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The Laker Problem
The Lakers season was doomed from the start. Seeing them get swept by the San Antonio Spurs was an act of mercy. They needed to be put out of their own misery after a miserable season that fell way short of the Laker way. They went winless in the preseason, fired coach Mike Brown after five games, and made their biggest mistake by hiring Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson to coach the rest of the season. They then limped to a 7th seed and got easily bounced out in the first round.
There are so many things wrong with the Lakers that it's a little difficult to find somewhere to start. I'm going to try and start with the fact that even before D'Antoni got hired, this team had no chemistry at all. That had a lot to do with injuries. The full starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard only played together 19 times out of the entire season. It's close to impossible to develop good chemistry with guys that are injured and out of the lineup every other game. Combine that with the kinds of injuries suffered and it makes the future of this starting five grim. Steve Nash is 40 years old and has hip problems, not good for a guy already on the downside of his career, and Kobe tore his Achilles tendon which will be a nightmare for someone at his age, 34, to come back from. I believe that he will attempt to come back and be his old self, but whether or not he'll be back to his standard of excellence remains to be seen. The truth is that he probably won't get back to the dominant player that he has been for his entire career. That won't be enough for a guy like Kobe. If he's not who he's supposed to be then it might be the wise decision to just retire rather than waste the remaining years of his career being just another guy. I hope Kobe can come back and be the Hall of Famer that he is, but it's doubtful at this point.
That brings me to Mike D'Antoni, the guy that ran Kobe into the ground by playing him nearly every minute of every game despite an injured ankle suffered towards the end of the regular season. A Laker team with Kobe, Nash, Pau, Metta World Peace, and Howard as the starting five should be a championship contender. If your coach is someone like Phil Jackson, who's the master of managing superstar egos and getting the most out of those egos, then you stand a pretty good chance. However, when you start the season with Mike Brown whose first season in Los Angeles yielded a playoff team that got to the second round, but failed to be the contender that they're used to being, you're already off to rocky start. He was pretty much doomed from the start just like the Lakers were and they mercifully fired him five games into the season. The logical thing to do would then be to call Phil and give him as much money as he wants to come back and work his zen magic again, but owner Jim Buss couldn't take his own ego out of the situation and dissed Phil in favor of D'Antoni. The season was over as soon as they made him the coach. His system consists of running up and down the court for fast break points, sacrificing defense in the process. That system was never going to work with a bunch of starters in their thirty's and a big man coming off of major back surgery. The Lakers were a team tailor-made for inside the paint dominance with their bigs and Kobe being the dominant Jordan-like hall of fame basketball assassin that he is.
On top of his system not fitting the personnel, he displayed flagrant disrespect as soon as he walked in the door. His first target was Pau Gasol, who he criticized for poor play when he had him playing outside of his game. Gasol is a post player and D'Antoni had him shooting jumpshots from the wing all game long. You can't have a player doing something that's not part of his game and then criticize him when he doesn't do it well. Then he benched him and criticized him some more when people questioned the decision. Then, at the end of the season when Kobe chimed in on twitter about what he was seeing out of the team during their series with the Spurs, D'Antoni brushed him off and said he's just a fan right now. Kobe Bryant probably knows more about basketball than D'Antoni does and everything he said was right. They should've been getting the ball inside to the bigs if they wanted any shot at winning anything. However, according to D'Antoni, he doesn't know anything and he's just a fan. D'Antoni's major problem is that he thinks he knows more that anyone else around him. He and Jim Buss need to look in the mirror and check their egos if they want to have any success in the future.
All the talk of ego finally brings me to Dwight Howard. The best center in basketball since Shaq cannot get out of his own way to save his life right now. He ruined himself in Orlando by lying and being wishy washy the last couple of years he was there and he ruined himself in LA by being mopey, whiney, and immature, especially in game four against San Antonio where he got himself ejected for acting out on the court. He might as well have done what Andrew Bynum did against the Mavericks a couple of years ago and body checked someone out of his uniform. We all understand that the season has been frustrating, but some of it is your fault because you couldn't find a way to play with Kobe. I will not be surprised at all if Howard takes less money to go somewhere else just so he can get out of LA. If this is how Howard is going to act as a supposed leader, then the Lakers need to seriously consider if he's worth paying max contract money. The problem they face is that with Kobe's injury clouding his future, they might not have a choice but to convince him to stay in LA that way they can save face with the fans and at least have something to build around. If they keep him then they shouldn't keep D'Antoni because Howard doesn't fit with his system. They should get rid of him, Jim Buss should put aside his ego, and they should beg Phil to come back to instill some much needed wisdom in Howard.
Unfortunately, ownership has already said that they're keeping D'Antoni, so that theory is out the door unless someone gets wise. The next few years are gearing up to be long and hard. It looks like the Kobe Bryant era of dominance has come to an end.