The LA Lakers:Can a team with no identity win the NBA title?
Posted by: SPQR on Apr 27, 2012 - 12:48 AM
“The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes purpose.”|
With the shortened regular season over, the playoffs are just about upon us; so I have picked this time to ask the members of LTB the most important poll question we will ask all year: Do you think the this team, the current version of the LA Lakers we have watched all year, will win the NBA title? Now, our answers won’t be important, just opinions asked for and given; but the true answer we will all know soon, will tell us much about where this teams stands, what lies ahead, and what it may need to do.
Remember now, I am not asking if you THINK we can win the NBA title. Not do think we have a CHANCE to win the whole deal; not if we do this or that, or if the other playoff series’ break one way or another, CAN we win the NBA Championship. Those questions are hypothetical’s with an escape clause built in. Easy manners of eggress to hedge your bets.
I am asking the direct, singular question: Do you think they will win the NBA championship? Period. And I am looking for honest answers. Not emotional answers, not answers the heart may want all of us to believe and give, or what your LTB brothers may want you to say, but the answer your head, your intellect gives back when you ask it that question.
Like all of you, I have watched this team all year, sifting through good performances and bad. Wading with distaste through the bitter waters of dark times, drinking deep of the sweet waters of the good. There were certain periods, moments of time, snapshots of perfection and accomplishment where I felt there may be hope. That this team, with a new coach, a new system, a new direction and subtle changing of the guard with Drew and a sledgehammer removal of Derek Fisher in a move for youth with Sessions, could perhaps put it all together and do what we couldn’t do last year with the old way, the old coach, the old players in their some role that was so successful the previous three years.
But now, with the playoffs dead ahead and truncated year of evidence behind us, my head it is telling me the opposite of what the heart so dearly desires. If I had to make a guess, with my life on the line in giving the correct answer, I would say, no, the Lakers will not win the NBA championship.
I’m not going to break this team down to its molecular level in dissecting why it won’t. We all have ideas about each player, the coach, the system, and the flaws we have exhibited in a micro level. We all have talked about, debated and discussed these micro issues: players we don’t think are playing smart, or working hard, or can hit open shots, a lack of defense or intensity; coaching decisions the left too many vets playing too many minutes for good young players like Goudelock not playing enough. Those are just some of the issues we feel plague the team depending on our view points. But I will give an overarching reason of why my answer to my own question not the answer I wanted to come back to me.
On paper, this team seems to have the individual component parts to win the title. In today’s NBA, we have three stars who match up with the stars of any team: Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. There really is no team that has more top tier star power than we do. And when you throw in very accomplished ancillary talent like Ramon Sessions, Metta, Blake, Barnes and others, we would seem to have the component parts to go all the way. But the major problem with this team, after a year’s worth of observation, is not with its component parts, but rather, the team does not add up to the sum of its component parts.
The real problem that I suspect presages a minatory fate in our playoff journey is a lack of a team métier; the inability to develop an identity, a personality to fall back on, to rely on, when things get tough. Despite the componet talent, It never figured out a way to mess its individual parts into a effective, efficient system to impose its will on other teams.
When you think of this year’s Lakers, it becomes strikingly clear that they lack any identity at all.
Ask yourself, what is our identity? Some would say a low post team. But are we really a true, effective low post team? In today’s NBA, with the defensive rules as they are, you need three properties to really be a low post team. First, you need the low post players. That we have. And it can open an avenue of attack most teams can’t match. But as we know, when the low post is doing excessive damage, defenses will collapse to counteract it. And at that point, you need that second component to make that next chess counter move: steady, reliable outside shooting to take advantage of those open shots. To make the defense pay, to bring them right back out and start the low post cycle all over again. When Kobe, Blake and Sessions are hot, we can take advantage of this. But it hasn’t been enough. Which makes the benching of Goudelock all the more mysterious and strange. For a team so dependent on the low post, why was one of our most effective outside shooter just disregarded and shunted to the side? And third, of course, the team, the entire team, needs to be committed to the low post game, blood sweat and tears. All the way in everyway.
Are we a perimeter shooting team? Once again, we are not. We just don’t have the reliable outside shooting. Are we a running team? Once again, no. When we first got Sessions, one of moments of sweet water that buoyed my hopes, we did start running. Yet in another mysterious decision, Coach Brown as told Sessions to slow it down. This not only takes away one of his most potent assets, but for no good reason, disposes of an avenue of attack, an identity this team could have embraced. If most of the Lakers can’t run with Sessions, so what? Let him run with one or two teammates or even by himself where he go from end to end, basket to basket, in the blink of an eye. If they can’t convert the run, the rest of the team will eventually follow and the half court offense can go from there. Running the ball doesn’t change the clock, somehow limit our time on each possession. We can’t establish the half court offense until the bulk of team comes down anyway.
Are we a defensive juggernaut? We played good defense for two thirds of the year, but during the last third, this too broke apart, drifted away like a morning mist burned off by the rising sun.
A ball movement identity? Just look at San Antonio to see how lacking we are in that department. We just have too many players who have their hands on the ball too much, who like to hold the ball too long to develop that indemnity. Kobe will hold and hold, dribble and dribble, looking to break down the defense as though he were engaged in playground game of one on three. Drew will hold the ball, like a fisherman with rod in hand, waiting forever for a fish to bite. Metta will ponder with the ball as though he were a philosopher with the world in his hands, contemplating the solutions to bring about world peace. We know the names of the main culprits. There are others as well. With the Spurs, its bam, bam, bam, that ball is moving, always in a rapid fire trip to punch that hole against the defense. No matter who we thing is responsible for this deficit, players or coach or system, we are not close to being a top flight passing, ball movement team.
Are we the offensive machine of a few years ago? Not even close. Scoring is down, all year. We are not a team that can bury a team with an avalanche of destructive points. Not anymore.
When you watch this team and ask, what is their identity?... the answer comes back: they have none.
And in the playoffs, when you face tougher and tougher opposition, you better have that identity you trust, that you can fall back on, that you know you can rely on to impose a style and will on the team you face. Because if you don’t, then you are just relying on component parts to carry you to victory; and history shows, component parts, no matter how good, rarely if ever beat other talented teams that have a tried and true identity, a way of life, a system they have perfected, to get them through the hard moments, the rough games, a brutal series.
One of the great component parts teams without an identity in NBA history were the 1977 Dr. J-George McGinnis lead 76ers. And those component parts almost got it done. Until they met a team with a very powerful identity, the Bill Walton led Portland trailblazers in the NBA finals. And when the going got tough, when they fell behind two games to zero, those Blazers had an identity they knew, trusted and how to execute to fall back on to slowly expose and take apart the component parts of that Sixers team, who had nothing but their individual talent to fall back on. The Blazers won four straight games to win one of the biggest upsets in NBA finals history. And it was their tried and true indemnity that they developed that was the difference.
All year long I have asked myself, why is this talented, veteran team, so poor on the road? On paper, they should be one of the top road teams in the league. And make no mistake; the road record of a team is one of the most accurate diagnostic tools to evaluate playoff success. Their road performance has vexed me all year. I just couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation. But now I think I have. It is hard to win on the road. You have to have an identity to overcome the road. That system, that ingrained method of execution and substance that you fall back on in tough times. And when you realize this team has none, that it is component part team, relying only on individual talent to win, then the road woes become understandable.
When I honestly look at this Lakers team, I see a team of tremendous component parts, of perhaps unrivaled individual talent and star power, but a team fatally lacking in that identity they will most certainly have to fall back on when the real challenges appear late in the playoffs.
When I look at this team, I don’t see a low post team identity, because half that equation is missing. I don’t see a running team, a scoring machine, a defensive team, nor a ball movement team. I see a team lacking that most crucial identity that you need to win the long playoff crucible.
When I look at this Lakers team, I see a team without an identity, a bad road team that will almost certainly have to play and win two playoff series, on the road, against teams with strong identities, to win the NBA championship.
I guess the one hope I hold out is that during the long playoff season, this team will find what it could not throughout the entire regular season: a personality, a identity that will see them through the tough times, difficult games, desperate series ahead.
But since I find that eventuality unlikely, when I see this team, when I ask myself that all important question, will this team win the championship?..the answer that comes back to me is not the one my heart screams to give, the one I so desperately want to believe. The answer that comes back is no. It’s not the answer I want to hear, nor is this post I was hoping to write at this time, but as always, it’s my honest answer.
How do you feel?