Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of problems, but the most serious problem of all is that they just can not catch a break. Now, even if their luck changes, it may be too late.
Sometimes in life, a good idea just doesn't pan out the way you want it to. Good ideas, and the people who have them, fail all the time in this mad world we live in. Perhaps the idea is seemingly strong, but in actuality, the idea has a fatal flaw that causes failure. The idea can truly be a good one, only to be derailed by a poor strategy of implementation or by poor execution. But quite often, the cause of a good idea's failure is not so understandable. Sometimes, a good idea is foiled not by poor implementation, not by foolish mistakes, but instead because of elements that operate outside the boundaries of that which you can hope to control. You train for a marathon only to break your leg. You start a new business which is destroyed by a natural disaster. Circumstance ... luck ... fate ... destiny, call it whatever you want. You don't need it to be on your side, necessarily, but no matter what you pursue, you need the elements outside of your control to at the very least not constantly fall against you.
At the start of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers sure seemed like a good idea. It's possible that the idea which seemed so strong was actually flawed from the start, with too much age and not enough quickness to handle the modern NBA. You can easily question the implementation the Lakers have chosen, whether it is questioning why Mike Brown was ever hired in the first place, or why he was fired just five games into the season. For that matter, you can just as easily question the hiring of Mike D'Antoni, who has not presided over any noticeable improvements in his short tenure so far. It's rather painfully obvious that the execution of the idea by the players on the court has been poor. But every single one of those possibilities is impossible to analyze accurately, because the overwhelming theme of this season has been that the Lakers just can not catch a break.
The Lakers don't just have injuries. They have ridiculous combinations of injuries. They have significant amounts of missed time for two of their top four players. 35 games into the season, we've only seen eight contests in which the Lakers have been able to bring the full weight of their star power to bear on their opponents. Two of the four stars have been missing in eleven others. For the second time this season, the Lakers have seen their depth chart shredded. They already had to spend 25 games, more than 1/4 of the season, with a point guard rotation of 3rd string Darius Morris and 4th string Chris Duhon. Now, their entire big man rotation at two positions all went down in the same doomed contest, and all are out indefinitely. It could be a week. It could be longer. Based on the season so far, you should expect the latter.
The Lakers don't just have inconsistency. They have the most incredible case of "just enough" syndrome I've ever seen, as in they always do just enough to lose, or fail to do just enough to win. When they defend well, they shoot even worse. When they shoot well, the defense is horrific. And while I'm sure their defense is partially responsible, they are also just getting killed by events that don't fit the mold. Corey Brewer doesn't shoot 6-7 from three point range in the morning shoot around, and there is a different Corey Brewer every single night. The Lakers have turned losing a non-competitive game by less than 5 points into an art form. Even as their record slides further and further into the lottery, the Lakers continue to have a strong margin of victory. They are the only team with a losing record that is a net positive in points on the season, and that doesn't even come close to describing how huge the gap in record is between them and the next closest positive team (Denver, who is 21-16). Portland remains four games ahead of the Lakers, despite the fact that the Lakers are nearly four points better vs. their opponents per game than the Blazers are.
Now, we need to brace ourselves for the fact that even if these trends reverse, even if they do balance out over the course of the season in the same way they tend to balance out over the course of eternity, it might not matter. The Lakers find themselves in such a hole (and one that seems poised to grow until the latest bout of "Everybody get hurt at the same time" goes away) that just getting everybody back isn't going to be enough. The Lakers don't just need to turn things around to make the playoffs this season; they need to be spectacular. In order to reach the average win total achieved by the 8th Western Conference playoff spot the past few years, the Lakers will need to win at better than a 2 to 1 clip the rest of the season. That's New York, Memphis, Golden State territory. If they lose another couple contests because of the big man rotation, they'll need to play at the same level that San Antonio is playing just to make the playoffs.
It's not all bad luck and scary stories. Make no mistake, the Los Angeles Lakers are not a good team, certainly nowhere near as good as they were expected to be. They don't play hard enough. They don't work well together. Their individual flaws are magnified, and their individual strengths hindered. There is plenty of evidence that what looked like a good idea actually wasn't. There's plenty of evidence that the strategy and execution of the idea has been poor. And yet, I'm not at all ready to give up on the idea itself. The idea could be tweaked, via a Pau Gasol trade. The idea could be destroyed if Dwight Howard leaves in free agency. But the idea, no matter how badly it has panned out so far, still seems like a good one, and I would love to see that idea be given a set of circumstances which isn't filled with ridiculous obstacles at every turn.
Sadly, I think we are perilously close to seeing that ship sail for the current season. If not for the fact that they are not in control of next year's draft pick, I would be seriously considering the possibility of shutting things down and trying our luck next year. Even if their obstacles magically disappear, the Lakers are now so far behind the pack that they will need to run a near championship level race from here on out just to qualify for the next heat. It will be a monumental failure if the Lakers do end up missing the playoffs, possibly the biggest divergence between expectation and performance in the league's history.
In the end, if that is to be the end, we'll never know whether the Lakers were flawed this season, because they were too busy being cursed.