Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.
1. Can the Lakers' poor start simply be blamed on effort, as Byron Scott has said?
Holmes: Of course not. The Lakers' problems are many. They've been plagued with injuries (Steve Nash, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young), have had a one-man show on offense that while entertaining has been problematic, and, last but not least, they're playing in a brutally tough conference. The Lakers could play at maximum effort and it might help make their games more competitive, but they lack talent. Simple as that.
Shelburne: Not entirely. Effort was definitely a component of the 1-9 start. But the Lakers also played one of the toughest schedules in the NBA without three of their top players (Young, Nash and Randle). They had far less talent than most of the teams they were facing, which led to some hero ball from Kobe Bryant. That can demoralize his teammates, who don't get into a rhythm offensively, which carries over to the defensive side of the ball. Yes, that was a huge problem and part of the losses. But the lack of talent, strength of schedule and injuries were more important.
Markazi: It's more than effort, of course. This is not a good team to put it bluntly. If you look at this team on paper and look at their results so far this season they should make sense. Unless there were some delusions of grandeur about what Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer could provide on a regular basis or a false sense of hope that Kobe wouldn't shoot every time he was open, the poor start should have been expected regardless of the effort, which hasn't always been bad.
2. Is Jeremy Lin right when he says communication and trust top his list for the Lakers' problems?
Holmes: Absolutely. A large part of that stems from many new players playing in a new system, but it doesn't help that Kobe has, up until their win at Atlanta, largely eschewed his teammates on offense. As Boozer said after the Hawks' win, when they all touch the ball, they all feel involved and engaged, which leads to them playing more like a team on both ends but especially on defense. Scott has also noted that the bigs haven't communicated well with the guards on defense, which he said has led to several lapses.
Shelburne: Yes, but not in the way that quote read. When Lin said "communication" and "trust" were the Lakers' biggest issues, that was code for Bryant not keeping his teammates feeling involved in what the team is doing. He just didn't want to say that out loud and cause a larger rift. Whether Lin is right is debatable. Bryant is a smart basketball player who knows how to win games. He also has heard he shoots too much for 19 years. It's not as if he doesn't recognize the drawbacks of that style of play. He's playing that way because he didn't have faith in his teammates to score. That's the real trust issue. And it can only be corrected by guys like Lin and Boozer proving Bryant wrong and scoring the way they're capable of.
Markazi: This team has a lot of problems, but if we start with the premise that the guys in the locker room are the guys that they will have all season and not worry about the future then yes, communication and trust are two big problems. The Lakers can worry about their more pressing problems for a legitimate point guard and center in the offseason. The only way the Lakers can improve their communication and trust is by moving the ball around and playing together, which, of course, hasn't always been the case so far.
3. Is it on Kobe Bryant to make sure team morale doesn't become an issue?
Holmes: Yes. It's on Kobe to do pretty much everything. In fact, in one way or another, he's responsible for almost every aspect of the team and, to a greater degree, what goes on in the organization. But as the veteran who has been on rebuilding teams, he can speak from experience to the new and younger players about how to stay focused on the process without getting too downtrodden after blowout wins. Everyone in the locker room will look to him to lead them.
Shelburne: Yes. That's the responsibility he accepted when he signed on to be the NBA's highest-paid player.
Markazi: It's on everyone but it begins with Scott and Bryant. If the players feel that Scott will simply do whatever Kobe wants, and Kobe continues to shoot 30 times a game, regardless of how many he makes, morale will suffer and it's going to be a long season. Everyone on this team has to buy in for the morale to improve and that's on both Bryant and Scott.