I remember this time last year really, really well. The Lakers had just made the shrewd acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, and Tinseltown was prematurely taking its place back at the top of basketball.
The Lakers were the newest superteam, chosen by all the pundits to challenge the Miami Heat in the 2012/13 NBA finals.
Exactly one year later, the Lakers finished behind six teams in the Western Conference, and were swept out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.
Who would’ve thought it?
I’ve written articles on how I think the wrong coach is coaching them, but that doesn’t matter. It’s clear now that the superteam formula is not a shoe-in for success. Dwight has moved cities to Houston, and all of a sudden, the same pundits have thrust the Rockets into contender-ship. Interesting.
First, let’s look at why the Rockets are in with a shot this year. They have a superb starting line-up. Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard and you’ll most likely see a bit of Omer Asik at 4. Enough said.
At their best, they can challenge for one of the higher spots on the Western Conference. That’s something. The oldest players in the starting line-up are the twin towers, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik. Both at 27, they still have plenty of basketball left in them.
And with Kevin McHale with the clipboard, no stranger to a strong frontcourt, he will be able to nurture the relationship between Houston’s new twin towers. If Jeremy Lin and James Harden can share the ball-handling duties so that they can maximise their play (and if Chandler Parsons can keep defying the odds), Houston can really challenge for the Larry O’Brien.
But if only basketball were that easy.
We saw the hype around a superteam fizzle last year, and we may see that again this year, on arguably a less talented team.
Despite leading the league in rebounding last year, Dwight Howard had a relatively quiet year. A back injury constantly held him back (no pun intended), and he was unable to produce at his superman-like levels.
Even Pau Gasol, who statistically had his worst year on record, put up a better PER at centre than Dwight – even after sitting out 33 games.
The other half of the LA connection that was brought in the previous off-season was Steve Nash. Everyone had predicted that Steve and Kobe might have a bit of trouble balancing the ball-handling duties, but it turned out there was no such problem.
Nash played almost less than Gasol, sitting out almost half the season. When he was in, however, he averaged below career numbers in both scoring and assists. Either way, the Lakers ended up with a rather surprising 45 wins and 37 losses, and a sweeping out of the playoffs in the first round. And if the entire league didn’t sit up and take notice, they should have.
This past Lakers’ season has made it clear that there is more to success than having good players on the roster. And while this won’t deter any team from chasing the big stars of the league (and it shouldn’t), what it should do is to take more care.
Be prepared for an uphill battle no matter who’s on your team. Houston – be careful of yourselves this season.