Frustration reigns supreme right now. Forget creeping in, doubt has overwhelmed the dam and flooded our minds. I think even the most optimistic Laker fan is extremely concerned right now and those glass-half-empty folks are looking at free agency lists and scanning draft ratings to see who might be available when the Lakers pick in the 2nd round because this season might as well be over. And while I think that’s taking things a bit far, when the Lakers play as poorly as they have over this extended stretch, I understand the sentiment.
I mean, why shouldn’t fans be worried? Much earlier in the season, I compared this current Lakers outfit to the 2004 team that lost to the Pistons in the Finals. I said that they were a collection of talent and had not yet played like a true team. And while that would be enough on most nights, relying on isolation plays and individual ability would not be enough on others. And at this point in the season, that really hasn’t changed. This team is extremely talented. Their top 5 players, when healthy, represent as talented a group of players that can be found across the entire league. Plus, the versatility that allows them play multiple positions is almost unmatched and that strengthens every other part of our team because the coaches are almost always able to play 2-3 starting caliber players at the same time.
But right now, this team isn’t healthy. The Lakers’ already shallow depth is weakened. No Bynum and no Walton (regardless of the short minutes that Luke’s asked to play) means that a monkey wrench is thrown into player rotations. Suddenly Kobe or Shannon have to play a lot of minutes at SF behind Artest. Powell and Mbenga, hard working players that I like, are then forced into duty as 8th or 9th players when they are really 11th or 12th men. And the dominoes go from there. You throw in the almost forgotten ailments that Kobe, LO, and Artest have been playing with for weeks (or months in Kobe’s case) and the ceiling for this team, right now, is lower than what it has been all season and their margin for error is thinner. As presently constructed, this team doesn’t have the talent in players six through ten on the depth chart to make up for the aforementioned injuries. This is only magnified if they’re not going to play with a team oriented attack. Right now, things just aren’t looking up.
However, the key phrase in all this venting is “right now”. Right now, the Lakers aren’t very good. Right now the Lakers don’t have their full compliment of players. Right now they’re faltering when we’d all like to see them peaking. I’m not trying to explain away anything. As I mentioned the other day, there is no switch to flip. I don’t buy into that line of thinking. But, what I do believe is what I’ve been saying for a while now – nothing has changed with this team. And while that has negative connotations, it’s also something that I take solace in. Why, because right now is not tomorrow. The playoffs aren’t right now and the Lakers aren’t facing an elimination game. Yes, time is short and of the essence. But, if you want my honest opinion this is a bad stretch that the Lakers will come out of.
Why do I believe that? Because they’ve played better this season than they’re currently playing; they’ve proven that they’re better than this. Does this mean they’ll walk to the Finals (and then to another title)? Does it mean that they’ll suddenly turn it on when the playoffs start? Does it mean the same problems – suspect offense, poor play at point guard, lack of outside shooting, etc – will suddenly no longer exist? Of course the answers to those questions is no. But, as I’ve said all season, to judge this team on its worst qualities is as big a mistake as ignoring the problems to begin with. So, understand that right now is only right now. Recent trends can predict future performance, but past performance is just as relevant. I have faith that this team is good enough to win and, as was always going to be case, they’re going to have to prove it in the post season.
It will take better execution. And better teamwork. More focussed game plans and adherence to them. But why can’t that happen? I’m not convinced it can’t even if there are obstacles in the way. By no means am I trying to say that the sky is crystal clear with no clouds in sight. I just don’t think it’s falling either.