As expected, the Los Angeles Lakers are the talking point of the NBA right now. Unfortunately, it's for the exact opposite reasons than the ones we expected. Steve Nash is playing like Steve Blake, Dwight Howard is totally lost on defense and the Lakers are the only 0-2 team in basketball.
Plenty around the team are preaching patience, including Kobe Bryant himself, and this Laker team definitely deserves some time to gel and to get more familiar with the Princeton offense. That said, as SBNation's Tom Ziller pointed out in his Hook column today, spending the first portion of the season to focus on installing the Princeton may compromise other elements of the team.
Offense wasn't the problem in L.A.'s Wednesday loss to Portland. The Lakers lost because they let Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard slaughter. Nash is a defensive liability, Kobe isn't nearly worth his reputation on that end and World Peace hasn't looked great defensively in either loss or preseason (according to those who watched the Lakers in preseason). Howard can carry a team on that end, and Mike Brown has been successful coaching defense. But he actually needs to be able to coach it. Given the widespread concerns about the offense and the pace of the NBA season, how much time will Brown really have to coach up this defense? And frankly, it's going to be more difficult than in Cleveland because there are far fewer credible pieces to mix and match. Nash, Kobe, Pau and Dwight all need to play major minutes. The bench is beyond awful. There is little lineup flexibility, there are holes among the top players. Schemes are needed.
Time is needed to implement those schemes. But time is going to be spent figuring out how to make the Princeton work. So it becomes a patience issue: can the Lakers hold out for the fruits of the Princeton? How long? At what further cost? Who, if anyone, will be the first to revolt? Will this cost Mike Brown his job? Will Eddie Jordan become a running joke? (Don't answer that, D.C. and Philadelphia.) Will Mike Brown say any more bizarre, inordinately defensive things about the perils of pick-and-roll porn, such as when he asked rhetorically on Thursday where Nash's Suns had been every May? Will this work?
Only time can tell. But we need time to tell. In the meantime, let's all just unwindulax and enjoy the greatest thing that can happen in American sports: the Lakers losing.
Ziller makes a very good point. While Brown attempts to get his team comfortable playing in a new system, he'll have less time to focus on the defensive side of the ball. And if the Lakers continue to struggle on that end of the floor, then the wait for the offense to come along will only seem longer. On top of that, if this Princeton experiment ends up flopping, with each passing month it will become more and more difficult for Brown to reset things or for a new coach to implement his teachings.
Patience is already wearing thin in Lakerland because of the humongous expectations this team had coming into the season. And even though fans know that it will take time for this team to get to its peak, that doesn't mean fans will be happy with the wait.