Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The Silence of the Lakers
By J.A. Adande
Shhh. Hush, Lakers. Not a word. The more they talk lately, the less sincere and solutions-oriented they sound.
Their justifications for firing Mike Brown and hiring Mike D’Antoni aren’t holding up. Their insistence that the return of Steve Nash will solve their losing ways doesn’t fit their post-game assessments of what’s going wrong. In short, they are not a team of their words.
General manager Mitch Kupchak said one of the reasons the Lakers opted for D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson was because D’Antoni “plays the way we see this team playing and our personnel executing, the guys that we have on this team.”
He also said they jettisoned Mike Brown after five games in favor of D’Antoni “because I think what Mike (D'Antoni) is going to run is more suited to the talent on this team.”
Except the talent on this team includes Pau Gasol, and D’Antoni has little use for him. Gasol has played less than 30 minutes in four of his past five games. (He played 40 minutes in three of the first six games of the season.) He is limiting Gasol’s play even though, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lakers have been better with Kobe Bryant and Gasol on the floor together than with Kobe and Dwight Howard out there. (On the season, lineups featuring Gasol and Bryant are outscoring opponents by 29.6 points per 48 minutes, compared to 10.8 points per 48 with Bryant and Howard).
D’Antoni kept Gasol on the bench in the fourth quarter Sunday while the Orlando Magic kept intentionally fouling Dwight Howard away from the ball. If the Magic were willing to go to such extremes to nullify Howard, why not replace him with one of the game’s better big men? Apparently, D’Antoni is that unconvinced that Gasol can do what his offense asks.
Gasol, who sat out the Rockets game with tendinitis in his knees, wasn’t an option Tuesday when the Houston Rockets started grabbing, holding and hacking Howard. Once again the Lakers went from leading to losing when Howard took up residency at the free throw line. It gets back to matching personnel with coaching: D’Antoni’s system is predicated on tempo offensive efficiency. It doesn’t take into account the game grinding to halt and his team shooting below 70 percent from the free throw line.
“It wasn't just about me missing free throws toward the end of the game,” Howard said afterward. “We have to do a better job defending.”
Even if we accept that -- and it’s accurate to say Howard’s missed free throws don’t account for the 74 points the Lakers have allowed in the past two fourth quarters -- it puts the Lakers into a hole from which Nash can’t pull them out. Nash will improve the offensive flow and alleviate Bryant from the double duty of both scorer and decision-maker (he’s decided to call his own number a lot more of late). But let’s just say defense isn’t Nash’s forte. You can expect more cases of Howard helping out on someone else’s man, which means more players on the weak side are left unchecked, which means more stats like the 21 offensive rebounds the Rockets had Tuesday night.
“A lot of this will change when Steve comes back,” D’Antoni said on Sunday.
Not enough of it. Nash won’t make the team better defensively, nor will he make Howard a better free throw shooter. Which means he won’t make any of the proclamations coming from the Lakers any more accurate. It would be better if they didn’t say anything at all.