As of Wednesday, February 27, the Los Angeles Lakers sit three full games behind the Houston Rockets while vying for the eighth seed in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Currently sitting on the outside and looking in, LA has to be considered the greatest disappointment of the NBA's regular season.
The NBA has become a superstar heavy league and the trend seems to point toward trying to assemble a small core of of the league's top talent at the expense of a deeper bench. After watching this year's Lakers, we have learned a bit more about the trend.
One does not simply expect a stocked starting lineup to immediately overshadow the need for depth and coaching.
Let's compare their situation with how the 2013 Lakers have come to be.
OKC struck gold on three lottery picks in the draft—Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden—and have since been able to manipulate their personnel to become the foremost team in the Western Conference.
Its lineup now includes a rising power forward in Serge Ibaka, quality defensive center Kendrick Perkins, guard depth with sharpshooter Kevin Martin and defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha.
Miami's formation is a bit closer to the idea behind Lakers'—some would say exactly the same—with a different twist.
Miami landed LeBron James, and at some point he alone was going to bring home a title. With two teammates still near the top of their primes in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron's team gained enough versatile athleticism to win it all. They eventually did so in 2012 after a character building Finals loss the year before to the Dallas Mavericks.
Now think back to the Lakers.
It is still safe to say that their conceived starting lineup consists of four future Hall of Fame candidates. Yet, a few things stand markedly different from the success tales of both OKC and Miami.
Three of Los Angeles' four stars are over the age of thirty, quite unlike the pure youth power that the Thunder pulled directly from the draft.
Because of the age of Kobe, Gasol and Nash, none of the three hold quite the same trade value that James Harden did last summer.
While Bryant has been nothing short of spectacular at most points during the 2012-13 campaign, he cannot do all of the things that LeBron can do for Miami. This is mostly evident on the defensive end, where James can defend any position on the floor with skill and success.
So what is the takeaway for GMs and NBA fans?
In my opinion, it may be a few years before anyone really catches up to Oklahoma City or LeBron. However, LA's plight has been closely—excruciatingly closely—covered to the point where everyone sickened by the preseason hype has gotten a fair return for their patience.
Two Quick Side Notes
1. Kobe Bryant is making guarantees. That's right folks, according to Royce Young of CBSSports Kobe has not only promised a playoff berth to LA but also proclaimed his confidence once they arrive there.
If Bryant and Co. were somehow to reach the playoffs, they'd be a very interesting first round draw for OKC. Just sayin'.
2. There is still enough time left in the season for Coach Mike D'Antoni's team to pull off a comeback. With 24 games left to play, a quick turnaround would add a very interesting storyline to the approaching postseason.