man. But in this offense, where there are fewer teammates on their toes, and a distinct shortage of offensive IQ, Nash seldom finds spots to drop the ball. He routinely makes a three-foot bounce under the hoop, to big men who sometimes enjoy the set-up, and other times look stunned to receive the pass. This isn’t quite Phoenix, is it? Knowing this, Nash often takes the shot himself, which at this point seems a sensible idea.
It’s a worry when your second unit shows more initiative than your starters, but that’s what seems to happen with the Lakers on a nightly basis. The bench are more willing to set picks, their feet have some bounce, and when led by the bulky Metta World Peace, they drive at the goal. They have purpose.
Still, none of this represents the substance of a total offense. And much of it has been caused by a mismatch of parts, each new acquisition a lesser version of his true self. For instance, a cumbersome Dwight Howard, a desperate Bryant, an awkward World Peace, and a frustrated Nash. Notably, these personas recently disappeared against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks, teams with paper-thin defenses. Bryant and Howard especially collaborated better in those games. But we need to see it when it counts, and against more formidable opponents.
When all is said and done, it might be Nash who holds the key. He plays the game instinctively. When he’s had success it’s been because he controls the attack, and picks apart the defense, whipping the ball into spaces past rubber-necking defenders. But will Bryant allow Nash the touches he needs to excel? The answer is that he must if he wants to win more. He now has the closest thing to Bob Cousy by his side, a man who given the chance, will slice up the floor and part the lane like his new haircut. Bryant needs to stop whiling away the clock, and quick-triggering as he so often does, and allow Nash to become the team’s glue.