Lesser Lakers lack the aura in the NBA

Without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol sidelined, the team is struggling, writes Steve Dilbeck.

An out-of-form Pau Gasol, left, and coach Mike D’Antoni have had a frosty relationship. Andrew Bernstein / AFP
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They have a losing record. Their superstar is playing for the first time in eight months. Their all-star centre is still squabbling with the coach. Their two-time league MVP point guard remains out with chronic back problems.

Any other team and maybe they would just fade away. But these are the Los Angeles Lakers and nothing they do can ever be compared to a “normal” NBA team.

In the past 34 years, they have won 10 championships. They are part Hollywood and part soap opera, but they remain the NBA’s standard bearer.

Even now, with their 11-12 record, with Kobe Bryant starting his comeback from a torn Achilles’ tendon and looking every bit as rusty as could be expected in his first three games back, he still says: “I want to win a championship. I want to be playing in June.”

Wanting to and being able to pull it off are two very different things. They look ordinary; they have a roster filled with guys getting second chances and players who have bounced around.

Yet, without Bryant, those lesser Lakers won 10 of 19 games. He returned last week, the offence hiccupped and they promptly lost three consecutive games before edging the Charlotte Bobcats 88-85 on Saturday.

“Obviously, we have some improvements to make, whether it’s with the guys that we have in the locker room or whatever the management wants to do,” Bryant said. That sounded a lot like a man who did not think the necessary parts were in a locker room that has not been the happiest of places. The team has struggled under Mike D’Antoni, who from the moment he was hired, the second week into last season, has succeeded in alienating Pau Gasol, the forward/centre.

D’Antoni benched Gasol for a time last season, and continues to annoy the Spaniard by having him play away from the basket.

A 51.5-per cent career shooter, Gasol is shooting a career-low 41.8 per cent this season.

“The fact that I’m not getting the ball in the post affects directly my aggressiveness,” Gasol told the Los Angeles Times.

D’Antoni was hardly moved by Gasol’s comments, characterising them as “a nice excuse not to play hard”. Rumours immediately flew the Lakers were considering trading Gasol, 33, who can become a free agent at the end of the season.

The Lakers are without Steve Nash, and both his back-ups at point guard, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.

Bryant has become the de facto point guard. If the season were to end today, the Lakers would miss the play-offs and finish 12th in the western conference.