“When America sneezes, the world catches cold.” That’s a variant of what Klemens von Metternich wrote about France during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s.
In the same vane, when the Los Angeles Lakers are under-the-weather, all of basketball feels a tad queasy.
With his title in tow, LeBron James may be the contented face of the NBA and other clubs can surely pack a punch, but if there’s an America’s Team on the pro hardwood circuit it has to be the men in purple & gold of southern California.
Don’t like the Lakers as NBA standard-bearer? Tough noogies. Find another team that‘s done their fans as proud as have the Lakers over past sixty years and you can complain.
Celtics had a good run there but have fashioned just one title (‘08) since ‘86; the Knicks’ drought is so long it raises concerns over climate change; Bulls will milk the Jordan / Jackson legacy dry, content waiting on good fortune to land in their lap again; and only time will tell whether the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and the myriad of contender / pretenders that pop up every decade will make the long-term investment standard-bearing requires.
Whether it was the Yankees, Maple Leafs, Packers or Gophers football and their 6 national crowns that provided the template, I don’t know. What I do know is that when the NBA set-up shop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1947, the new ownership created a strategy for success that’s remained in place as long as any other franchise in all of sportdom.
From those early days when original superstar George Mikan carried the frozen Lakers on his back (‘49-50, ‘52-54), to the Baylor / West era, Wilt’s arrival and first golden title in ’72, Kareem‘s return, then the magical ride of Earvin Johnson & friends to the Jacksonian Era (Kobe), LA’s foray into the NBA has been great for its fans and good for the game.
As of this writing LAL’s record stands at 15-18. Not in full funk yet but starting to give a faint feeling of futility.
The numbers tell a tale.
Kobe Bryant’s putting up points like Michael Jordan was pre-Phil (30.5), bidding time while he and everyone around him tries to find their bearings.
Pau Gasol’s numbers are down (8.5 REB / 12) as he adjusts to the new arrivals and bears-up under the constant talk of trade.
Prize pre-season pick-up Dwight “Pip” Howard of the “Great Expectations” has seen his offensive boards ebbing low (3.7) but overall puts up respectable digits (12 REB / 17+).
The other half of Lakers surprise off-season haul, Steve Nash, is rounding into form (8.2 APG / 10.2) since returning from a leg injury that had him sidelined from tip-off. The challenge: Is there a power-sharing or does Nash take charge and direct the flow?
Team tallies: Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.8) but just four spots up on NBA worst Charlotte (103.8) in points allowed (100.5), in the top-half of FG% (45.3), near the rear in FT% (69) but just behind leader Golden State (46+) in all important RPG category (45.8).
Recent coaching changes have taken their toll on continuity, chemistry and confidence.
Mike Brown’s firing felt like panic, Kupchak & Buss’ flirtation with Phil Jackson smacked of a bad, discount chain, shoe-store interview in Green Bay and current mastermind Mike D’Antoni’s record is spotty: solid in Phoenix, so-so in NYC.
It’s too easy and a bit lame to blame their current malaise on “old” age (Bryant). A likely motivational move by their team-leader but not carefully crafted when it comes outta’ the mouth of one of the NBA’s aging war-horses (34).
Kobe may’ve signed-off on the D’Antoni hire to show Steve he’s team-minded and fully-vested in his addition to the Lakers’ roster. If yes, a classy move by KB but complicated when Jackson was also in the mix. Phil’s too savvy to demand the sun, moon and stars from Buss, though, certainly had every right to do so given his credentials and the State of Lakerland at the time, a state it’s not all together clear has improved much.
But the Lakers have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with Mike D., for the rest of this season. There’s still plenty of time to turn this thing around and make the playoffs, where anything can happen and often does in today's wild & wacky sports world.
I see an intelligent, experienced Lakers’ team, deep in talent and guided by a skillful coach, all of whom, through some calculated trial & error, need time to make the proper adjustments. More specifically, better defense, fewer 3-pointers, more inside game, protect the ball (15.5 TOG) and concentration when at the charity stripe.
A season can take on a feel, a mood where either it keeps clicking or instead stays out of sync. This Lakers’ squad may need more than one season to gel, more time to flavor that broth that too many cooks can spoil if not of the same recipe. The new-fangled Miami Heat of a few years back had a better record to this point than Kobe’s crew but also needed their own time to find a cohesiveness and style for success.
Words to the wise: I’d get my licks in now when opposing these Lakers because when they do hit their stride, watch out NBA.
The Solid State