The high-profile Hollywood experiment in Laker land has been anything but glamourous during the season’s first month.
Los Angeles, and its star-studded but disjointed cast, has stumbled out to a 9-10 record, backing up each disappointing loss with another internal storyline.
What’s gone wrong? Can it be fixed? How does it affect the Thunder? We asked our experts:
1. What’s the biggest reason for the slow start?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Too much talent and not enough leadership. Steve Nash is the best leader on that team. And he’s injured. Kobe Bryant rarely has been a great team leader. Dwight Howard seems to like having fun more than leading. Pau Gasol doesn’t fit the description. And don’t get me started on Metta World Peace. Mike D’Antoni walked into a tough situation in which team chemistry just doesn’t appear to be there. Not to mention he’s now trying to get players to play his system rather than adapt to them, meaning he might be as much a part of the problem as anyone else.
John Rohde (beat writer) - Pau Gasol’s health and confidence. He needs to start burying mid-range jumpers. He’s a career 52-percent shooter who is shooting 42 percent and has tendinitis in his knees. That’s not a good combination.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - The Lakers’ biggest problem is a total lack of continuity. Let’s see. They’ve had three coaches already this season. Brown, Bickerstaff, D’Antoni. They’ve got a brand new point guard, who lasted two games before getting injured. They’ve got a new superstar center who has to figure out how to play with the all-star center who has been having to play power forward. They’ve got new role players. And they’ve got Kobe Bryant looking around, saying, where am I and what has happened? Until the Lakers find some continuity, we’ll have no idea how they can play, other than poorly.
Anthony Slater (sports blogger) - Cohesion. You guys mentioned it. Three coaches with entirely different systems. Three starters (Nash/Howard/Gasol) with lingering health issues. And one star (Kobe) who’s leadership ploys include calling you out in the media and giving you the death stare after innocent mistakes. It’s been a bad fit made worse by bad breaks.
2. Do you see the issues getting fixed?
Mayberry - Some of the on-court issues will get ironed out. How? Simple. Time. The Lakers need time to establish chemistry and rhythm. Because of Mike Brown’s firing, this current staff is coaching on the fly, without the benefit of a full training camp and now limited practice time. You can’t expect things to be a work of art right now. As for the long term health of some of L.A.’s players, well that’s another issue.
Rohde - Steve Nash returning from his leg injury will be huge, but it primarily revolves around Gasol. If things don’t change with him pronto, one of those famous Pau Gasol trades might actually happen and the Lakers would still be scary with the right complement of role players. Imagine stretch-4 Ryan Anderson with the Lakers. Now that’s scary.
Tramel - I think it’s a longshot, just because of age and square peg/round hole issues. Does Nash have the weapons to run D’Antoni’s offense? Does Kobe fit in the D’Antoni offense? We know Gasol doesn’t fit in the D’Antoni offense. It’s a mess.
Slater – The most important player on this team, and in this Mike D’Antoni system, is Steve Nash. That includes Kobe. Nash is the pilot to this offense, the experienced leader who actually knows how to lead the right way. He’s played two games this season, none in D’Antoni’s system. Get him back, get Gasol healthy and get Dwight Howard to hit his free throws. Then we can see if this disgruntled group of veterans has what it takes to challenge the West’s elite.
Better NBA player: Pau Gasol or Serge Ibaka?
Mayberry - Right now, Ibaka. But that’s because Gasol is hurt and hasn’t been as productive as in years past while playing in a system that isn’t designed to play to his strengths. But Gasol didn’t just all of a sudden turn into a bad player. He’s still more talented than Ibaka offensively in every aspect and on the glass. If I was starting a team, I’d pick Ibaka. But if I wanted to win a championship this year, with all things being equal (health), I’d choose Gasol.
Rohde - Serge Ibaka, but Gasol’s English is much better.
Tramel - Serge Ibaka is a better player than Pau Gasol, and that’s no skin off Gasol’s nose. Ibaka is a wonderful player. An emerging scorer with a high field-goal percentage, plus a good rebounder and a world-class shot blocker. Ibaka is better than most NBA players.
Slater – In their current states, no question it’s Ibaka. He’s playing out of his mind this season, the best basketball of his life, while Gasol is middling in the corner with bad knees and an offensive philosophy that doesn’t fit him. But if you got Gasol out of LA, in an offense built around his skill set, Gasol is still the more unique talent. Use the Spanish national team this summer as an example, when Gasol was the unquestioned star and leading scorer while Ibaka was an energy player off the bench. Despite being in different stages of their career, both are great. But one is being improperly used.
4. Fact or fiction: If the Lakers click, they are OKC’s biggest threat.
Mayberry - Fiction. The Clippers, Grizzlies and Spurs remain the biggest threats to OKC.
Rohde - Fact. If the Lakers ever fully click, everybody run for cover — including the Miami Heat.
Tramel - I’m going to say false, because I don’t think they can click at a high level. It’s a bad combination of talents and personalities and ages. I think the Grizzlies, Spurs and Clippers are the class of the West outside OKC.
Slater - Fact. They’ve got an incredible collection of individual talent. So if it clicks, it’ll be scary. Problem is, that’s a mammoth ‘IF’ that grows bigger by the day.