Whatfs Wrong with the Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers have to be the biggest conundrum | therefs really no better word | in the NBA. For virtually every other team, what you see is pretty much the reality. Bad teams play poorly except for an occasional big game or two. Good teams play well except for the once-in-a-while stinker. Teams in the middle are average, rarely beating the top teams but rarely losing to the bottom teams.  The Lakers, on the other hand, have a history of being very hard to read.

The Lakers have had abysmal moments and yet won titles the same year. The Playoffs of the last years are evidence enough. Two years ago against Houston, fans and media alike were wondering what the Lakers were made of. The Lakers woke up and showed everybody. Last year, the Lakers struggle at first against Oklahoma City. In particular, Kobe Bryant looked so bad some commentators were saying he was over the hill. Both years the Lakers had earlier moments where everyone was predicting they would waltz to a title.

So here are some answers to the question gwhatfs wrong with the Lakers (now)?h

1) The Lakers are too old.

In recent weeks two former Laker greats Jerry West and Magic Johnson have accused the Lakers of being old. West backed down from his remarks saying he was speaking generally about NBA teams and everyone just assumed that he meant the Lakers, but Magic was clear: gWefre playing old. Wefre looking old,h he said.

The fact of the matter is that the Lakers are old. Only four players on the current roster are under 30 and two of those are rookies who get virtually zero playing time. The most important of them, center Andrew Bynum, is 23 but has often been injured. Reserve guard Shannon Brown is 25 and shows some promise.

2) The Lakers are playing on gtired legs.h

The Lakers have been in three straight NBA Finals and it starts to wear on players legs and fatigue according to pundits. One could say ghey, what about the old Celtics who won all those titles. How come they didnft get tired?h

Good question. In 1969, when Boston won its 11th NBA title and appeared in its 12th final in the previous 13 years (missing out only in 1966 when the Philadelphia 76ers won the East and the NBA title), the Celtics played four sets of back-to-back-to-back games (Nov. 15, 16 & 17, Jan. 1, 2 & 3, Jan 10, 11 & 12, and Feb. 21, 22 & 23), but the Playoffs started March 26. They consisted of only three rounds. Game 7 of the Finals was on May 5. In other words, the Playoffs lasted about five weeks.

Last season the Playoffs started April 16, included four rounds (of potentially 7 games each), and ended with Game 7 of the Finals on June 17. Three extra weeks.  So, yes there may be something to this talk of tired legs.

3) The Lakers have worn out mentally.

See #2 above. Playing four rounds of seven-game series where every possession and every game can be crucial is mentally draining. eNuff said.

4) The Lakers are tuning Phil Jackson out.

They say every coachfs message starts to get old. Maybe. Jerry Sloan hasnft had any problem. Maybe Phil Jackson needs to be more old school and tell his players gitfs my way or the highway.h

On the other hand, if he did that strictly, Kobe Bryant might be one of the ones on the highwayc

Phil has a tough job motivating his players game after game after game. He says hefs had enough and this year is his last. Maybe he has read the writing on the wallc

5) The Lakers are missing a (key) piece.

Is this the cause or the result of all those trade rumors? Laker fans and media have to be the most impatient, perfectionistic in the league. Yes, Pau looks gsofth or even out of it some night. Yes, Derek Fisher has trouble staying in front of smaller, faster PGs. Yes, Ron Artest can get into funks at times. Yes, as good as he has been, Lamar Odom has attention span problems and makes key mistakes at inopportune times.

Yes, the Lakers could use a shooter along the lines of a Ray Allen.

6) The Lakers have lost their team chemistry.

In 2004, the Lakers coasted to the Finals where the star-less Detroit Pistons embarrassed the Lakers with team play. The Pistons were nameless, each cog playing the role he was supposed to play without asking for glory. They played the game, as their coach Larry Brown said, gthe right way.h

Sure Karl Malone and Horace Grant were hurt, but the real breakdown was Kobe hated the way Shaq wasnft playing defense and started jacking up shots. Or, depending on whose side you listen to, Shaq got tired of Kobe jacking up shots and stopped playing defense. Either way, there was a schism on that team, a fault line that no one outside the team was aware of until the teamfs meltdown in the Finals.

Could that be what wefre seeing here? The team tends to stand around a lot when Kobe starts to take over as if they are thinking gwell, if hefs going to do that, therefs no need for me to try very hardch  (Of course, it could be that because they are not trying very hard that Kobe starts jacking up shotsc)

Conclusion

The Lakers have been there and done that before. Pau will play harder, with more resolve, in the Playoffs. Because the game slows down significantly at Playoff time, Derek Fisher becomes much less of a deficit defensively and because he ups his offensive game, he is often more valuable than opposing PGs in the Playoffs. Likewise, Artest will pick his game up when it counts.

Somehow the Lakers seem to thrive of being unpredictable when such behavior usually spells doom for a team.

This doesnft mean the players arenft tuning out Jackson or that there isnft some hidden fracture of the team chemistry | or some other problem | that will doom this yearfs Lakers, but we wonft know exactly what it is until that day arrives.