Los Angeles Lakers: How Will The Return of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol Change The Lakers?

The Lakers are 11-14, and 12th place in the Western Conference… well played Mayans.

With the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go along with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers were supposed to return to championship form this season. However, that has not been the case. Nash has been out with a fracture in his leg that he suffered in his second game with his new club, Gasol has missed the past two weeks with tendonitis in his knees, and the rest of the team is struggling to adapt to the new offensive system under newly hired head coach Mike D’Antoni.

This season has had the feel of a bad Hollywood movie. The script has been rewritten, and the cast continues to change. There has been no consistency other than Kobe getting his 20 shots up per game. This week Nash and Gasol returned to practice, but don’t expect the Lakers’ struggles to subside, at least for the short term.

Prior to his injury, Gasol had a difficult time adjusting to the new offense under D’Antoni, which sparked debates on how can fit in, or if he should be traded. D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense is predicated on ball movement with generally one player in the post. This is a problem when the Lakers have both Gasol and Howard.

“We play a certain type of basketball,” D’Antoni told ESPNLosAngeles.com Tuesday. “We’ll try to get to guys’ strengths and figure those out, but basically (Gasol is) going to be good in what we do, I know that.”

Gasol has much better shooting ability than Howard so it would seem fit that he be the one to give up his position in the low block. However, the seven-foot Spaniard is best suited in the post where he can use one of his many post moves to score, or find open teammates to shoot the ball. D’Antoni’s system saw similar problems in New York when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were on the floor together, and the spacing of the offense was thrown off.

Nash, on the other hand, should be a significant asset to the Lakers when he returns. In the past he has had great success under D’Antoni (winning back-to-back MVP awards for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons). His knowledge of the system will be extremely valuable to getting his teammates in the correct positions, and he will serve as a coach on the floor, but it will take time for his teammates to get used to playing with him.

“The team is still forming,” Nash said in the same ESPN piece. “We didn’t have a training camp under Coach and now we’re playing 180-degree different style offensively. So we’re still in an adjustment period. I think the team still needs time to find itself with or without me. Hopefully I can help, but it’s a process we all have to stay the course with and hopefully we’ll get better as time goes on.”

After a home game Tuesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Lakers end the calendar year by playing the Knicks and Trailblazers at home, and the Warriors and Nuggets on the road. All four of those teams are currently ahead of the Lakers in the standings.

Kobe is still Kobe, and getting back two proven all stars is never a bad thing, but that may not be enough for a team that has a “championship or bust” mentality. There is still no guarantee that Howard will re-sign, and if Gasol gets off to another slow start, the trade rumors will explode.

The “Super Team” Lakers have failed before with Kobe, Shaq, Gary Payton and Karl Malone losing in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. The way things are going, simply making the finals would seem like a giant success with this year’s Lakers. So how will things change once Nash and Gasol return? The short answer: not much.

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