Assessing the Lakers’ potential pitfalls on road to an NBA title


It’s far too presumptuous for now to camp out on Figueroa Street to ensure a good viewing location for the Lakers’ championship parade.

First off, any Lakers fan who does that will sacrifice actually viewing the games next season. More importantly, it might just be a wasted exercise. Some members of the media, including myself, believe the Lakers are the favorites to win the NBA championship. But no one should exactly be shell-shocked if the Purple & Gold fall short for reasons beyond Vegas oddsmakers and NBA analysts such as TNT’s Kenny Smith favoring the Miami Heat to repeat.

As talented, experienced and hungry as the Lakers are for another championship, there are a few variables that could prevent it from happening.


Health. There’s no other way around it: Despite some emerging talent, the Lakers are still an old team. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison make up a star-studded roster. But they also combine for an average of 34.4 years in age. They won’t need to apply for an AARP card, enroll in medicare or file for Social Security anytime soon. But Lakers trainer Gary Vitti will have plenty on his hands in keeping such veteran players fresh.

Even though these athletes take great care of their bodies, Nash has chronic back issues, Bryant has a surgically repaired right knee and Gasol has had hamstring injuries in recent seasons. Even though Dwight Howard is only 26, he may not even play in the season opener Oct. 30 against Dallas because he’s recovering from back surgery.

Concern factor: 8. Given the incredible depth and talent, Lakers Coach Mike Brown should be more comfortable limiting minutes for his veterans during the regular season. But as with any team, the Lakers’ championship hopes would be severely dampened if they suffer significant injuries, particularly in the postseason.

Chemistry: There are a number of superstars on this team, but there are also two newcomers and only one ball. As a whole, how do the Lakers maximize productivity from such a lineup? The Lakers all talk about their willingness to make sacrifices now. But let’s hear what they have to say when the games actually start. Will Bryant still take it upon himself to want to carry the offensive load and shoot too much? Will Howard become frustrated that he’s no longer the main option on offense? Will Gasol again resist having to play second fiddle to another post player? Will Nash pass so much that it takes away his outside shooting threat? Will World Peace feel so disconnected that he will just jack up shots whenever he’s able to get them?

All these players have intelligent basketball minds. But they also have a healthy dose of pride and ego. At some point, it’s only human nature to feel frustrated over a reduced role. Should the Lakers hit any rough patches, it could exacerbate the situation all the more.

Concern factor: 4. The Lakers will sort through this dynamic through training camp and the beginning of the season. No doubt there will be some issues, because drama always surrounds the Lakers. But when the playoffs hit, the Lakers will have already ironed out roles and broken down the intricacies of the Princeton offense. Bottom line, the Lakers know they can’t afford to be concerned about individual performances. Bryant and Gasol would much rather win another title than feel the pain of a third consecutive early playoff exit. This is Nash’s best chance to win his first NBA championship. And this is Howard’s best chance at rehabbing his sour reputation around the NBA for how he handled his exit with the Orlando Magic.

— Mike Brown: The Lakers’ head coach can longer be excused for having the unenviable task of following Phil Jackson and dealing with a shortened training camp and a fluctuating roster as excuses for the early playoff ousting. In his exit interview, he conceded he could’ve done a better job in navigating those variables. But the general public, which was hardly accepting of the Brown hire to begin with, won’t grade him on a curve this season. With the Lakers’ front office assembling such a talented roster, will Brown prove that he just needed better pieces to make his coaching philosophy work?

Who knows? The Lakers quickly tired of Brown’s long practices and film sessions as well as his overwhelmingly animated sideline demeanor. I’ve been told the comprehensive playbook, intense practices, cliched speeches and overly eager congratulatory gestures reminded many players of their high school playing days. With the Lakers’ talented roster, they don’t need such antics. They just need someone who will have enough authority in emphasizing his offensive and defensive principles without micromanaging.

Concern factor: 5. Many, including yours truly, questioned Brown’s overly intense practice schedule, how he played his starters heavy minutes and his constant rotational changes. But Brown was also dealt a tough hand in following a coaching legend, dealing with the Chris Paul nixed deal, losing Lamar Odom, handling a fluctuating roster and having a lack of talent outside of the Lakers’ Big Three in Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum. To Brown’s credit, he also showed a willingness to adapt his regimen and give players ownership.

Under that framework, I believe Brown will do a much better job in handling his resources, establishing a rotation and earning enough respect. There may be times Lakers players or the media will be justified in questioning his decisions. But Brown won’t significantly make or break the Lakers’ championship fortunes.

— Better competition. The Lakers may have everything they need in contending for a championship, but will it be enough to beat Miami or Oklahoma City? I’ve already predicted that the Lakers have enough, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they still fell short. Both the Heat and the Thunder have stronger continuity. They feature better star players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And they have more youth and athleticism. Miami’s Chris Bosh and Durant are correct that the Lakers appear better because of the talent they have “on paper.” But that doesn’t account for the fact that the Lakers collectively don’t have as much experience playing together.

Concern factor: 8. As the Heat painfully discovered in 2010-11, no one can just hastily put a team together and expect everything to work out right away. The Lakers were smart enough not to boast about winning multiple championships. They’re also mature and experienced enough to know the process won’t be easy. But Miami and Oklahoma City are strongly equipped to contend for championships for the next six seasons.


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