It’s happening again. Actually, it’s been happening all season, but it’s one of those “rock bottom” moments once again for the Lakers:
Dwight Howard looks depressed and can’t get anything going offensively.
Steve Nash looks okay offensively, but can’t guard anyone on defense.
Kobe Bryant–despite a highly efficient season–hasn’t had his usual offensive firepower, and often takes too many shots.
Metta World Peace’s individual defense has looked solid, but the offensive production he displayed at the start of the season has waned.
Pau Gasol’s role and production have been inconsistent, as has the Lakers bench.
Mike D’Antoni keeps talking about defense, but nobody really believes he even knows what it is.
Earl Clark has been a pleasant surprise, though.
As a team, the Lakers look collectively worse than any individual flaw; the defense is horrible and the team can’t seem to close out wins.
In fact, the team has put themselves in “winnable” positions over their latest stretch of bad losses, but they simply can’t tighten the defensive screws late in games; and additionally have either horrible plays or poor execution down the stretch.
All of this is fixable, in my opinion.
Sure, maybe a trade–whether major or minor–may be needed to shake things up a bit and help jolt this team, but it would be in an effort to provide a mental jolt.
You can’t tell me that a team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash–all of whom have repeatedly led their respective teams deep into the playoffs as the sole leaders of their previous teams–can’t even make the playoffs. Not to mention Pau Gasol and then Ron Artest, who each had their respective playoff runs as leaders of their previous teams as well.
The problem here is simple, but extremely complicated at the same time: It’s a Catch 22.
The chemistry and defensive cohesiveness is completely off with this team, and it will continue to be that way until the team starts winning.
Similarly, until the team starts winning, the chemistry and defensive cohesiveness will be completely off.
Unless the Lakers can somehow collectively change their mentality and dig out a string of four to five wins, the team is going to continue to struggle.
I don’t see that happening right now, though. It’s gone on for way too long, and hasn’t been resolved yet.
Therefore, something needs to happen.
It’s unfortunate because the team has all the talent in the world, but until something changes, the team will likely continue to struggle.
So what needs to change, exactly? Honestly, for once, I have no concrete idea.
The overall culture and mentality has to change–I will point out that obvious piece of advice.
Maybe the team needs to consider a big trade. Management has shopped Pau Gasol for two seasons now, but maybe trading Dwight Howard–who hasn’t looked like Superman all season and could leave at the end of the season–should become a more pressing option.
Perhaps the Lakers could make a minor trade or pickup to help spur the team and spark some energy.
Or, perhaps the coaching staff and management could consider hiring some extra help, say, in the form of Nate McMillan–as I had recently suggested in a previous article.
Regardless of what the Lakers choose to do or not do, I still have faith that this team can make the playoffs and once there, go as far as they want.
However, the team is simply stuck in a rut right now, and the mentality has become toxic and turned into the norm.
The Lakers are stuck in a Catch-22 where they won’t begin to play well together until they can get wins, and they won’t get wins until they can play well together.
Something must be done in order to fix this team’s bad habits and inconsistency, whether it’s a physical change such as a trade or something as simple as a “players only meeting.” In either event, the mental aspect of this team has to change one way or the other in order to get on track.
As for finding a way to succeed, this team was built much too well and with too much potential for them not to.