Is it time for the Lakers to panic?

Sean Highkin Roar Rookie

By Sean Highkin, Sean Highkin is a Roar Rookie

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    On Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers played host to Dwight Howard’s former team, the Orlando Magic.

    It was the superstar centre’s first time facing the team for which he played the first eight years of his career since the messy exit he orchestrated this past summer.

    And given that the Magic are firmly in rebuild mode and sorely lacking in elite talent, it should have been a convincing win for the struggling Lakers.

    For the first three quarters, it was. However, in the fourth quarter, LA’s defence fell apart, giving up 40 points to the Magic, who ultimately pulled off a shocking 113-103 victory at the Staples Center.

    It was just the latest in a long line of setbacks for what was supposed to be a powerhouse team. The Lakers’ struggles this season are well documented. Following a 1-4 start, they fired head coach Mike Brown and opened discussions with legendary coach Phil Jackson, who won five titles with the team between 2000 and 2010.

    However, somewhere along the line, the team decided instead to hire former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. He seemed to be a perfect fit for their roster, especially given his previous success with Steve Nash.

    But Nash has yet to play for D’Antoni, having broken his leg in the second game of the season. Backup point guard Steve Blake is injured as well, and isn’t expected to return until January.

    In addition, D’Antoni and big man Pau Gasol are clearly not in sync. Gasol has been sitting down the stretch in close games since D’Antoni took over, and has publicly voiced his displeasure with his role in the new, shooting-heavy system the coach wants to install.

    There has been speculation that the Lakers will move Gasol before the February trading deadline, and it may be a wise move given his poor fit in their new offense. But it won’t be easy. He’s making $19 million in this season and next, and at 32-years-old, that’s a lot of money for a team to take on, especially while giving up the kinds of assets the Lakers would want in return.

    It seems, also, that Howard still hasn’t fully recovered from the back surgery that kept him out of the playoffs in Orlando last season. A three-time Defensive Player of the Year and perennial MVP candidate, Howard is the kind of player who should, in theory, make a defence better simply by being on the floor.

    So far, his effectiveness on both ends has been off from what was expected of him before the season. He occasionally shows flashes of the man who has rightly made a reputation as the most dominant centre in the league, but he’s been far from the consistently game-altering force we’re used to him being.

    Aside from the underwhelming defence, the biggest problem by far for the Lakers has been their depth. Jodie Meeks, touted as a steal in free agency for his shooting ability, has barely seen the court. Antawn Jamison is well past his prime and not nearly the offensive weapon he once was.

    With Nash and Blake out, the point guard position has been turned over to a combination of Darius Morris and Chris Duhon, neither of whom are capable of contributing for extended minutes.

    The one unqualified bright spot this season for the Lakers has been Kobe Bryant, having arguably the most efficient scoring season of his career at age 34. He’s shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range, both career-best marks. He’s scoring 116 points per 100 possessions, also a career high.

    D’Antoni’s offense hasn’t benefitted anyone else on the team, but Bryant has absolutely thrived. However, he won’t be able to save the season alone.

    The returns of Nash and Blake will help the Lakers’ offensive production, but they will solve far from all of their problems. Neither are great defensive players, and even if they were, the team’s issues on that end run deep enough that getting two players back wouldn’t solve them.

    Depth is still a major issue, and the questions of Howard’s health and Gasol in general still loom large. There is plenty of time for them to figure this out, and it’s still smart to assume they will before the start of the playoffs. But something has to change.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • December 5th 2012 @ 5:02am
      Johnno said | December 5th 2012 @ 5:02am | ! Report

      No way. The LA Lakers franchise are so rich, they can almost buy there way out problems, and can so easily trade players, and find quality ones, as so many players would love the opportunity to play for the LA Lakers. So showtime for many years to come overall, even if this season ends up being a write off, but they could still trade there way back to success this season, as the NBA is 82 games and you can get away with mid season slumps or early season slumps. And come play off time , no one will want to face a in form La Lakers, and in the play offs you play the best of 7 games so your fine to make some stuff ups as you get chances to make up for lost ground.

    • December 5th 2012 @ 9:21am
      mushi said | December 5th 2012 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      People keep saying that and yet they’ve salary dumped in the past due to luxury tax as rich people tend to want to stay rich.

      Back of the envelope on those Forbes numbers they only make roughly 11 to 12m after tax – I suspect the actual number to be a higher than that given the synergies for the forum etc.

      Now if the Lakers run the same payroll they are running now (which is already US$5m more than factored into the Forbes valuation or US$10m after luxury tax) in 2013 their tax bill increases by US$25.1m (their entire operating profit), and if they run the same payroll again in 2014 the tax bill will be US$40.5m more (70.5!) than the current year!

      Those numbers are actually a little deflated as the escalators in the contracts of Kobe, Gasol, howard and Nash will outpace luxury tax threshold escalation. Trading Gasol, unless it is a salary dump for expiring contracts, also doesn’t work as his trade kicker means you’ll have to take back more salary than his existing contract.

      The good news is if the Buss family is willing to pour cash in like Dolan if it is a sure fire path to a championship. But that brings the bad news and scope for panic – if this current amalgam of all star talents can’t get it done then there will be lots of questions asked in 2014 when they have a chance to shed salary (and talent)

      • Columnist

        December 5th 2012 @ 11:49am
        Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        Mushi, you know I’m a Lakers, and therefore can be accused of bias when it comes them.

        Here are my thoughts though: I have not been worried at any stage so far this year. Once I reconfigured by expectations after getting a little over-excited in the pre-season, I settled into a belief of not worrying about their record until the new year. The Miami Heat started their first season with the big 3 at 10-11 at one stage, and still stormed into the finals. Different team, I know, but it does show the importance of concentrating on the end result.

        However, the Magic loss rattled me. That was really poor, and highlighted many issues. I accept that the team will still take some losses until they get settled, but there is still no excuse to lose to a team like the Magic. Even allowing for their issues, they should pump the Magic.

        If they lose to Houston today, I’m raising the panic stations from a 2/10 to a 4/10.

        And I really hope they don’t panic trade Gasol, because I think the Nash/Gasol partnership needs time to develop, because their high basketball IQ is a dangerous weapon.

        • December 5th 2012 @ 11:59am
          mushi said | December 5th 2012 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          Oh the “panic” button shouldn’t be hit until we see this season play out but I think the they have so much money they don’t care argument has been proven false by their actions in the past and that was before they were staring down a wage bill (including luxury tax) of more than US$ 175m.

          • Columnist

            December 5th 2012 @ 12:10pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

            Actually, you could make an argument that they care more than any other team in the league.

            • December 5th 2012 @ 4:23pm
              mushi said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

              I wouldn’t go that far… the Sun used to have an ebay account set up to sell their draft picks.

              • Columnist

                December 5th 2012 @ 4:32pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

                I meant they care about winning more than any other team in the league.

              • December 6th 2012 @ 8:13am
                mushi said | December 6th 2012 @ 8:13am | ! Report

                Sorry I was more going by the argument they don’t care about the money.

                They’ve done salary dumps before which suggests they will pay for a title but not for the playoffs.

        • December 5th 2012 @ 3:50pm
          ThelmaWrites said | December 5th 2012 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

          Yeah, Kobe has endeared himself to Gasol thus: “He should put on his man-pants! He should just adjust.” Even if it were true, to get it on CNN is mighty embarassing to Gasol.

          • Columnist

            December 5th 2012 @ 4:04pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

            They’ve got that type of relationship though. They’ve dissed each other in public numerous times over the years. It seems to be how they operate.

            • December 5th 2012 @ 4:40pm
              ThelmaWrites said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

              Sorry, I don’t follow much basketball. Why is Gasol still with the Lakers?

              • Columnist

                December 5th 2012 @ 4:45pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

                Well, the rumours are that he may not be for much longer! And they did trade him once, only for the league to veto it!

                But he’s a great player, has a high basketball IQ, has won two championships, and has respect for – and from – Kobe (despite their spats!), so unless you’re getting some great in return, it would be silly to trade him.

                He’s also earning approx $18 million a year.

              • December 5th 2012 @ 4:56pm
                ThelmaWrites said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

                Sorry, Ryan, you got me started. (And I’ve got boring work: tidying my files – I have 5 filing cabinets in the house.)

                But where would Gasol be considered a fit?

              • Columnist

                December 5th 2012 @ 5:04pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

                HAHA! Avoiding the filing?

                He’s getting on in age, and he wouldn’t come cheap due to his contract, but there would still be plenty of interest for Gasol, I would imagine.

                Houston have always liked Gasol, and the Boston Celtics would love to get their hands on him. And considering his passing skills, he’d fit in with Miami, though they don’t have much to offer back in a trade (assuming they want to keep Bosh).

              • December 6th 2012 @ 8:32am
                mushi said | December 6th 2012 @ 8:32am | ! Report

                Teams that Gasol would be a fit on is basically any team that could use him as a post scorer/facilitator and let someone else bang centres for part of the game.

                Tornoto and Boston are kind of fits as both would like a banger to help out. I think Bargnani was perhaps born to play alongside Howard and would make the lakers a better team despite being an infinitely worse baller than gasol. But then Toronto is stunting the growth of Valanciunas so hopefully they aren’t that stupid.

                I could see the Bucks, the Wizards, Phoenix, Charlotte, Cleveland and the Magic all benefiting on court but either the paucity of assets they could send back or the resulting cap position makes it pretty difficult to see them going down that route.

                Chicago would benefit greatly…but the lakers wouldn’t as they’d just be getting back Boozer plus floatsam, and boozer ahs the same core strengths as gasol, just not at the same elite level.

                Philly would be interesting as paired back up with Bynum they’d cause some havoc but what do the sixers send back?

                So You’ve got Houston, as Ryan mentioned, who have a defensive specialist that would work well with Gasol.

                NOLA, in exchange for Howards running mate Anderson + Aminu and dross, would actually be a decent fit if the Pelicans are willing to spend some cash. I actually think it would help out Davis immeasurably playing alongside a guy like Gasol.

                Big issue is you need to send back a ton of salary as you need to bare minimum match gasol’s base 19m.

                Then there is the knicks – I can get ti to work conceptually but really only dolan is going to pay for Amare’s contract right

              • December 6th 2012 @ 9:44am
                astro said | December 6th 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report

                The trade that seems most reported is Josh Smith and Kyle Korver for Gasol.

                A Horford/Gasol front court would be a good fit, while Smith works perfectly for D’Antoni’s system as he allows the Lakers to spread the floor and run more effectively.

                Smith is also good buddies with Dwight…

                But would Atlanta want to take on Gasol’s contract so soon after dumping JJ???

              • Columnist

                December 6th 2012 @ 10:49am
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 6th 2012 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                Josh Smith would give them a little bit of everything that they need: athleticism, perimeter defence, interior defines, shot blocking, etc. He’s also a good rebounder. And Korver would bring some much needed spacing, via his shooting – along with slightly improving the bench.

                If the Hawks could throw in a back-up point guard, I think the Lakers would be silly not to look at it.

                But a team with World Peace and Josh Smith would be a gamble – that’s a lot of head cases!

                And as much as Gasol appears the odd man out at the moment, I’d be loath to trade him. He’s super smart, tougher than he gets credit for, and is willing to sacrifice his stats for the good of the team. On the flip side, he’s 32, on $18 million, and isn’t fitting well at present.

                If I was the Lakers, I’d wait for Nash to return, because he’s the key to getting everyone involved on offence, and the partnership of Nash and Gasol would combine two of the smartest players in NBA history.

              • December 6th 2012 @ 11:38am
                mushi said | December 6th 2012 @ 11:38am | ! Report

                It gets repeated a lot in the media but I just don’t understand why.

                For the laker’s Smith’s fit is horrible. He can’t spread the floor ‘cause he can’t shoot. He’s a career 66% free throw shooter and sub 30% from deep.

                From mid range he’s been a 36% shooter over the past three years compared to Gasol being a 44%. Basically for floor spacing he’s a complete train wreck.

                He does his best work flashing to the basket ,either ball in hand or on a cut whilst Horford, a genuine floor spacing big, drags his man out of the paint. I struggle to see how he and Howard co-exist cause no one is going to cover either of them when the move to mid range to offer the other space.

                The biggest benefit it gives is that defences is they are now in two minds as to foul howard or let Josh jack up 18 footers.

                If they grab Smith they essentially will give D’antoni a roster where neither of his starting bigs can hit a mid range jump shot. I’d be more inclined to go for Horford if I was the Lakers because the one small difference in his game to Gasol is the Dirk like mid range jumper which would slot in perfectly

                For Atlanta it also doesn’t make sense: Gasol and Horford are similar players you look at their production the last three years and Gasol is essentially the 110% version of Al Horford with his additional length allowing him to post slightly higher board and block percentages. The only slight difference in their game is Gasol is able to get better positioning for more looks inside whilst Horford has been more effective from mid range.

                Plus Atlanta have a sliver of hope that if the lakers experiment doesn’t work, howard gets the blame his logical landing spot is Atlanta with his mate Smith and then they can use their assets to fit pieces around them.

              • Columnist

                December 6th 2012 @ 11:43am
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 6th 2012 @ 11:43am | ! Report

                I don’t disagree with any of that Mushi, but I think those looking at it from a positives point of view probably don’t envisage Smith being a focal point of the offense like he is in Atlanta. He’d basically be a garbage man, getting offensive rebounds, cutting to the hoop and having Nash find him, etc. So his offensive limitations would be well hidden.

                Again, that all relies on Nash being healthy though.

                But Smith would certainly help their defense.

              • December 6th 2012 @ 12:17pm
                mushi said | December 6th 2012 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

                Problem is Ryan even if you aren’t running plays for him why would anyone cover him away from the paint?

                If teams are able to just sag a big defender right off Smith then you can’t run really run the pick and roll as the staple of your offence because the help defender is already there begging Nash to give it off to osh Smith (no J). Steve Nash’s life insurance is probably voided if he’s forced to run the pick and roll with Howard and smith on the court at the same time.

                I actually think Smith is a better player as a focal point because if you design plays that allow him space against another 4 or get him cutting to the basket he’s effective. Smith in LA instantly becomes and much worse player.

                I also just can’t see smith, being dialled in on the defence end under the dual baggage of no shots and d’antoni’s commitment to defence. He’ll give you weakside help – but you’ve got the best help defender in the league already – all the time but playing good D on his man or within the system hasn’t always been his strong suite when he’s not engaged.

                Would he be a plus over Gasol at that end? Sure, especially if engaged, but the catastrophic damage he will do to the offence isn’t worth it in my mind. You would essentially be looking at a team that couldn’t run it’s own system.

                I also find it odd that there is patience for letting 38 year old Nash come back to fix the offence but no patience to allow the younger Howard to play himself into shape and change the defence. Remember orlando was an effective defensive team without any really decent defenders.

              • Columnist

                December 6th 2012 @ 12:31pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 6th 2012 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                Mushi, I’m on record as saying I’d prefer the Lakers kept Gasol, so I’m just communicating the reasons why the Smith trade has been mentioned, not advocating it.

                However, I can comment on the patience aspect with Howard vs Nash though, and it comes down to perception. Howard has a reputation for being a coach killer, lazy and a bit of a goofball. Nash is seen as a hard worker, a professional and team first.

                So whilst Nash gets the benefit of the doubt and patience, Howard is under a microscope, and whilst he should probably be commended for playing ahead of schedule, the baggage he brings means he’s overly scrutinised (possibly unfairly).

                And when teams are fouling you 5 or 6 minutes before the end of a game, you’re even further under the microscope. Especially when you miss more than you make, and the team loses

                Fair? No, probably not. But it’s the reality.

    • December 5th 2012 @ 1:40pm
      melo-drama said | December 5th 2012 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

      Maybe the win now mentality is backfiring maybe we are all making mountains out of a mole hill, I’m not too sure after Kobe’s comments in the post match interview that everything is hunky dory between the players though. Lakers arent 20 games in and they arent really playing great team ball however they have had some very good wins which is probably realisticly where they should be with all the new pieces……

    • Columnist

      December 5th 2012 @ 2:41pm
      Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

      I just watched the last 3 minutes of today’s game. I won’t ruin it for anyone that wants to watch it tonight.

      What I will say is that the Lakers can’t win the championship the way Howard is shooting free throws. Simply can’t.

      • December 5th 2012 @ 3:51pm
        melo-drama said | December 5th 2012 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

        They won with Shaq and that is equally as cringing how bout dat Wizz?

        • Columnist

          December 5th 2012 @ 4:03pm
          Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

          The difference is that Howard has never been as dominant on offense as Shaq was.

          Howard’s career average is just 18ppg, with a career high of 22ppg in 2010/11. By contrast Shaq averaged between 26 and 29 points for ten straight seasons in his prime. A lot of games were over by the time you could employ Hack-a-Shaq. The current Lakers don’t have that luxury.

          They also don’t have the luxury of subbing him out either, because there is no depth, and the defense is bad enough with him out there, let alone not.

        • December 5th 2012 @ 4:16pm
          mushi said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

          Also offensive efficiency was lower back then so putting a 50% free throw shooter on the line was suicide.

          • Columnist

            December 5th 2012 @ 4:19pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            And the Lakers aren’t exactly adept at getting stops now, so teams will happily go 2-for-1 (or less) on possessions with them down the stretch.

            • December 5th 2012 @ 4:51pm
              melo-drama said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:51pm | ! Report

              Lakers were in the bonus wit 5 mins to go in the 4th against the Magic and the magic just sent howard to the line…… insta win

              • Columnist

                December 5th 2012 @ 4:56pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

                The Rockets did the same today. With 4 minutes to go, they failed Howard every time Lakers got possession, even in the backcourt.

              • December 5th 2012 @ 5:06pm
                melo-drama said | December 5th 2012 @ 5:06pm | ! Report

                Thats why the writers were sayng the magic exposed dwightmares biggest flaw…. houston also exposed it 🙂 all you need to do is look at the play by play

        • December 5th 2012 @ 4:41pm
          melo-drama said | December 5th 2012 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

          Lakers wot winif they give up on defence in the 4th quarter

    • December 6th 2012 @ 10:31am
      astro said | December 6th 2012 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      Can’t say yet that its “time to panic”. Without Nash on the floor, it’s too early to tell what to expect from LA.

      But there were always question marks about their age and their bench. Just read Ryan’s pre-season article on the Lakers and even as a Laker fan he recognised those limitations, so its not surprising that these factors are causing problems.

      I think what is more concerning as time goes on with this team, is that the pieces just don’t seem to fit.

      Gasol needs more space around the basket to be effective with his low post game (hence why he played so well with Odom), but with Howard there, he’s left shooting mid-range jumpers and doing little else.

      Nash/Blake/Morris etc are all sub-par PG defenders in a league with incredibly strong PGs. Against Parker, Westbrook, Paul, Williams etc they provide little to no defensive resistance, meaning opposing PGs are running riot against the Lakers. Just look at the last two games – Tony Douglas scoring 22pts last night, and the game before Nelson going for 19 and 13.

      And Jamison is too slow to be effective at SF at his age, so the Lakers have almost no back up for Metta, leaving them vulnerable at the 3 spot against guys like Melo, LBJ, Gay, Pierce etc

      All this points to a trade and Gasol seems the odd man out. The big question is who they could get in return, and would that be enough to get the Lakers on track and encourage Howard to re-sign?

      • Columnist

        December 6th 2012 @ 10:54am
        Ryan O'Connell said | December 6th 2012 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Astro, I actually mentioned it above, but I wouldn’t panic too much, or trade anyone, until Nash comes back. Whilst he certainly won’t improve the defence, he will make life a lot easier on offence. The Lakers are basically operating without a point guard at the moment, and few teams in the league could motor along without their chief playmaker.

        The Lakers are struggling, no doubt. But before they make another major decision, they need to see what Nash can/can’t fix.

    • December 6th 2012 @ 12:10pm
      ohtani's jacket said | December 6th 2012 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

      The road schedule for the rest of this month is a killer given how poorly the Lakers have played on the road, but barring injuries I can’t see anyone beating Miami this year.

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