Deserving Splinters?

 —  November 10, 2004

Road wins in the NBA are about as easy to come by as real breasts at the Bada Bing, so I don’t want to read too much into the near collapse in New Orleans. It still goes into the victory column and other players — particularly Butler — stepped up.

But remember back before the season started, when most of us believed that one of the strengths of Lakers 2.0 was going to be the depth. Rather than a two man show and no bench, this was a team that could run 10 deep.

Watching last night, I got the distinct feeling Rudy T. does not trust his bench right now and doesn’t quite know what to do with the rotation. The Lakers were up by 31 after three quarters, had another game the next night, yet Kobe still played 38 minutes (and he fouled out), Chucky Atkins played 42, Odom 41, Butler 34. The highest number of minutes off the bench went to Brian Grant with 15. Cook, just 8. Kareem Rush, just 3, Luke Walton, just 2.

Right now, that vaunted depth is not there — the poster child is Rush, who seems lost in the new system and will see less and less time as the season wears on if he doesn’t start to drain jumpers. (As a side note, guaranteed contract or no, right now I’d jettison Rush before Tierre Brown if Karl Malone is coming back.) There will be more depth coming with Slava (who is available now and could be forced into action after Jumain Jones left in the second quarter was seen limping around after the game with a sore calf) and Vlade (due back in two to three weeks). Both of them provide some help in the now overmatched middle.

But the return of their pieces does not easily solve the rotation puzzle. It may be halfway through the season by the time Rudy T. figures out what pieces he wants where, and what pieces he doesn’t want at all.

Part of this, and part of the collapse, is this is still a team struggling to adjust to a new system, so some addition time together in games has a silver lining. But that lining will not be tonight, when the tired legs of the starters take to the court against a desperate Memphis team.

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