And now for some sane and unbiased commentary...

*Now with extra ranting: scroll to the bottom of the page if you've already read the rest.

The 2012-13 Lakers played their 41st game last night against the Chicago Bulls, and one thing was abundantly clear; precisely half way through the season, the Lakers have already crashed the plane into the mountain. This isn't one of those vintage, we struggle through the season but we have the talent to pull it out, seasons for the Lakers. We are witnessing a team that was expected to be dominant, struggle to achieve mediocrity, and there's no deus ex machina waiting in the wings. Laker fans who haven't converted to Clipperism are just going to have to face it; things aren't working out this year.

The Lakers are however thriving in an alternate universe

Don't just take it from me, take it from the Mamba's mouth, "This isn't working". Actually, Kobe went even further and added an obviously, "obviously, this isn't working". What isn't so immediately obvious, is the reason why the Lakers are failing so abysmally. In answering this question, several factors immediately arise. I'll address the most obvious one first.

Pringles: I made it pretty clear when D'Antoni was hired that I thought it was a terrible idea. Now that we've got to see Pringles in action for a few months, it's hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that the Buss family needs to immediately hire me and set me up in a sweet pad in Malibu. The problem is, that the vast majority of coaches arguably cause more harm than they offer remedy. Back when the Bobcats snapped their 18 game winning streak, Mike Dunlap made a very interesting, albeit clearly self-sabotaging, point in his post game comments. The game was tied when the 4th quarter began, and Dunlap made his best "move" of the season:
I put the playbook in the freezer and just let our guys go at them.
It might be a different month, year, and team, but the point remains the same. Get the fuck out of the way. Bernie Bickerstaff understood it. Of all the coaches the Lakers have gone through this year, Bickerstaff is the only one with a winning record. It's a simple phrase, only seven words, all of them monosyllabic: Get the fuck out of the way. 

I've made this point before, but it seems abundantly necessary here—NBA Franchises need to stop throwing away money by hiring people who've worked in the league before, and just start scouring train yards in search of winos who will work for a crate of Red Rooster.

It gave 'Red' Auerbach his name

Honestly, how many wandering hobos, who haven't ever read an ESPN article, would've made the franchise-cursing move to hire Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson? You don't need to be a professional analyst to figure this stuff out, just as long as you're not on the Lakers payroll.

How bad have things gotten with Mike D'Antoni? At some point during the Bulls game, I was watching Earl Clark, who has been starting instead of Gasol, cut to the basket, and a funny feeling came over me. The announcers had been talking about how Clark is a more versatile, Pringles style, power forward; and all of a sudden, at that moment, it got to me. I thought to myself: they're right, the team is playing better without the Spaniard—I guess they really do have to trade him. The madness had finally overtaken me.

Can you imagine if the '80s Celtics had decided they had too much size up front and shipped off Kevin McHale or Robert Parish? How about when the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan; shouldn't they have gotten rid of their other big man? I know the league has changed, but it hasn't changed that much. Even over the last two years, the Lakers won a lot of games on the strength of their advantage down low with Bynum and Gasol (yes, that guy they still play sometimes).

Of course, Dwight and Pau can't be completely absolved of their inability to gel, but the lion's share of the blame goes to D'Antoni and the people who hired him. As a coach, the worst thing you can do is waste the talent of the players. The fact, that even for a split second, I actually thought it was a good move for the Lakers to trade Pau (or give his minutes to Earl Clark) goes to show how completely estranged from logic the Lakers universe has become. Not to needlessly disparage a hard worker, but this is Earl Clark we're talking about. Show of hands: how many people knew who Earl Clark was when the season began? If Pringle's system can't work with Dwight and Pau on the floor at the same time, then there is something deeply flawed about that system. The answer is not to jettison tremendously talented players. The answer is to scour the train yards and find the right wino; which at this point, is pretty much any wino.

Other issues: Dwight spends essentially every moment on camera looking like he can't wait to take off his uniform. Kobe's idea for how to get out of a shooting slump is still to shoot over 30 shots. 5 Laker players have no chance in hell at slowing down 1 aging Kirk Hinrich. The team's chemistry couldn't get hydrogen and oxygen to form a bond....

Ah, fuck it. I don't want to get carpal tunnel syndrome trying to enumerate. It's much, much easier to just blame all this shit on Pringles.

Etrigan kissing Batman

 * Extra Ranting: I neglected to mention a particularly ironic twist in the "permanent" benching of Pau Gasol. This aspect of the story was broken, over Twitter mind you, by the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding on Monday. (That's not the ironic twist, although it is amusing) The irony is that Pau Gasol had just played his best game of the season against Toronto. I realize that the term, "best game of the season", is a difficult thing to precisely measure. For instance, an argument could be made that Pau's first game of the season was his best: 23 pts, 13 rebounds, 6 assists. However, Pau's effort against the Raptors was this season's best by at least two metrics; it was his season-high in points, and thanks to his shooting efficiency it also marked his highest game score of the season.

I'm at a loss to find a precedent for this benching. I'd say the lack of respect that Pau gets never ceases to amaze me, but it's actually the opposite that's true—it never really surprises. The rules are simple in the candy-colored confines of Laker Land: Kobe is the GOAT, and Pau is the goat. When things start going poorly, you simply tie Pau to a tree, find a sharp blade, and start making a sacrificial fire.

Kobe after emerging from the rivers of purity

When the Lakers won two straight championships, Pau was cast as a sidekick, and the effects of his prime were retold as a byproduct of playing with Kobe. Then, when shit hits the fan, time and time again it's supposedly because Pau is "soft", or because the team needs to "trade Pau". Yet, what's gonna happen if they do trade Pau? Who will be blamed if the team kicks off a road trip by losing an unusually early game against Toronto?

Kobe missed 22 shots; yet Pringles doesn't bench him because it would result in a pink slip (it would also result in several stab wounds later that evening). Dwight was ejected after playing less than 20 minutes, but he's too good for the bench. The brass still care about Dwight; they grip tightly at the slippery dream of Dwight making it to the rafters. Pau, he's expendable. He helped the organization when it needed him, but the Lakers love cutting ties nowadays. When the Lakers decided they didn't need Derrick Fisher anymore, it created a void in the team's tenuous family dynamic. Fisher had functioned for many years as the sober yin to Kobe's raging yang. Once Fisher was gone, the Lakers' best chance to salvage their chemistry was for Pau to inherit this role. So far, all Pau's seen of that inheritance is a haphazardly packed suitcase. (Hee hee hee, raging yang).

Maybe it's for the best. Earl Clark is pretty good. Did you see him guarding Monta Ellis the other night? Truth be told, it was a glaring mismatch that resulted in some embarrassing moments for Clark, but the point is that the team has the confidence in him. The Lakers might have Bryant, Nash, Howard, and Gaso—fuck that, Earl Clark is the solution. He can do anything! D'Antoni tells him to shoot the three so he shoots it. It might go in, or it might hit the backboard. Who cares?!? Don't you see him out there trying to guard Monta Ellis? Mike D'Antoni gives the order, and Earl Clark doesn't question if it's sane or not. Kobe guards Jennings, Clark guards Monta, and Steve Nash guards a power forward. It looks like the Lakers have it all figured out. 
Anonymous Anonymous said...
"Dwight spends essentially every moment on camera looking like he can't wait to take off his uniform."

I couldn't agree more. He looks as if he has ABSOLUTELY given up on the season and is already thinking about which team he'll have the most likelihood of getting a ring with is. For all their talk about Kobe and Dwight's inability to mesh being blown out of proportion, I think it's pretty clear they don't like each other much and their egos can't be in the same room for long.

Blogger Passives Abseits said...
i love how Mitch Kupchak blames the "lack of effort"... now who's job is it to make your player hustle... right... D'Antonis... but he is not to blame according to Mitch...

Blogger Wormboy said...
We should give them a brief respite for having had lots of injuries.

OK, done

I think the troubles of this team are legion, and it's only veteran savvy and hall of famers keeping them from sucking worse.

1) No bench
2) Dwight hasn't looked good most of the season, perhaps due to recovering. Also, he doesn't know what to do in a system that doesn't revolve around him as the center of the universe. He keeps looking for Hedo at the three point line. Hedo's not there (thank god).
3) There is no defensive system. None. We all have to agree that is D'Antoni's fault. The man has never been interested in defense.
4) So much for Kobe's playing off an elite point guard. Nash will make him better and more efficient, right? Save him energy? Right? Right? Bueller?
5) In fact, this team CANNOT win with Kobe's shot volume as it is. You have the most dominant big man in the league, he shoots ~60% when healthy, and you're taking jump shots at 45%?
6) Nash hasn't been himself. Period. Too old? Removed from the voodoo trainers in Phoenix?
7) Pau is a European baller, and a finesse one at that. He doesn't know how to "get he fuck out of my way." He hasn't played that way since he was 7. Gasol needs a system, plays and a coach. He will languish otherwise.
8) Dumbass World Peace is not a great ball player. He hasn't been since, you guessed it, before he blew up things in Indiana. His advanced stats are at league average. He's been below average since Houston. And both he and Kobe are years removed from being elite defenders.
9) No 3 point shooting
10) No bench

Fact is, even just "letting them play" only gets this team into the playoffs, where they will promptly lose. A great system, a great coach, and a little more depth would make them contenders. But "Dwight and the old farts" is not a contender just by walking on the court.

And yes, D'Antoni was an across the board bad choice.

Anonymous Istvan said...
Great and funny article, Glenn.

You are pretty good and now used to write here and it's a shame that this side seems to have lost a good part of its readership.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I love how they tried the whole "new season" thing and that they were 2-0 in their "new season"...your the Los Angeles Lakers, not the Halstead Insurance Rec League team. Also, you fired your coach after five games and with no real plan of replacing him. I think that was when the "old season" ended.
-Mr. AllDayE'ryDay

Blogger Baldwinternet said...
Personally I'm loving every minute of the suck. It's like somebody farted in the bandwagon.

Blogger Ivan said...
It's funny how, per ESPN, after all the team meetings they've had, they still managed to stink up what should have been a "statement game" vs Memphis.

Free Pau, anyone?

Blogger Wormboy said...
Fun Garnett article from the homers at the NY Times. As if Melo didn't have a greater history of being a dumbass than Garnett (and that is saying something).

Blogger Glenn said...
Great comments, everyone. I should rant about the Lakers more often, especially with all the ammunition that they're providing.

Wormboy, that's an amazingly thorough breakdown, and I can't say that I disagree with any of it. It's true, at this point replacing D'Antoni with a Boglin would probably only take them as far as a first round exit from the playoffs. Can they go that far with D'Antoni? I guess we're about to find out.

Blogger Wormboy said...
Did I mention they have no bench? ;)

Never underestimate the value of a system with players buying into it. In college it can give you teams like Butler making it to the championship game two years in a row, and midmajors upsetting powerhouses every year. But even in the pros it can work wonders. The problem is that it is hard as hell to get pros to buy in. I still wonder to myself whether Phil Jackson was such a great coach. It's just that Jordan backed him with a good system, and from then on every player bought into the system. Right? After you win 6 rings, anybody who doesn't buy into your system is an idiot. So from then on it's a good coach getting automatic respect from his players (or they get shipped off). Kobe was the only wild card that whole time. Surrounded by enough talent, it worked, or some years Kobe would sink the system.

Now you see a lot of talent on hte LAkers but no system whatsoever. To add insult to injury, you spend the whole summer and fall with a coach who has NO offensive system beyond "give it to LeBron/Kobe," with a team whose idea of defense is "Dwight will block it." Then you reverse roles, bring in a guy in the new year who preaches run and gun offense for a bunch of old guys and one superstar bratty center with a still tetchy back. That doesn't work so well, and that coach has never even hear of defense. Oh, and no bench, no 3 point shooting. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012-13 Lakers. Could have been a contender if Phil Jackson is on board in July and you ship Artest off for a perimeter D/ 3 shooter or two.