Chemistry, Kobe, And The 1-3 Lakers

As I write this article, Lakers fans are panicking, and Knicks fans are calmly drying out the soles of their shoes and getting back to routine.  

It should be the other way around. 

I’m not wishing a tropical storm to make landfall in LA. I’m using metaphor to show that the panic meters should be swapped.

But most people refuse to have it that way. They invested in their team - both fiscally and emotionally - and they want to win now.

The NBA has become a league of 5-man superpowers. Superpowers comprised from the following template:

A.) 1 ball handler that creates shots for others

B.) 1 ball handler that can create their own shot

C.) 1 off-the-ball big man

D.) 2 guys from a grab bag of: 3-point shooter, defensive stopper, smart role player, big man neutralizer, and awkward white guy

Here are the last two “Super” teams:

2011-12  Miami Heat 

And here is how they filled the template:

2007-08 Celts

A.) Rajon Rondo
B.) Paul Pierce
C.) Kevin Garnett
D.) Ray Allen (3-point shooter), Kendrick Perkins (big man neutralizer) and Brian Scalabrine (awkward white guy).

2011-12 Heat

A.) Lebron James (closest thing to an A. and B.)
B.) Dwayne Wade
C.) Chris Bosh
D.) Mario Chalmers (3-point shooter), Shane Battier (smart role player), and Mike Miller (awkward white guy).

In a league of advanced scouting and rapid adaptation, it takes this kind of versatility in the roster to cover gaps and win championships. You need a good presence inside, a good presence on the perimeter, and two quality ball handlers if you want to persevere among the most talented teams with the smartest coaching staffs. 

But have the 2012-13 Lakers followed this mold?

2012-13 Lakers

A.) Steve Nash
B.) Kobe Bryant
C.) Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard
D.) Antawn Jamison (smart role player), Metta World Peace (defensive stopper), and Steve Blake (awkward white guy).

If you believe in my “template theory,” then the Lakers appear to have the roster that will put them in position for a Larry O’Brien trophy. They even have Kobe Bryant as an X-factor.

But history also tells us that these things take time

The Miami Heat didn’t bring it home the first year. The Lakers may be in title or bust mode due to an aging X-factor, but chemistry doesn’t synthesize over just a handful of preseason games, an 82 game season, and a handful of playoff games. No matter how much that seems to make case for the contrary. It all eventually unraveled for the 2010-11 Miami Heat. 

Yeah, the Celtics did do it. But they also struggled mightily through the first two rounds of the 2008 playoffs, going 7 games each. Ray Allen was your three-point threat. KG a rebounding machine that could not only clean-up down low, but also score while he was down there, and Pierce as the catalyst that would clutch baskets alongside Allen until Rondo was ready to expand his role. They fit together so well, but it did take some time, and those early game 7's may have enhanced their cohesiveness. In the case of the Lakers, Nash and Howard still need to calibrate their parameters to fulfill their roles. Nash joining another ball handler in Bryant, Howard another big man alongside Gasol.

After 2 games, Bryant stated the Lakers have an added sense of urgency

But when doesn’t Bryant have a sense of urgency?

He takes the game very seriously and works hard. A man that's put more mileage on his body than a farmer will put on a tractor. He understands the gravity of this opportunity, and wants people to realize that he comprehends their window of time. But he's not overreacting. Or panicking. 

We (admitted sports fans), are all guilty of overreacting occasionally. It’s because the entertaining dividend of sport is proportional to our emotional attachment.

When you’re invested in a company (or sports team), you ride with them. You expect a correlative profit from the investment you put in. And when you have a lot of stock (emotional investment) in a company, the immediate trends affect you greatly. 

It’s the fans that overreact. The players rarely do. They make too much money and understand the game too well to lose an overall handle on their composure. But 99.8% fans are not professionals. And many succumb to a “what have you done for me lately” attitude that seems to forget each peak and valley when a valley and peak displace them respectively.

Do you think Tom Coughlin let the NY fan base get to him in the 2011 season? A tumultuous 9-7 season that he began on the hot seat and finished on the shoulders of his players? Of course not. He steadied his club through the perceived ups and downs and showed them what stoic leadership can accomplish. It was the fans that overreacted, not the players. By the end of the season, the Giants were so mentally tough that they could win consecutive playoff road games and have enough in them in the end to beat a favored (and bitterly motivated) Patriots team.

So much for getting too high, and wallowing too low.

Same goes for other teams that didn’t start so hot - the 2010 Packers, the 1993 Cowboys, and any of the last handful of World Series champions. 

At the end of the day, these guys are professionals. And the most professional among them is Kobe Bryant. Having played for a franchise that’s won 16 championships, and having played for them for 16 years, Bryant gets it. He understands the rigors of playing in the best basketball league on the planet. He has repeatedly undergone each stage -the rebuilding, reloading, and dismantling that teams go through- during his time as a Laker. If anyone knows how to right a ship, or at least weather the waters, it’s Kobe Bryant. Say what you want on a message board about the Lakers 1-3 start, as long as you have a healthy Kobe, he’ll salvage what many of you may think is wreckage. He has the experience, and now he’s got the template.

Yes, expectations are high, and the chemistry isn’t there yet.

But let’s let the reactants dissolve before evaluating the product.