If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that things change.
They’ve changed quite dramatically since I wrote my now embarrassingly gushing ode to the 2012-2013 season:
The Lakers started the season 1-4 prompting Mike Brown’s sudden dismissal; the head coaching job was essentially Phil Jackson’s and is now likely never to return (while Jim Buss runs things); Mike D’Antoni was hired to the dismay of many, many critics. On Dec. 26, the Lakers find themselves only one game over .500.
The Lakers were a mess. It turned out Mike Brown’s attempt at a new offensive system didn’t work. Meanwhile, defensively, the team was, um, miserable. The players were miserable. You could see it on the court in their effort and play. Players didn’t know where to be on the court. “The pieces weren’t fitting,” we were told.
Throw in the part where fears of Steve Nash getting injured were fully realized and you’ll get the coaching fiasco that erupted five games into the season.
[There’s no need to rehash the Phil Jackson situation. Long story short: I wasn’t thrilled. However, I reminded myself that the final season under Jackson wasn’t that great either. As defending champions, the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. The team looked slow, uninspired and lacked defensively even then. Maybe Jackson’s methods wore thin on a roster that had heard it all before? Maybe opposing coaches caught up to Jackson strategy-wise? Who knows. Spilled milk.]
The Mike D’Antoni hiring was interesting to say the least. (I didn’t want him as coach specifically for the whole “no defense” thing.) I too was “all in” on Jackson returning. I had talked myself into Nate McMillan as a possible candidate, but that never fully materialized.
Much of the talk was that the Lakers would play a more uptempo style and bring back the “Showtime” style of game. The question was, “How?” The roster is old and aging, while other coaches and teams have already adopted elements of the fast-paced D’Antoni style into their own offenses. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, and the Clippers come to mind. The D’Antoni system isn’t unique. A transition three-point shot and fast break is what all the contending teams do well already. The aging Lakers would now have to learn a new offense in the middle of the season while awaiting the return of a 38-year-old point guard? Good luck.
Defensively, D’Antoni’s teams aren’t known for it and if “defense wins championships” why hire him in the first place?
In 18 games with D’Antoni as head coach, the Lakers are 9-9 and it took the latest five-game winning streak to get there. They had looked pretty rough over that time with the low-point being a four-game losing streak that ended with consecutive humiliating losses to Cleveland and New York. The Cleveland game was probably the low point of the season, but in all honesty, there are several candidates for that.
- Steve Nash’s return to the lineup has seemingly brought a sense of cohesion to the offense – one of the five best point guards in NBA history will do that – albeit at a YMCA pace. It’s clear that Nash is still trying to get back into playing shape and that will take a few more games. I’m OK with this as long as Darius Morris sees the bench more than the floor.
- Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are looking like they have a purpose on the floor again. Gasol’s passing prowess should only benefit Howard. It helped Andrew Bynum after all. There could be issues with both being unable to work the paint while on the floor together, but they’re two of the best forwards in the league. Why wouldn’t they be able to make it work? Nash feeding the ball could make it work.
- There are still things that can change, but the last two victories – an overtime win versus Golden State and the Christmas Day victory over New York – are positive signs. The Lakers came back from being down and held up defensively in the final few minutes.
I’m optimistic and that says a lot considering where the team was not too long ago. There will still be challenges over the season, but for now, there’s reason to believe things are on their way to what was expected of the team considering their roster.
But as always, circumstances may change.