Following the prolonged lockout and the cancellation of a number of games, the NBA is off and running now, and so far it’s been a fantastic season. This season, a number of younger and newer teams are stealing headlines, where stalwarts like the Celtics and Mavericks are struggling a bit. This is good news for a lot of fans, but a bit rough on some veteran teams. The most notable among these struggling stalwarts? Probably the Los Angeles Lakers, who have failed to get off to a very hot start.
The Lakers couldn’t have come into the season with more distractions. To begin with, Andrew Bynum was suspended for the first 4 games due to his menacing hit on JJ Barea in last year’s playoffs. Additionally, however, the team seemed to go out of its way to create other distractions. They hired Mike Brown to coach, seemingly without the blessing of Kobe Bryant, and everyone knows that was a dangerous move. Meanwhile, their trade for Chris Paul collapsed at the hands of David Stern, prompting a sudden, sacrificial trade of Lamar Odom to the Mavericks after the star sixth man expressed disappointment at having been included in the would-be Paul trade. And, finally, Kobe Bryant is going through a divorce, which even for a man who seems like the most focused athlete in sports has to be a monumental distraction.
All of these negatives have added up to a slow and ugly start for LA. Though the team managed to escape Bynum’s suspension without going 0-4, as some analysts predicted, they have still looked, at best, out of sorts for the most part. Kobe Bryant has been forced back into a domination role that he no longer fulfills quite as well as he did a few seasons and a whole lot of knee mileage ago, and the team is clearly missing the leadership of former coach Phil Jackson and the court presence of Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown (who also departed in the offseason).
There is, however, a bright spot for Lakers fans, and that is that this team is still far too talented to allow mediocrity to set in. In fact, nearly all of the negatives listed above can be taken in some light as positives, because they represent temporary adjustments. No team going through so many changes can be expected to come out playing well right off the bat, and the smart money is certainly on Kobe and co. turning things around. This team will still be right in the hunt come playoff time.