Championship teams are not born fully formed, like Venus rising from the sea. They start with just the seed of potential — the talent to be a contender when the season starts. But it takes more to fulfill that potential.
Like the lead character in a novel or movie, there has to be adversity, there have to be struggles in the path. What makes the hero able to achieve their goals in the end is what they had to learn in overcoming those struggles. If an NBA team goes through a season without struggles, they will not be tested and ready for the playoffs (the 72-win Bulls team was the exception to the rule, they were a veteran team that had learned what they had needed to in previous years).
The Lakers are struggling right now, but to me fretting over losses to a decent Toronto team (or other wins and losses) on the road ignores the big picture point. To me, the team needs this. The question is simply: Can they grow and overcome the things making them lose, can they evolve into the team they need to be to win another title? And I don’t know the answer to that. I hope so. I think they have the talent to. I know they have the coach who can get them there. But all that is not enough. Right now the main character of the story (if you’re a Lakers fan) is being challenged and struggling with it. It’s hard, but it has to be hard or what is the point, where would the fun be?
The question is, can this character grow into the hero role?
For a snapshot of the Lakers problems, let’s break down the last 3:20 of the Raptors game. At that point, the Lakers are up 103-100 after Jordan Farmar just hit a little running floater in the lane (a shot I wish he’d use a little more on penetration).
3:20: Bosh gets the ball at the elbow and throws a high lob pass to the guy cutting baseline — except there are no Raptors cutting baseline, just Shannon Brown, so he gets the steal.
Brown sees nothing on the break so he pulls up and gives to Kobe, who wisely runs time off the clock until 11 seconds are left on the 24. That is when Gasol comes out to set the high screen for Kobe but then he slips it and both Raptors stick to Kobe, so he feeds Gasol a perfect bounce pass at the free throw line. Gasol catches it and drives into the lane and the three remaining Raptors defenders collapsed on him, so Gasol kicked out to Shannon Brown for a wide open corner three. Missed it.
Hedo is the playmaker late in Canada and he comes off a Andrea Bargnani high screen, finds no driving lane takes a step back long two, maybe the worst shot in basketball. Missed it, but Bosh tips it out to Bargnani, who takes a three that he misses. Lakers board.
So now the Lakers are up three with 2:20 left and the ball, and Phil takes a timeout. The Lakers late in games just rely on isolations and the pick-and-roll too much — the traditional triangle sets just go out the window — and in this case Bynum comes out to set the high pick for Kobe. Bargnani plays the pick-and-roll well, taking away Kobe’s driving lane, but Kobe passes out to an open Jordan Farmar, who has Jack running at him. Farmar drives around Jack and gets to a baseline 10-footer, but rather than go straight up with his jump shot he fades left for no particular reason. The result is a miss, but the Lakers use up a lot clock.
Jack brings the ball up for Toronto and pretty quickly decides to drive from the right wing on Farmar. Jordan can’t stay in front of him and Jack gets almost under the rim. The Lakers bigs can’t help because Bosh and Bargnani are spreading the floor and Bynum/Gasol have to defend them in space. Anyway, Jack gets fouled and hits one of two free throws.
1:50 left, Lakers up two. The Lakers counter with some retro offense from the early 1990s — pure isolation. Kobe with the ball and nobody joints him on the at side of the court. It works, he gets to the left elbow and hits that little fade away he loves.
1:40 left, Lakers up four. The Raptors work the ball around the perimeter but never inside, and the result is a Jack three with Farmar contesting, and he misses. An unimpressive possession by the Raptors (and solid defense by the Lakers). Kobe rebounds.
The Lakers push the ball and run the break, Kobe handling the ball in the middle with Brown and Gasol on the wings. Just like we were all taught in junior high, at the free thrown line Kobe makes his decision and passes to Brown, who dribbles behind his back then goes up but is contested so he tries to change his mind in mid air and throws a pass to nobody out of bounds. The Lakers get no points and run little time off the clock, the worst of possible outcomes. It was a bad decision not to slow it down, and that started with Kobe.
Bargnani gets the ball out on the left wing and puts the ball on the floor going baseline. Gasol pushes him that way but nobody helps, so Bargnani gets the and-1 on the foul from Gasol.
1:10 left, Lakers up one. Kobe brings it up and gets the high pick from Bynum, first goes left off the pick then swings back right. Hedo is on him but Kobe doesn’t seem to care and the result is Kobe taking a contested fade-away 21 footer that misses over Hedo. Not a pretty possession at all.
What follows was the Lakers best defensive possession of the game. Great switches, Brown fought through the high pick and got help on penetration. Toronto couldn’t find a shot it liked. The result was Hedo taking a desperation long three that missed.
Kobe brings the ball up with 30 seconds and a one-point lead, then eats clock. Eventually Gasol comes out for the high pick, and similar to before (although Gasol set the pick this time but slid out quickly) when Gasol rolled he got a bounce pass from Kobe. Gasol tries to kick out to the right corner and Farmar, but it is knocked out of bounds. So Phil takes a timeout to draw up a play with three seconds left. That play turns out to be Kobe taking a desperation three from the wing, which was not a pretty option or outcome.
We all know the last play, the Hedo drive on the last play where he got a foul call (there may have been a foul on that play, but after letting the teams bang a little for most of the game that was a light call for that late). Complain about the call if you must, but as I always say (as my coaches taught me young) if you leave the game in the hands of the referee late you deserve what you get. This should never come down to the last play, to me that is what matters.
The fact is the Lakers missed shots, turned the ball over early in the shot clock, and generally made bad choices on offense. Starting with not running the offense. They executed poorly. They didn’t help on defense.
All part of the struggles, all fixable things, the question is will they? Can they overcome these struggles?