The pomp and circumstance of opening night has yet to begin, and here we are, right back to the middle of the miserable 2013-2014 campaign.
The injury bug has again hit the Los Angeles Lakers, coming back with a vengeance that would make Montezuma crap his pants. Before the giant white curtains have even fallen and the video reel is still unedited, we're looking at a Los Angeles Lakers team ravaged by injury. Here's the run down thus far:
- Xavier Henry is still having problems with his troublesome right knee, which has kept him out of training camp entirely. He'll miss the rest of the preseason, and perhaps the beginning of the regular season, as he will go to Germany to get the same treatment on his knee that helped rejuvenate Kobe Bryant several years back. It is not certain when Henry will return.
- Ryan Kelly has been sidelined with a sore right hamstring for much of the preseason, though apparently his left hamstring is also giving him problems. It's not certain when Kelly will return.
- Steve Nash tweaked his back once again, this time from a source much less lethal than Damian Lillard's knee: bags. Lifting bags. Nash has been injured in one way or another for most of his tenure as a Laker, and it already feels like this year will be no different. It is not certain when Nash will return.
- Jeremy Lin has tweaked both ankles in training camp and has missed the last two preseason contests. Without Steve Nash, the team has been largely relying on a rotation of Ronnie Price and whoever else can dribble the ball at the point. It is not certain when Lin will return.
- Nick Young has already been sidelined for several weeks with a torn ligament in his right hand, a injury that will keep him sidelined until late November at the earliest.
- Jordan Clarkson has been sidelined a week with a strained left calf, leaving the team razor thin at the point. It is not certain when...what? He'll be back on Tuesday? Sweet!
Of course, some of these injuries are more severe than the others. In regard to Lin, Clarkson and Kelly, these may just be various, unfortunately timed nicks and bruises. However, for Nash, Young and Henry, these could very well be injuries that sideline them for an extended period of time and even worse, linger once they're back on the court.
I've read some narratives proclaiming that the injury-bug has hit the Lakers (already) for a third season in a row. That's not an entirely unfair statement. The team's eroding record the previous two seasons has largely been a result of Kobe's legs, Dwight's back, Pau's knees and Nash's everything breaking down at a prodigious pace.
I've also heard fans say that it's far too early to write off this team, especially seeing as these injuries are impacting the preseason--a.k.a. the part of the year where wins and losses couldn't matter less. This too, is not an entirely unfair statement. Perhaps Henry, Nash and Young's injuries aren't too severe. Maybe it's just a creaky knee, a tweaked back and hand surgery that will sideline Swaggy for a few weeks of the regular season.
However, these storylines are distracting from the real fatal flaw of the team that's not the injuries. In fact, the injuries are what has exposed what could be the failing point of this Lakers team.
There's just not enough talent, especially on a team that already looks so reliant on their oldest players.
There are a lot of problems with this Lakers team--pick a facet of the game and I'm sure you'll be able to extrapolate for a while--but the biggest concern going into the season wasn't that the team was entirely injury-prone. Yes, Nash, Kobe and Henry have had a well-documented training room docket, but for the most part, this was a young team ready to roll for an 82-game slate.
The problem is that through the rigors of a November to April schedule, injuries always happen. Those little nicks and bruises I just referred to on Lin, Kelly and Clarkson? Those things happen. All. The. Time. Guys will be lost for days and weeks and contingency plans will have to be implemented. Players will have to step up and Byron Scott will have to be flexible with players he's depending on for production.
If this Lakers team was ever to be successful as currently constructed, a number of events would have to come to pass. A dominant, but different Kobe Bryant. A healthy Steve Nash. An improved Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly. A resurgent Carlos Boozer. Huge defensive contributions from Jordan Hill and Ed Davis. The Jeremy Lin that some believe exist. A Rookie of the Year campaign from Julius Randle.
In order to win somewhere in the neighborhood of 44 games, all of that would have to happen, mixed with a bag of fairy dust and a vault of lucky pennies. It would have to be perfect. Absolutely perfect. But these injuries have exposed that with an absence of any of these players, that rosy, perfect situation just isn't possible. Great teams like recent editions of the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder showed that even without key cogs, the depth was enough to shore up production until the roster was restored.
These injuries have showed that this team is entirely too reliant on not just injury prone stars, but also mere role players. Without Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Steve Nash, the Lakers have revealed themselves as a horrid long range unit. Without Jeremy Lin, the Lakers are missing their only potentially productive solution for a perennially hurt Nash and instead using late roster addition Price and untested rookie Clarkson. Without Henry, the Lakers are extremely thin on the wing, relying heavily on Wayne Ellington and Kobe to fill the void.
A lot of folks are going to blame injuries if this team gets off to a slow start. That's not a Pyrrhic argument, but to me, it's always going to be that this team was very poorly built if the goal was to win right now. The injuries aren't the fatal flaw, they've exposed it. There simply isn't enough talent to shore up what is already a tenuous foundation for success in a league where health problems never, ever abate.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino