For almost two decades now the Los Angeles Lakers have easily been the most scrutinized franchise in the NBA. Since the Showtime Era of the 80′s transitioned to the “Lake Show” of the late 90′s/current day version, you can’t go a season without considering the Lakers one of the top teams in the league. And for good reason. The management has been committed to putting a winning product on the floor for Lakers fans. But despite returning most of the core from the team that produced three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two championships from 2008-2010, the vibe surrounding this 2011-2012 Lakers team is a bit different than years past. This current Lakers roster is reminiscent of the 2006-2007 edition that featured Smush Parker/Kwame Brown and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs after a disappointed 42-40 season. So what seems to be the problem with this team, and how do you correct it in a hurry?
Offense. The Lakers offense has had it’s issues for years, many of which were masked by Phil Jackson’s triangle offense sets. Some would say the Lakers need a point guard more than anything, and this is partly true. What the Lakers need is another playmaker on the perimeter, period. Kobe Bryant is always going to get his points. His role will always be that of a scorer, first and foremost. Depending on Bryant to get his 25-35 a night while also having him responsible for facilitating everyone else’s offense may be asking a bit much for someone who can basically score even when double or triple-teamed. If the Lakers can acquire a perimeter player that can handle the basketball and make plays for others, that would be ideal. The Lakers did make a strong attempt to grab Chris Paul before the NBA stepped in and nixed the deal, so management is well aware of correcting this deficiency. Lakers fans have been clamoring for Dwight Howard, but as good as Howard is acquiring him would not solve the Lakers offensive woes.
Some available options the Lakers should pursue: a trade for Deron Williams or a run at him in free agency (Williams will be a an unrestricted FA this summer), Mo Williams (another potential free agent), Gilbert Arenas (currently out of the NBA), Kevin Love (restricted FA this summer)
Age. The Lakers indeed aren’t getting any younger, and it shows. Kobe is 33, Derek Fisher 37, Pau Gasol 31. The only key member of the Lakers younger than 25 is oft-injured Andrew Bynum (24). They have some youth with potential in Devin Ebanks and rookie point guard Darius Morris but neither appear ready to contribute on a nightly basis. If the Lakers can find a way to move Pau Gasol to free up space for Love when he’s ready to flee Minnesota (and it looks like it’s inevitable) that would be a huge upgrade in multiple areas. Love is a true PF that doesn’t necessarily need plays ran for him to score, rebounds like a machine and is a great outside shooter, a role which Gasol has attempted to fill this season with mixed results. Love is only 23, a Santa Monica native and attended UCLA. Love as a Laker just makes a lot of sense.
Defense. Despite some lapses here and there the Lakers are actually an improved defensive team so far this season, ranking 5th in the NBA in point allowed per game to date (89.9). The Lakers still struggle to contain quick point guards, but their interior defense has been solid. Bynum has been somewhat an anchor in the middle, blocking 2 shots and pulling down over 10 defensive rebounds a game. Where the Lakers need improvement in this area is on the perimeter. Matt Barnes is still a capable defender and a pest for opponents but he’s also over 30. If the Lakers can pick up a scrappy defender like Bill Walker or even Landry Fields, who will both be unrestricted free agents from the Knicks this summer, either one would be upgrades defensively.
The Lakers currently sit in the 6th seed in the Western Conference with a 10-6 record at the time of this article, which isn’t bad but not the success Lakers fans are accustomed to seeing. The Lakers contending for a title this season may be a long shot but with the team scheduled to shed close $20 million in salary this summer in expiring contracts (per data from HoopsHype.com), the Lakers should be a major player in free agency and poised to return to the top of the Western Conference elite with the right moves. With their track record, Lakers fans should be confident the front office can pull it off.