Oklahoma City Thunder: Are the Lakers contenders or pretenders?

Los Angeles comes to Oklahoma City with a 9-10 record and a host of issues. While the jury is still out, there's no question this team thus far is not a squad most envisioned the Lakers would be when they reloaded in August.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 6, 2012
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photo - Fans greet Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) as he walks off the court after an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to surpass 30,000 points. The Lakers won 103-87. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH107
Fans greet Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) as he walks off the court after an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in New Orleans, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to surpass 30,000 points. The Lakers won 103-87. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) ORG XMIT: LAGH107

The Lakers are not who we thought they were.

Or are they?

We're a quarter of the way through the season and we're still not exactly sure.

And that's the problem.

Los Angeles comes to town for Friday's game against the Thunder with a disappointing 9-10 record and a host of issues, problems that leave you no choice but to wonder whether the Lakers are contenders or pretenders.

While the jury is still out, there's no question this team thus far is not a squad most envisioned the Lakers would be when they reloaded in August.

“They're still the Lakers,” said Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha.

Historically, that means they'll be in the thick of things at season's end. Friday, though, they appear to be nothing more than a middling mired in mediocrity.

“They're still one of the best teams,” insisted Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They made a coaching change. They're still trying to work their way through the transition, but they have some of the best players in basketball and the 9-10 record is not who they are.”

So who are they?

At the moment, the Lakers are an injury-plagued bunch searching for an identity.

Steve Nash has a fractured fibula. Pau Gasol has tendinitis in his knees. Dwight Howard still is working his way back from a back injury.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are adapting to a new system under coach Mike D'Antoni following the surprising firing of Mike Brown five games into the season. It's an adjustment period that has afforded the Lakers the benefit of the doubt while they learn a new offense on the fly. Nash is supposed to be the conductor of that offense, but he's missed the past 17 games and it's unclear when he'll return.

“It's early in the year,” said Kevin Durant. “They're a really good team. They've got so many champions. They've got so many great players. So they're going to turn this thing around pretty quickly.”

Durant, however, admitted that he's among the many who are surprised the Lakers are just 9-10. The Thunder, though, seems determined to not get caught sleeping on a slumping team.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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