Mired in a season-long slump, the Los Angeles Lakers have been struggling with mediocrity since the league’s opening tip-off in late October.
The stars haven’t aligned for the Lakers as Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol have either struggled with injuries or inconsistency. Bryant and Howard haven’t meshed on or off the court, while Gasol has barely been healthy enough to play. With a 27-29 overall record and currently in ninth place in the Western Conference, the Lakers have no margin for error as April and May approach. Will the Lakers make the playoffs? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this question.
Riley: They have to. They have the talent and they have the motivation after the recent death of team owner Jerry Buss. They’re only one spot outside the final seed for the Western playoffs but you can see them slowly coming together as the season moves along. Gasol should be back in a few weeks and they’ve gone 7-3 in their last ten games. The Lakers are on to something.
Green: Yes, the Lakers are playing better, but so are the teams in front of them such as Utah and Houston. The chemistry in that locker room might be the worst in the league and their two biggest stars, Bryant and Howard, are constantly at each other’s throats. They have a serious up-hill battle. Do you trust the Lakers right now? Why would you after what you’ve seen so far?
Riley: I trust the talent on this team, with Bryant, Howard, Nash, Ron Artest and Gasol coming back. Let’s be honest here, Howard and Bryant might be the two best players at their positions right now and that fact is hard to overlook. Bryant is already on record saying they'll make the playoffs. There’s something about the face of your franchise offering a guarantee that just makes the other players play a little bit harder.
Green: Los Angeles still has games left against the Clippers, Spurs, Pacers, Bulls and a host of other solid teams who are playing good basketball right now. They’re not only fighting themselves, but other teams as well. We keep talking about the Lakers like they’re this superior, talented team. But with an older Bryant, an injured Howard and Gasol, and two other veterans in Nash and Artest that are nowhere near the players that they used to be, the talent on the Lakers isn’t as great as we’re led to believe.
Riley: Despite all of that they're still more talented and experienced than the teams directly ahead of them right now for a playoff spot. You can’t tell me they’re not more formidable than Houston, Golden State and Utah. I have to believe that they would probably go further in postseason play than any of those teams. Age aside, there’s still room for one more run and this is probably their last serious run at another title. I can’t see Bryant letting that hope die so easily.
Green: Los Angeles has had their window, and now it’s closed. There’s no use trying to save it with reasons and excuses. The Lakers are what their record shows: a middling team with marginal depth and only a few game-changing players. Howard isn’t the star he used to be, and Bryant isn’t the dominator that he used to be—and hasn’t been in years. Coupled with the fact that the Lakers have the wrong head coach running the team in Mike D’Antoni, and things will get a lot uglier before this team finds greatness again. It’s time to officially say goodbye to the Los Angeles Lakers as we once knew them.