With Dwight Howard slated for an MRI and neither Pau Gasol nor Jordan Hill traveling on the team’s upcoming road trip, the Lakers season hangs in the balance. Kobe Bryant’s patience has worn thin, and talks have swirled about a potentially growing feud between him and Howard. Undoubtedly both have alpha-dog type personalities, and we know what happened the last time Kobe was paired with an opinionated big man.
Can the Lakers overcome this? The return of Steve Nash was once hailed as the solution…but the Lakers are 3-4 since his return.
Best case scenario:
The Lakers split the upcoming road trip, with a win in Houston and a loss in San Antonio. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant run the show as a tandem offensively despite lack of any presences down low. Los Angeles has a realistic shot to beat Houston if they can shut down Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson while limiting James Harden’s ability to score and facilitate.
Howard, Gasol, and Hill all come back by the end of the week. Even though they probably drop the game against Oklahoma City, Los Angeles can take two out of three next week (vs Cleveland and vs Milwaukee) to get back on the right track. This will boost their confidence and dull any hard feelings between D12 and Kobe. The month of January finishes with a five game stretch that the Lakers go 5-2 on (losing at Memphis and vs Oklahoma City).
Mike D’Antoni figures out a way to run the offense more effectively, which is what the Lakers organization has been looking for all season. Dwight Howard plays like himself and returns to the thoroughly dominating big man that he was in Orlando.
How would their best case scenario regular season end, considering they are sitting at 15-18 on January 7?
Finishing 47-35 is the best record with which they could conclude the regular season. This would mark a true turnaround and put the Lakers back in a position to make a competitive playoff run. They would land a five or six seed in the Western Conference which would match them up with the likes of the Grizzlies, Warriors, or Spurs. If they manage to get past their first round matchup, the Lakers would probably lose in the Western conference finals at the hands of the Clippers or Thunder.
Worst case scenario:
Los Angeles comes back with no wins on the two-game road trip. Houston beats them with scoring coming from angles the Lakers cannot stop and the Spurs beat them by 15 or 20. Kobe’s frustration amplifies and questions begin to swirl around the security of Mike D’Antoni’s job.
Doctors tell Dwight Howard it would be best to sit out the next four games and return on the 15th at home against Milwaukee. During these three games, the Lakers drop three of four and—with a win against Milwaukee—face LeBron James and the Miami Heat with a record of 19-22.
Including a loss at home against Miami, the Lakers end the month of January with a record of 6-10. Dwight Howard’s injury lingers and prevents him from returning to his 20 and 14 ability. Gasol remains unsure of his role offensively and Kobe is not satisfied with the way that D’Antoni and Nash run the offense.
The Kobe-Howard feud heats up considerably and Dwight proclaims to the media that he will not re-sign with the Lakers at the end of the season and instead head to either Dallas or Atlanta (two likely options, according to one Western conference GM).
In the end, the Lakers miss the playoffs for the second time in Kobe Bryant’s career. Of course, he will not retire but questions swirl around the legitimacy of the aging Lakers. Their season finishes with a disappointing sub-40 win season at 37-45. No playoffs.
Ultimately the Lakers will most likely finish somewhere in within this frame of best and worst case scenarios. The major question is, of course, where they will fit into this spectrum.
Regardless, it is safe to say that the Lakers will not live up to the expectations heaped on them prior to the NBA season. With the superpowers assembled in Boston during 2007 and Miami in 2010, the Lakers were expected to compete with those teams’ results.
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, MWP, and Pau Gasol…on one team.
On paper, you would be hard-pressed to find a starting lineup more stacked in NBA history. The firepower on offense with Kobe, Nash, Howard, and Gasol combined with the defensive prowess led by Kobe, Howard and MWP looks dominating. The 2008 Celtics had a second year point guard who was still finding himself and a center who opposing defenses could essentially neglect (6.1 PPG career average). Boston was 2008 NBA champions with no one near the stature of Kobe or Howard on board.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals but lost in LeBron’s famous no-show fourth quarter spectacle. But their leading scorers outside of the Big Three were Udonis Haslem (8.0 PPG), Mike Bibby (7.3 PPG), and Eddie House (6.5 PPG). No player had more than 8.3 rebounds per game in the regular season.
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers will be compared to these two teams. On paper, they have the best of those three teams and even now, their offense has been doing fine (fifth in the NBA in points per game). Defense, on the other hand, is quite a different story—the Lakers are near the bottom in both opponents PPG and defensive rating (26th and 21st, respectively).
If they cannot compete into May and June, or if they manage to even miss the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers prominence may become a thing of the past. Kobe will finish his career one shy of Jordan’s six rings. Could the fate of this season even change his legacy?