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Lakers are a perfect storm of bad, with no easy way to port

Jan 22, 2013, 2:32 PM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers' Howard, Bryant, Nash and World Peace talk during a timeout in their NBA basketball game against Miami Heat in Los Angeles Reuters

The Lakers have been bad all season.

Frustration with the team — among players and fans — is coming to a head as the Lakers head into a seeming death spiral and it becomes more and more clear that their $100 million roster of superstars isn’t even going to make the playoffs. (It’s not impossible the Lakers still make the postseason, but it’s standing right next to impossible with his arm around it.)

There is a lot of blame to go around — injuries, lack of depth exposed by said injuries, Kobe Bryant‘s shot selection, all the team’s stars, the entire team’s attitude about defense, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and so on. Basically everyone but Lawrence Tanter deserves a slice of blame. The worst part is it has been a perfect storm of problems — every problem seems to exacerbate the next one.

But two targets should be singled out for the biggest slices of the blame pie — Lakers management and Dwight Howard.

And if the Lakers are going to turn this around — even by next season — it will be up to those two to fix the issues.

What to do right is something they can learn by watching what the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat did right (and wrong) in the past five years since they assembled powerhouse teams. Both of them figured it out well enough to win a ring, which is far more than it looks like the Lakers will do right now.

Management issues

Lakers management — Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and the guy making the ultimate calls in Jim Buss — earned a lot of plaudits when they went out last summer and got Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to pair with Kobe and Pau Gasol forming a new super team. And deservedly so, it’s not easy to acquire that kind of talent and ownership was willing to pony up the taxes to pay for it.

But there seemed to be little thought to real team building — what kind of system the team would play, what would work best for the roster, and then being committed to it and getting role players to fit said system.

Instead the Lakers (at the request of Kobe) worked to bring in a Princeton-hybrid offense — something without play calls and the micromanaging Brown brought as coach. The idea was to make Steve Nash the point god and when he got the ball he could decide to fast break, or come up and call for some pick-and-roll action, or he could go into one of the Princeton sets.

When you have that many options at the top of the offense it’s going to take a long time for get guys on the same page and acting seamlessly. The Lakers never came close to that. Guys were clearly thinking and not reacting, combine that with the return just at the start of the season of Howard and other injuries and you kill any chance of the group jelling.  The offense was a mess. And the defense was still worse (and supposed to be Brown’s specialty).

So the Lakers fired Mike Brown.

And went 180 degrees with Mike D’Antoni — a guy who won playing Amar’e Stoudemire at the five, flooding the floor with shooters and letting Steve Nash run the show as fast as he wanted. That was absolutely nothing like the Lakers roster, even Steve Nash is older and slower. The Lakers had two big men who want the ball in the post, plus Kobe and Metta World Peace like the post, also. “Young” and “athletic” are not words used to describe the Lakers roster.

If you learned one thing from watching Mike D’Antoni operate in New York is that the players must fit the system because the system isn’t changing to fit the players. The Lakers knew that and knew they had a mismatched roster for what D’Antoni wanted to do when they hired them — fans want to blame D’Antoni for not modifying what he does but this goes back to management hiring him knowing he was a system guy. Or at least Lakers fans need to hope management knew that.

And how you fix it is two-fold — D’Antoni somehow needs to learn from what Erik Spoelstra did in Miami tweaking his system until he figured out what worked. We can question if D’Antoni is willing to do it, but he has to be unless the Lakers want to totally overhaul the roster. It took more than a season for Spoelstra to figure out his Heat roster could win best with small ball and pressure, but he did, he adjusted and they had a ring ceremony because of it (and while they have struggled at points this season it is more about focus than system).

Also, the Lakers need to move one of their two tradable assets — Gasol or Howard — to get shooters and players that fit the system. If they don’t think Howard will re-sign with them next summer they have to change their stance to consider offers. It’s all on management, they built the roster and they need to get younger and more athletic (see Earl Clark) to make it work.

Dwight Howard’s pivotal role in the pivot

Howard is clearly not 100 percent after his off-season back injury and that is slowing him — he’s not nearly as explosive and he doesn’t cover ground on defense like he did in Orlando. And with Nash at the point and the Lakers bench the team needed the old Howard to shore up their defense and make it respectable.

Instead in recent games he has looked disinterested and disengaged. Rather than learning from Kobe about the fight needed to be a title contender, Howard has gone to blaming teammates and seeming not to get why what is best for him might not be best for Gasol or Nash. Howard is a great pick-and-roll big but he complains he wants the ball in the post more despite Nash. There seems to be little consideration.

Go read Kevin Ding’s fantastic piece on Howard at the Orange County Register. Do it, we’ll wait for you. He lays it right out there. While no player is blameless for the Lakers woes, Howard and his lack of play at the defensive end is the biggest issue on the court.

Howard seems to think he’s in a competition with Kobe rather than really being willing to sacrifice for the team.

Howard needs to look at the players on the 2008 Celtics, who willingly sacrificed stats and changed their role to do what was best for the team.

Howard needs to look at Dwyane Wade and how he learned to play with LeBron James, even if that means deferring to him, to make it better for the team. Howard can be the co-leader of the Lakers with Kobe if he wants to be. But to do that he needs to give not just take.

He can’t just demand the ball more, he has to earn it. Kobe will pass if Howard steps up and demands the rock — and then does something with it. If you watched Howard’s last three games you can’t blame Kobe and Nash for not passing him the rock — he hurts the offense when he gets it and goes half-speed. He has to play fast and hard. And if you’re not doing something positive with the ball, Kobe will be more than happy to shoot it for you.

The things that got the Lakers into this mess were not simple or singular, and with that the fix is not simple. There is no magic bullet. It’s going to take a lot of guys from the front office to the floor making adjustments.

And after 41 games, its time to seriously question if they can.

  1. shaner329 - Jan 22, 2013 at 2:38 PM

    Wait are the Lakers doing bad this season?

  2. echech88 - Jan 22, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    I was a big fan of Howard coming here but I don’t see it working out for him. He’s off to a bad start with the fans and media and it will only get worse. Nobody likes him out here.

    Can’t believe I’m saying it but I’d trade him in the next couple weeks and cut ties. Target guys who fit the system perfectly instead of cramming square pegs in round holes. This season is lost, the trade is a win no matter what since Bynum is a mess. Move on and build a team that suits Nash, Kobe and D’Antoni

  3. raidmagic - Jan 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Did I misread the name of this site? I thought I came to “ProBasketball.com” but it appears I am at “ProLakertalk.com” come on guys there are 29 other teams in the NBA. Feel free to write about someone else once in awhile….

    • cosanostra71 - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      notice how all those stories have between 30-60 comments, too. Feel free to encourage them to write about someone else by not viewing and commenting on the stories if it bothers you.

      • jimeejohnson - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:20 PM

        With your username I’m surprised you didn’t make him an offer he couldn’t refuse!

  4. loungefly74 - Jan 22, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    great article, Kurt.

    i have been part of the group giving some slack to DH due to injury, new system, teammates, etc…but this is interesting. i hope DH sticks around and gives the Lakers a chance.

    the management and D’Antoni are not helping. this may sound ridiculous but i say fire the coach after the season…IF they dont make the playoffs.

    i’m just disgusted with this team.

  5. dannymac17 - Jan 22, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    What is this? The 10th Lakers story since last nights loss?

    • loungefly74 - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      @dannymac17.

      it is. because people (fans and haters) care… did you post on any non-Laker (or Boston) articles recently? i thought so. with this trainwreck…i know you are loving it, right? what’s to complain?

      • dannymac17 - Jan 22, 2013 at 5:06 PM

        Actually, I read every article. When the Lakers are dominating the front page with a stellar 17-24 record then it becomes bothersome.

        I am loving it, but not to the point where the only thing I can comment on is Lakers related.

      • loungefly74 - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:11 AM

        fair enough. im just busting your balls. carry on.

  6. captainwisdom8888 - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I’m thoroughly enjoying the lakers crash and burn season. Highest payroll in the league, and they absolutely suck. If all the lakers fans on this site weren’t such sore losers it probably wouldn’t be as fun… But man they are soft

    Like jello

  7. yousuxxors - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    kobe is declining. … dwight is the future you cant trade him

  8. 1chilla - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    Being a magic fan i love that the lakers losing i was a dwight supporter at once until he demanded to be traded after opting to stay n his contract know all that bad luck has followed him to L.A

    • eerock41 - Jan 23, 2013 at 10:06 AM

      i agree. i too am a magic fan and still support my team even if they are rebuilding. The fact that this is still following Howard is just great. I know he really hated how the press in orlando blamed him for everything, i cant imagine what he is facing in the LA press. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the country Coward.

  9. ph53knowsall - Jan 22, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    You can’t keep a good man down. I guess I have to mind my P’s and Q’s a little better.
    I can be creative though.

    The lakers stink. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving fanbase though.

    Everything I said would happen, did.
    injuries
    age
    no depth
    not enough basketballs to go around.

    This is too funny.

    • jimeejohnson - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:27 PM

      Hargis? How bout them Patriots. Whadaya mean “no”? Signed: fan of Smell-A and Bahstin. Lobstah rolls with avocado. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Magic and Bird. Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait. Golden State Warriors…San Francisco 49ers…World Champion SF Giants. Whaday mean, “LA Kings”?

  10. bucrightoff - Jan 22, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    Hey I’m cool with 60 Laker stories a day. They usually only go with 60 stories a day for something if its a trainwreck.

  11. ludachrisgsx - Jan 22, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    I’m not sure why everyone calls the Lakers a “super team”. Just because they have big names, most of those big names are well past their prime. I know that Nash was still statistically a top 5 PG last season but I’m not sure why anyone thought he would be plugged into a new team and new system and produce the same stats. It’s not that easy. Kobe is still playing at a high level but he’s obviously not as athletic as he used to be, and he’s trying to do too much on help defense, which ends up hurting the team. The Big 3 or 4 is made up of one young guy who is still recovering and has proven he’s not all that more mature than the big man he’s replacing, and the rest are older guys that have had a major drop off in production outside of Kobe.

    There is not enough youth, athleticism or diversity in skill sets on this team. They cannot get out and run at all. Howard is looking more and more like a guy that you might not want to build around, and both Kobe and Nash will have nothing in the tank come the end of the season. Pau is still one of the better big men in the league, but can’t adjust his game, making his contributions almost worthless to the team. Artest is playing well, and oddly enough, might be one of the only bright spots on the team outside of Kobe. But he’s near the end of his career too.

    This was never a super team. The plan was to land Howard and build around him next year, and gamble on Nash in hopes of possibly winning in the short term was they rebuild – showing Howard that the team is serious about surrounding him with talent. What Buss didn’t realize is that Howard just might not be the right guy to build around. And that the other pieces don’t really fit well, including the role players they brought in. Problem is, not much they can do until the offseason, and realistically, it won’t improve much until Kobe’s and Pau’s contracts are up. Then they’ll have some major cap room. Maybe then Kobe signs a new cap friendly contract and becomes more of a role player and defers to Howard and the next guy that gets paired with Howard, maybe he just retires. Maybe Howard doesn’t re-sign after all this turmoil. Lots of question marks.

  12. cowpiesnotcowboys - Jan 22, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    I’m loving watching the train wreck. All those soft bandwagon fans who only cheer for winners crying their eyes out. Cowboys continued irrelevance in the NFL, Lakers missing the playoffs. Now we just need to see the Yankees have a losing season for the trifecta!

    • jimeejohnson - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:28 PM

      Cowpies not cowboys? That’s a good one.

    • badintent - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:52 AM

      yankees losing season ? not gonna happen in our lifetime. But Jays will be fun to watch this year., not enough starting pitching to knock the Yankees off their perch

  13. spthegr8 - Jan 22, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    Well Jimbo, I hope you are happy. Are you ready too hit the panic button now????? This is what happens, when you let your personal feelings get in the way of business. GOOD business decision’s are made with your mind and not your heart. He is DETROYING the Lakers!!!! & D’antoni SUCKS!!! Look @ his rotation’s, the way he refuse’s too feed the post, the way he ramble’s about NOTHING in his interview’s.. He seems too be more LOST then the players. A good coach adapt’s his system too the stregnth’s of his players. NOT trying too make a team that should POUND THE BALL INSIDE, play small ball. & I LOOOOVE how ALL of the sudden, Pau just SUCKS….!!!!!! REALLY??? REALLY??? REALLY??? He ISN’T being used correctly AGAIN…… For the 2nd year in a row!! If you think Pau can’t still play you are out of your GORD!!! Just watch the gold medal game from this summer’s olympic’s. When he was used correctly, PLAYING in the POST!!!! He CHEWED T. Chandler!
    Jimbo will have us in the draft lottery B4 you know it!!! SMH……FML!!!!!

  14. bobthis - Jan 22, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    The last team the Lakers had that played any defense at all had Michael Cooper on it. Good players don’t always add up to a good team. It’s getting old watching the ESPN gang trying to figure out the problem. It’s really simple. Bad coach and bad team effort. I feel very bad for Kobe who leaves it all on the court every night even when Dantoni has him chasing 22 year old guards up and down the floor. Memo to Kupcheck “Do your job!”

  15. hannsta - Jan 22, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    “Rather than learning from Kobe about the fight needed to be a title contender, Howard has gone to blaming teammates and seeming not to get why what is best for him might not be best for Gasol or Nash”

    Id say he is learning great from Kobe then! Switch Howard with Kobe, and Nash with Howard in that sentence and you get an entire new, probably more accurate picture of the problem. I seem to remember the headlines on your site of “Kobe calls out Gasol” “Kobe ‘Needs help from rest of team’ ” “Kobe 10-32 as Lakers lose to terrible team”. Was I sick the days Howard said that stuff?

    • cosanostra71 - Jan 22, 2013 at 6:00 PM

      You must have missed the headline yesterday where Kobe said this season has been entirely on him, that he has been playing poorly and that the team needs him to improve.

      • hannsta - Jan 22, 2013 at 8:21 PM

        Ah yes the ONE, after hundreds where he slams teammates where he says “Ya im doing everything right, the 30 shots I took were all good looks, the shots just weren’t falling”. That’s not taking blame…that is blaming bad luck.

      • cosanostra71 - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:41 PM

        No, if you read Lakers’ game recaps you’ll always hear him talking about his blame in losses. He is the leader of this team, he knows it.

      • hannsta - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:43 AM

        I guess I just think that in a team full of stars, most of which were used to being THE name of the city they were in, none can take the “its all on me” or the “Im doin what I can, now everyone else needs to step up” attitude. You are dealing with 3 MONSTER egos. What they say to the public is 1/8 of their real ego. Simply… if Howard is going to be happy, him and Kobe have be equals on the team…with Kobe taking 30 shots and him taking 5 you cant blame him for being annoyed. At this point in their careers they are pretty much equal in talent but Kobe wants all the blame, all the spotlight.

        Idk I think the main problem with the Lakers is balancing these beastly egos.

  16. observingii - Jan 22, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    Overload of Lakers stories = Ray Lewis swan song stories.

  17. BigBeachBall - Jan 22, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    Lot of virgins here…

    • jimeejohnson - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:30 PM

      Folks who have not got fracked by the Lakers. Count the Boston Celitcs and James Harden out!

  18. vandam0710 - Jan 22, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    Kobe should just go to the Clippers….. they made a huge mistake letting Lamar, Bynum & Fisher go… now what have they got… still got Gasol, lotta good that does, and how about that superman they got, not quite so super is he…. Nash… still got alot of proving to do… I feel bad for Kobe, no “team” for him to play with, its so sad to see this all spiral out of control, and Mike D… come on, is he really any better than Mike B???? What has he done to pull these guys together?? if they dont get thier S*** together Kobe’s going to go look for somewhere else to win championships… management sucks… they all need a smack upside the head!

    • cosanostra71 - Jan 22, 2013 at 11:45 PM

      Yes, because Bynum and Fisher have been so successful since they left the Lakers.

  19. ron05342 - Jan 22, 2013 at 7:38 PM

    Or at least Lakers fans need to hope management knew that.

    Yeah, well…

  20. davidly - Jan 22, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    What to do right is something they can learn by watching what the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat did right…

    Firstly, the Celtics brought in a 31 and a 32 year old all-star to go with their 30 year old all-star, none of whom were coming off of surgery, let alone major back surgery.

    D’Antoni somehow needs to learn from what Erik Spoelstra did in Miami tweaking his system until he figured out what worked.

    Like having two guys who can steal or block at will and fire it to the other guy at the other end of the court for a highlight alley-oop in every single game?

    Howard needs to look at Dwyane Wade and how he learned to play with LeBron James, even if that means deferring to him, to make it better for the team. Howard can be the co-leader of the Lakers with Kobe if he wants to be. But to do that he needs to give not just take.

    Did I read that right? Maybe Wade would tell him, “What you gotta do is play with a beast who dishes first, yet scores at will and shoots over 50%.”

    Come on, Kurt. Howard may not be perfect, but he is leading the league in rebounding and third in FG%. With Nash on the team, anybody would expect the bulk of the offense to be run through him.

    Anyway, I don’t think the comparisons are apt. LA went from champ to bust in two seasons. Miami and Boston were moving the other way around.

    • jimeejohnson - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:34 PM

      Celtics are a model of inconsistency. Pierce is not playing well, and the bench has not stepped up. Celtics are actually a mirror image of the Lakers, as usual. Crab roll with avocado. Jerry West and Bob Cousy. Dodgers and Red Sox!!!

  21. gostlcards5 - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    Well written article. I have not watched any Lakers games this season, so I cannot tell you if I agree with your assessment. Sounds feasible to me, though. I was a big Howard fan, but he proved himself to be quite the immature guy as he tried to usher his way out of Orlando, only to decide to stay, then usher his way out again.

  22. abchome - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:59 PM

    Anyone has half decent mind knows that Mike NoD’Antonio is the worst possible fit for the Lakers roster. Old n Slow playing Run n Gun? Jim Bust called it, Lakers fans embraced it, Media shoe shined it…It’s a disaster bound to happen!

  23. ph53knowsall - Jan 22, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    Just a fan of the Celtics….not from the east coast…sorry to burst your bubble.

    You’re wasting your time with the baseball/football garbage.

  24. cornbreadbbqred - Jan 23, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    I was banished from ESPN Laker Talk more than a year ago for accusing Mitch (athletic)Cup-Check or being a meat puppet for Buss the Younger (who I accused of needing to lose a chromasone his sister must own), and pointing out that Mike Brown more resembled a carmelized Bert or Ernie Muppet than a championship caliber coach when they hired him.

    The wheel came off then with that hire after refusing to accept Phil Jackson’s input in roster decisions (Exhibit A– Pau and Bynum), and an insistence to have more decision making in future trades and acquisitions were he to continue after the debacle in Dallas (recall Phil in Gasol’s chest during that one, and Bynum’s statesmanship).

    The answer to Phil’s concerns about retooling was to insult him with a pay cut, and to send him packing, when he should have been the rebuilding guidance this organization so sorely needed.

    What we rightfully should have witnessed was Phil getting his wish to have more manegerial sway in the organization, and the bringing in of Byron Scott, who was then and still should be the heir apparent as coach of the future Lakers. This could have been effected if the front office did not declare no confidence and low level warfare on Phil’s contributions to the Laker legacy. Who could have been a better protege and successor to Phil’s system than Byron Scott? Phil Jackson as heir apparent GM, and Byron Scott as heir apparent protege coach (a la Riley and Spoelstra in Miami) could and should have happened.

    So the wheel came off, and that train uncannily managed to careen uncannily careen forward and remain deceitfully upright on one rail like a wayward top long enough to slam into the Staples Center like the west coast Sandy. You couldn’t a scripted a more perfect storm.

    The only upside is that dumping Bynum is one less of many decisions left to clean up the mess.

    Who should go? Cup-Check, Buss the Younger, Howard, and Gasol. Who should stay? Everyone else as the rebuilding core. Phil and Jeanie will do fine with Byron Scott, who is worth every penny it would take to buy him out from Cleveland. Then they could use genuine basketball wisdom to retool with a younger supporting cast, and do the Laker fan-base the dignity of supporting this franchise’s noble legacy of which this last year and a half they have so sorely been deprived.

  25. Andrés Garcia - Jan 23, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    This has been a good lesson for the casual NBA fans. The importance of having a good and suitable coach cannot have escaped anyone who has watched this Laker team. Hopefully, the amount of people claiming that Phil was overrated is now a bit smaller.

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