With the Los Angeles Lakers in sad, undeserved, and totally not entertaining state of disarray, I thought this would be a good time to hit up my Step In The Lane Podcast co-host — and recognized Laker apologist — Anthony Young and knock out an email exchange on his beloved team. Here is a transcript of our exchange:
MB: So your Lakers lost to my Warriors by 19 last night and I do not know what was more depressing? The fact that I seriously had doubt the Warriors could pull it out despite Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, and Steve Nash not playing; or the fact that I had to watch Xavier Henry run point and Nick Young put up 20 shots justifiably again.
AY: It’s quite ridiculous that the basketball gods have decided to injure five Lakers at such a crucial time, Michael. This team is depleted at the point guard position and your Golden State troops took advantage! Coming to the aid of Nick “Swaggy P” Young, you don’t feel that it’s necessary he shoots this much? With the frontcourt depth (or lack thereof), pounding the ball in the post doesn’t allow the Lakers to score or keep up with Golden State, or any high octane team.
MB: I totally understand why Young is being allowed to take those shots — who else is supposed to take them? — but I guess that is just a great example of the poor state this team is in. I mean, if Nick Young has to try to score more than 20 times in a game, there is a good chance that your team is not winning. I guess the question becomes where do the Lakers go from here. I am sure you have touched on this a little bit but do you wait it out and still try to make a playoff run this year or do you start looking towards the summer of 2014?
AY: In my opinion, Mike D’Antoni and Mitch Kupchak have to collectively agree to stay put where they are and TRY to make a playoff run. Reason being: Kobe himself has no doubts that he is going to return in great form, as he’s stated that this knee fracture isn’t a monumental deal for his health. And wouldn’t you say that the Number 1 key to succeeding in the playoffs is your bench production? If that’s agreeable, then we already know nobody’s bench is better than the Lakers’ at this point.
My question for you, however, is: Which teams currently in playoff position do you see falling apart and allowing the Lakers to sneak in?
MB: I think that is the biggest question and the biggest hurdle for the Lakers moving forward. If they were in the Eastern Conference (or even in the West in a more balanced year) I could definitely see them treading water with the guys they have now and locking up a playoff berth during the second half of the season when they are healthier. But as it stands now, it looks like we are going to have at least one above .500 team miss out in the West and the Lakers are already on the outside looking in. But like you pointed out, their bench play has been outstanding — to the point where we just have to accept that they are really good — and for all the (deserved) criticism Mike D’Antoni gets, he knows how to put together a good offense with whatever pieces you give him. They are going to need a team to stumble — Denver and/or Phoenix most likely — and even then will still have to beat out the Warriors to snatch up a playoff spot.
I guess that is why I think going the other route may actually be the best option. Yes, this team can make the playoffs but their chances are at least below 50 percent and once they get there, I cannot really see them doing much damage despite how good their bench play has been. Can you honestly see them taking out a team like San Antonio or Oklahoma City? I feel like if they played their cards the other way their is a good chance they could lock up one or two (depending on what they can get for Gasol) lottery or at least first round prospects in a loaded draft. If you can add two pieces like that to a bench that is already really good, plus add a couple more pieces with their coming cap space you have a team that can compete now for Kobe’s next two seasons and can still be prime to improve three to five years from now with young talent and future cap space.
AY: That’s a sound argument for tanking, if we are going to call it that. I can’t see them taking out an OKC or San Antonio, but at least winning a couple games in a series. This is the worst year for the Lakers since the 2004-05 season and all we can do is wait and see what they do with Gasol.
I’ve had this on my mind for about a week now, but: Is the Houston Rockets’ defense going to prevent them from ever winning a first round series? They allow 102.1 points per game (24th out of 30) and will likely grab a five or six seed in my estimation. That doesn’t even give them home court.
MB: If the Warriors or Clippers were winning with any real conviction I would think you had a case for keeping Houston out of the top four. But nobody seems to want to step it up after the Spurs, Thunder and Blazers and none of the other three “contenders” going in — Houston, Golden State and the Clippers — are really addressing the gaps in their teams’ game. Houston still lacks leadership and it does not seem like they are going to get it together defensively anytime soon — espeically with Asik out the picture soon. The Clippers are getting better defensively but simply are not going to be able to defend the paint with DeAndre having to play the majority of the minutes in the middle. And with the Warriors, well I don’t want to go on a Mark Jackson rant right now…
AY: Understandable, we all put way too high of expectations on the Clippers AND the Warriors. But for Houston’s sake, Dwight Howard is proving me wrong. I was a firm believer that he had lost his sense of urgency and desire ever since he showed Laker Nation that he was a shell of himself last year. My point on Houston: The Rockets go as Howard goes, NOT as James Harden goes. I do want to swing this back to the Lakers briefly and shout the thought: Are we EVER going to see a 14-point, nine-assist Steve Nash again, Michael? I say simply, no.
MB: Last word on Houston: their defensive rating (point per 100 possessions) is actually at 101.3, which is ninth in the league. So they have actually been slightly better defensively than their per game numbers might let on — actually, they are a top 10 defense. Their pace tends to boost up both their numbers and the other team’s numbers.
But on Nash, I would agree that we will probably never see Nash that productive again, if only because his health will not allow him to play the minutes to put up those numbers. I do think that Nash is still capable of his peak level of efficiency, though. Even last year Nash put up 12 and six and was percentage points away from another 50/40/90 season. And I think that is an argument for keeping this Laker team together, as you were suggesting. If anything Nash can be one of the best backups in the league to a healthy and productive Steve Blake. If they can add both those pieces back to the run the point; use Gasol, Hill and Kaman as a three big rotation; and use their infinite amount of decent wings that become good with Nash and the D’Antoni system, that is a scary team even before mentioning the Mamba.
AY: That’s the only thing that scares me … when Nash returns in four weeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams are going to have some adjusting to do. Jodie Meeks has played with Nash before, so no worries there for me. But it’s going to be yet another two- or three-game grace period (which will probably be losses) just for Nash to get re-acclimated with his players! Did you watch the entire game last night (LAL vs. GSW)? Klay Thompson might finally be getting his confidence back.
MB: Yes, that should definitely be a concern but I think Nash’s integration with the guys who are playing well will be more seamless than Kobe’s was. Nash is such a great team player and he almost will always make the guys around him better. On Thompson, yeah it was nice to see him shoot it really well from deep again. He has been great all season and is no doubt a top five shooting guard to me at this point.
You have got to take off soon, though, and I will let you have the last word. How amazing was it that Kobe managed to play (and play well) after enduring that injury fairly early on in the game?
AY: It was an incredible effort for, who I think, is the hardest working player in sports to finish the second half with a fracture in his tibia plateau. Although he said he felt “no pain,” how much of that can you believe? Any fracture hurts, and to knock down a HUGE 3-pointer to seal the win vs. Memphis was a statement. He’s not done, he’s not washed up. He’s the Black Mamba and will reach ring No. 6 before he hangs it up.
And with that somewhat ridiculous statement, I’m going to have to retire for the day!
MB:It would not have felt right without a statement like that. But this has been fun and we will definitely reconvene at some point to address the Lakers and the NBA in general. I will see you on Friday.