In the aftermath of the Lakers loss to Memphis, there is considerable discussion going on about what is up with us.
Bad coaching (now from TWO coaches), bad system, no Nash, Pau Gasol, Kobe, Howard, the bench?
What ails this team so far in the early going (but getting a little beyond early).
Well, one thing may have been a remark by Jerry West in this weeks Sports Illustrated reported by Dan Patrick.
He asked West if the expectations for this team is too high. Wests verbatim answer: Way too high. The Lakers have names, and names don’t win championships. When I look at this team, I see flaws.
Well the vernerable West is echoing the same sentiments I did about this team months ago. My concerns were clear. You take a team that got unceremonously bounced from the playoffs, and bounced hard, and trade one very good center for another, in my view, not much gain if at all, then bring in old players, bad defenders to a team that already had old players and bad defenders, and Im not seeing the creation of the Super Team that was so touted by fans and media. And when you don’t see an appreciable addition to a piss poor bench, well, exactly how much better is this team than the one that got bounced the last two years?
As Mr. West said, I see a flawed team. And so far, under two coaches, thats exactly what they look like.
It is interesting to see the blame game start to shift to the likely suspect, Pau Gasol. After all, who will blame Kobe or everyones savior Howard? So the finger of opprobrium will inexorably turn to our little flower.
And play like a flower he has. But what did we expect? He has played like a flower for two years now. Did we think all of a sudden some strong, powerful man of steel would emerge for us this year? Pau is Pau. We know what he is.
Pau was not expected to lead us this year any more than he has the last two. The FACT is, it is Howard who was supposed to lead us, to be the difference maker in Kobe getting his sixth, seventh, eighth, nineth and tenth rings. Just ask so many here who panted and begged for years to get Dwight here.
Now its early yet, but as I said before, not that early anymore. And we can start to see the outlines of Dwights game. No, not the ESPN highlights where every time he got on the floor he was this amazing god you couldn’t score on, or this man with the stamina of a deer and the heart of a lion who never had a bad game or never had a game where he didn’t hustle.
Now as we watch him every game, we see the real Howard, the mortal man, warts and all. And now, instead of playing in Orlando, he plays here, in Bynums exact shoes. And there is a certain difficult formula to doing that.
Because on this team, the center will not always get all the looks and touches he may like. Kobe does love to shoot, especially near the end, as he did against Memphis in going 7 for 22. And like Drew, Howard is now learning that there is certain formula to playing with Kobe. And that formula says, Kobe does as Kobe wants and you have to live with it and learn to excel in other ways. Because there is no other way here.
And so far, Howard has not really done it any better than Drew has. And while Drew had his own problems of his own making, aside from playing here, so does Howard, as we are learning first hand.
He can’t hit free throws to save his life, or this teams life. Contrary to popular belief and ESPN mythology, he does not run the floor like a deer on every play. He is not some unstoppable wall underneath as a plethora of players marching to the Lakers hoop has testified to all year.
And like Stu Lantz, the long time NBA announcer and former long time player said tonight, he has never seen a player get stripped of the ball as much as Howard does. Not to offend any Howard patrons here or anybodies sensibilities, but maybe Dwight should watch some film of..um..well..Drew, to learn how to hold the ball up and not get it stripped.
So far, Dwight Howard, now stripped (no pun intended) of his ESPN highlight invincibility veneer, looks so much more mortal here. Like his predecessor: A very good, flawed center.
And unfortunatly, given what happened to us the last two years, he must be much more than that for us to become champions. He will have to approximate the mythological Howard of ESPN and so many Lakers fans fantasies for us to be champions. Because being a clone of Drew, not exactly like Drew, but in the end, so very similar because of his own flaws, will not be good enough for this team to overcome its other flaws.
And now of course, the excuses start. The offense is not geared for him. Well, in what team with Kobe Bryant on it will it geared for the center? Did not Drew cry for more touches? Did not his proponents say the offense was sadly, not giving a man of this talents enough chances or plays run for him? The same cries from Howard proponents now are the same rehashed ones we heard for years from Drews.
And like with Drew, the bottom line with Howard is this: He will only get so many plays run for him. Like Drew, he will have to learn how to function in this new Lakers team. And if he doesn’t learn how to function much better than Drew did the last two years, on both sides of the floor, we can all forget about a ring.
The year is young, but not so young any more. And we have a new coach. And we all await the return of Steve Nash to change this for the better, to wave his 38 year old magic wand and cure our ills.
But in the end, our ultimate fate just may be a function of this reality: That on this team, Howard is really not much better than Drew, not nearly as good as we need. That our bench is still lacking way too much. That our defense is pretty much the same as it has been. That Kobe, Jamison, Metta, Nash and Pau are too old and faded to climb up that long hard mountain one last time, pulling the weight you have to.
It could just be as Jerry West said. There are flaws. Too many flaws.
But the season is young. So there is still hope. But just not quite as young as it was.