Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Western Conference Preview: The Los Angeles Lakers—Too Big to Fail?

Yeah, I saved the Lakers for last.  They’re probably the best team in the NBA–and definitely the most interesting. Why?  Because they have the most head-cases. And not just spread evenly over the 12-man roster, but no fewer than four in the starting lineup.

That’s right, Steve Nash is not a head case. Ah, but he’s never played with the Lakers before.

The question of whether or not the Lakers are “Kobe’s team” has already come up, with several Lakers weighing in for the benefit of a relentless media. How much deference must Nash and Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol, for that matter, pay to Kobe Bryant and the notion that it’s his team? Remember Steve Blake’s miss on a final shot in last year’s playoffs?  The controversy was about whether taking that shot was a lapse in propriety. The last shot is Kobe’s, right?

And that’s exactly what Steve Blake was thinking when he took that last shot, and that’s exactly why he missed. Shooting is all about confidence and Blake didn’t have it because…Kobe takes the last shot.

Blake took a lot of heat for that miss. Here’s a question for Mike Brown and for Kobe: If you don’t trust Blake to take the last shot, why is he on the floor?

Fans of the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are surely whistling in the dark if they are telling themselves that the Lakers haven’t gone past them with the addition of Dwight Howard and Nash and a few key bench players.

All the Heat and the Thunder and the rest of the league can do is pray each night before getting tucked in that the Lakers will Fail to Mesh because of The Clashing of Egos. That is the rilly rilly big question and no one knows the answer. We do know that the potential is there for it to happen.

Steve Nash is not as fast as he used to be, but no one is as fast as Nash used to be. Having great players around him will re-start his career. And Nash will reciprocate by getting the ball to them where and when they want it.

Kobe should have another great season blah blah. The only question is, will he engage with his teammates, even the Steve Blakes of the world?  Of course he will be overplayed again. How Brown handled Kobe last year is player-abuse. Too many minutes, too much playing hurt.  And it’ll happen again.

Pau is the most intriguing of the head-cases. Reminds me of Hamlet, trying to fit in with Hotspur. That would be Kobe. Pau is nearly unique—a 7-footer with great high- and low-post moves, a fine passer who can hit the perimeter shot and is a good foul shooter. Yet he’s never been a go-to guy for the Lakers. First he was a second-banana to Kobe, then a third banana to Kobe and Bynum, and with the acquisition of Howard, Pau goes to fourth-banana. Pau is going to have to transcend all of that and have a good year.

Howard, when healthy, should energize the defense but his offensive role is still uncertain. Once Mike Brown figures out how to use him I think Howard will become a better player with the Lakers. He’s never played with anyone as good as Kobe, Pau or Nash. The Lakers are looking hard at either C Robert Sacre from Gonzaga (the 60th and last player drafted) and C Greg Somogyi (listed at 7’3”) to back up Howard. If they don’t work out, especially if Howard misses a lot of games), Pau will probably be asked to play center until order is restored.

The bench, spotty last year, is improved, especially on the frontcourt. Antawn Jamison, who played with the Cavs for the last three years on a $40 million contract, was signed for the veteran’s minimum. Jamison can score and is a good offensive rebounder and, except for a single season in Dallas a decade ago, he’s playing on a good team for the first time in his 17-year pro career. The guy must be ecstatic, and based on that I figure he’s gonna be a very good bench player this year. He’ll probably be the main backup for SF Metta World Peace. Devin Ebanks will also be in the mix.

Jordan Hill, who came out of nowhere (the Knicks and the Rockets, to be specific) to earn a nice 2-year $7.1 million contract, will back up Pau and occasionally Howard. Earl Clark is another good rebounder looking for playing time.

Finally, Kobe has a legit backup in former 76er Jodie Meeks, signed to a 2-year, $3 million deal.  And Chris Duhon will probably be an improvement on Steve Blake as Nash’s backup, though all of that is vague. Then there’s Darius Morris, who hasn’t seemed ready. Ideally, you’d like a better backup for Nash than the ones the Lakers have on their roster.

It might be funny watching these Lakers trying to fit into Mike Brown’s version of the “Princeton offense.” Look, when you have a bunch of future Hall of Famers, you create an offense that fits those players’ skills. You don’t fit those incredible and various talents into any system. Of course, superior talent will win under any system. The success of the Bulls and the Lakers under Phil Jackson had nothing to do with the Triangle offense. Those teams would have won championships playing any offensive system, or no system, for that matter.

Teams like the Thunder and the Spurs, who made very few personnel moves, will hit the ground running. They will have an early advantage over the Lakers who have so many question marks. And it will take awhile to mesh. The only important goal is to be peaking next April.  If they are, no team can beat them.

Only the Lakers can beat the Lakers.

Tags: Dwight Howard Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mike Brown Pau Gasol Steve Nash

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