It's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers have struggled this season, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
Their 103.4 defensive rating ranks 16th in the NBA, trailing virtually all of the championship contenders L.A. was thought to be competing with heading into this season.
Steve Nash said their bad offense is what led to bad defense (on @twcsportsnet )— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) February 15, 2013
It's of little surprise that the offensive-minded Nash would like to direct attention away from an area that has plagued him throughout his NBA career.
But how much truth rests behind his statement?
The Lakers' 15.8 percent turnover ratio ranks tied for 16th in the NBA, and has certainly exposed this franchise to a number of fast-break chances for their opponents. While some of the league's best teams have struggled in this category (the 39-14 Oklahoma City Thunder rank second-to-last with a 16.2 mark), the aging Lakers don't have the athletes to make up for their lackadaisical ball control.
But clearly, the 25-29 Lakers have more pressing concerns than the team's offensive identity.
For starters, they'll have to first work through a mentally exhaustive week leading up to the Feb. 21 trade deadline. With no guarantees from Dwight Howard on his future in L.A. forthcoming, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak will have to gamble the team's immediate and long-term future on the team's ability to keep Howard from being a one-and-done Laker.
While the passing of the deadline may bring a bit of relief to the franchise (assuming Kupchak holds true to his word and does not trade Howard, via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times), it won't be that mythical reset button that both Howard and coach Mike D'Antoni have been searching for this season.
Thanks to numerous oversights from the front office, the franchise is approaching disaster mode. (Assuming, of course, it's not already there.)
Howard's public transformation from giddy superstar to a quiet, wounded warrior is reminiscent of LeBron James' first season with the Miami Heat. Only James' Heat team was wildly successful, and the King's biggest detractors were outside of the organization, not within it.
Howard wants the keys to the franchise (and the offense) and Kobe Bryant isn't willing to simply hand them over. Especially not when Howard has yet to show the on-court dominance needed to play that leadership role.
Bryant needs to see more effort from Howard, and from all of his teammates really. The five-time champion knows what kind of a grind lies in front of them, but also knows that the team is running out of time to show the effort needed to push this team further ahead in the playoff hunt:
What does Kobe want his teammates to focus on during the All-Star break? "Just focus on how bad you want it and how important this is"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 15, 2013
There's also the enormous front office gaffe of hiring D'Antoni instead of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson that the team must confront.
No, they won't fire D'Antoni (not the season at least), and the bridge to Jackson may have been forever burned. But they still have to find a way to make sense out of their fantasy-dream, reality-nightmare roster under the direction of a coach who looks more frustrated and confused by the minute.
This isn't the same Nash that D'Antoni succeeded with in Phoenix during the mid-2000s, and it's certainly not the same perimeter threat surrounding Nash.
But there are some semblances of hope that Nash, D'Antoni and the rest of the Lakers can make this thing work, even if "work" doesn't mean championship like we all thought it might.
Howard is built for D'Antoni's system, which highlights his freakish athleticism and masks his lack of any offensive creativity in the post. The obvious caveat here is Howard has to be both healthy (which he's not) and willing to extend the same defensive energy on nights where the ball isn't coming his direction (ditto).
Nash is right about the offense's struggles with turnovers and long rebounds from bad shots putting undue stress on the Lakers defenders, but how does he not mention the team's atrocious energy level in transition defense?
Of course, those transition defensive lapses wouldn't be quite so detrimental if the team had a better defensive showing in the half court set. Nash is still a defensive liability, Metta World Peace doesn't have enough athleticism left to still be an elite defender and, while Bryant has shined in some on-ball showings, he's fallen asleep off the ball.
The offense is a mess, Nash is right about that.
But it's the biggest threat of keeping the Lakers out of the postseason for just the third time since the 1975-76 season.
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