The Los Angeles Lakers have fallen and they can’t get up. They have a $99 million payroll, one of the best all-time players performing at a high level, the purported best center in the league, an all-star forward … and yet they are in 12th place in the Western Conference, seven games under .500.
It was not supposed to be like this. When one Mike was replaced by another Mike as coach — D’Antoni for Brown — the Lakers were projected to morph into one of the biggest and baddest teams in the NBA.
Has not happened. In short, they are a mess. They’ve lost eight of their last 10 games and are four games behind the last playoff spot. Worse, they do not seem to know how to reverse the descent.
“Very, very tough … very, very frustrating,” Kobe Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, said. “I’m trying to keep my cool.”
The Lakers had just lost to the Chicago Bulls, 95-83, Monday night, another disheartening defeat.
“We’re going to have to change something … probably going to have to post the ball a lot more, slow the game down a lot more,” Bryant said. “I am a big history guy. Playing here in this arena with these incredible fans, you’re in the house [that] M.J., (Scottie) Pippen, P.J. built. To put this kind of brand of basketball on the floor is just not acceptable.”
It is not acceptable that Dwight Howard, widely regarded as the best center in the league, often seems lost in a D’Antoni offense that does not produce enough points at key times and a defense that cannot stop anyone when needed.
“It’s frustrating,” Howard said after amassing just eight points, five fouls and four turnovers in the loss at Chicago. “I can’t do what I do best with five shots.”
All-star Pau Gasol was moved to a reserve for the first time in the career by D’Antoni. Think Gasol was happy about it?
“I’m not excited about it,” Gasol said. “But right now I’m more worried about us as a team and us struggling, so it would be selfish of me talking how I feel about [this] in particular.”
Bottom line, the only way for the Lakers to get out of their own way is to play their way out of it. Problem is, can they? D’Antoni seems to have no control over the team or a clue how to get it to play at its premium. Steve Nash, a key offseason acquisition, has not had the impact needed at point guard.
So, the Lakers remain in a quagmire — and could for some time to come without a reversal. In the meantime, the frustration will continue.