Face the issues

Who is most responsible for the Lakers' current struggles?

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    52%
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    16%
  •  
    32%

(Total votes: 2,869)

DWIGHT HOWARD
MIKE D'ANTONI

His slow start hurts most

Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPN.com
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We really do need a full blame pie for this question because the Lakers are way too talented to be struggling this much right now. If the Bernie Bickerstaff era taught us anything, it's that less is more with this group. Just roll the ball out on the court and let 'em play and the Lakers should win most games. So in that sense, it's everyone's fault that this season has started so roughly.

But the way things work in the NBA, blame must fall on those from whom the most is expected, and in the Lakers' world order, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are the standard-bearers. While Kobe can be criticized for his 68 turnovers in these first 17 games (a full turnover more per game than his 2.97 per-game career average), he's also having one of his finest seasons, posting career highs in field goal percentage (.489), 3-point percentage (.395) and free throw shooting percentage (.878) while leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points a game. In other words, he's done his part.

Howard on the other hand, has clearly struggled to assimilate to coach Mike D'Antoni's offense. He's had a few nice games along the way -- 28 points and 20 rebounds in the Lakers' win over Denver on Friday -- but he's had way too many stinkers for a player of his ability.

Yes, Howard is dependent on his teammates to get him the ball in places where he can score, and too often, the Lakers haven't done a good job of putting him in good positions to succeed. But Howard has also hurt himself and his team in areas he has control over, like free throw shooting and scoring second-chance points off offensive rebounds.

Take a deep breath before you read this next line: Howard has missed 108 of his NBA-leading 203 free throw attempts this year. One hundred eight.

While Howard is still close to his career averages in scoring (18.6 ppg vs. 18.3 career ppg) and rebounding (11.2 rpg vs. 12.9 career rpg), he hasn't had the kind of impact he or the Lakers were hoping for just yet. And in this league, success is measured in wins and loss.

Coaching to team's strengths is key

Markazi By Arash Markazi
ESPN.com
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The first thing most of us thought when Mike D'Antoni became the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers was, "That's nice, too bad the Lakers don't have the players to run his system."

And then we got to talk to D'Antoni and talk to those that have played and coached for him, and we got the sense that he was willing to be flexible. That his Seven Seconds or Less offense wasn't so much a philosophy as it was a great title for a book. D'Antoni won in Phoenix with an up-tempo offense and minimal defense, but he wasn't necessarily going to use that same style in L.A., right?

Wrong.

It might be too early to blame D'Antoni for all the Lakers' struggles. They were losing before D'Antoni got here and they've lost since he got here, but we can at least take him to task for not coaching to the strengths of this team. D'Antoni has complained about the lack of athleticism and speed on this team as if it were built to play his style. It wasn't. It was built to play a style that won back-to-back titles a couple of years ago and won three straight a few years before that.

D'Antoni's style may ultimately work in L.A. After every loss, he continues to point to the return of 39-year-old Steve Nash from a bum leg as the savior . But the biggest casualty of his style has been Pau Gasol. He has already been benched twice late in games in favor of Antawn Jamison and called out for his conditioning and aggressiveness by both D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant. Gasol is the consummate professional, but even he has a breaking point.

The Lakers will certainly be better when Nash returns, but if they have lost Gasol by then (physically or mentally), the chances for this team doing anything great this season diminishes greatly.