Lakers can't bank on star-studded lineup alone
AUG 29, 2012 3:09a ET
You hear that phrase a lot. In sports, it means a team sure looks good when you jot down the fancy names on the roster.
In the NBA, it means talking about the Los Angeles Lakers.
"On paper, they have the best team in the league," Kevin Durant told Yahoo! Sports.
"On paper, they probably have the best team in the West and probably in the league right now," Chris Bosh told WQAM radio. "On paper. I’m saying on paper."
Durant is a forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bosh for the Miami Heat. Their teams met in the Finals, with Bosh and the Heat emerging as champs.
So you could say the Heat took the X’s and O’s on coach Erik Spoelstra’s paper and brought them to life — behind LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh. The Heat were doggone good on paper, and in real life.
Now come the Lakers, the latest paper team.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were already on the roster. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were added this summer. That’s four All-Stars in one starting lineup, making the Lakers the paper to everyone else’s rock. But teams such as the Heat and Thunder believe they still have a fighting chance. At worst.
And history shows us they could be right.
Anyone remember the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers? They were a pretty good "on paper" team. But James, an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal and an inconsistent Mo Williams crumpled when playing with cohesion and class meant the most.
Conversely, Mike Brown was the coach of that Cavs team, and now coaches the Lakers.
Anyway, how about the Lakers of 2003-04?
Another great paper team, another disappointment — as Bryant, O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone fell in the Finals to the overmatched Detroit Pistons. At least, the Pistons were overmatched on paper.
Yet they scooted to the title, winning the best-of-seven series in five rather simple games. If you remember, then-Pistons coach Larry Brown preached that his team pulled the upset by playing "the right way." That, it seems, is the scissors to everyone else’s paper.
The Cavs and Lakers of yesteryear are just two examples. The list of teams that looked invincible but failed to win a title dates back to the days when league happenings were documented via chisel and granite. Or it sure seems that way.
• Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone, Reggie Theus and the 1989 Atlanta Hawks.
• The Jail Blazers.
• Nearly every team for which Wilt Chamberlain played.
• Somewhere around 20 percent of those expected to unseat Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
• The 2010-11 Heat.
The last example may be the biggest reason for caution when it comes to today’s Lakers. After all, James and Wade alone supposedly could lift a team to 72 wins in their first season. Throw in a big man like Bosh, and . . . well, the Heat finished 58-24 and lost in the Finals (to the Dallas Mavericks).
"The best team always isn’t the one who starts out the season as the best team," Bosh warned.
"You still got to play the games," Durant reminded.
Both men speak the truth. The current batch of Lakers isn’t guaranteed anything but celebrated crowds and lots of TV time.
Kobe is 34 years old. Nash turns 39 before the playoffs. Howard is coming off back surgery. Metta World Peace is kooky. Brown’s philosophy is usually open for debate.
Then again, fans and media don’t often leave enough room for notations on paper. Just names. And when it comes to today’s Lakers, all they see is no less than four of the game’s brightest stars.
What will matter, of course, is that each individual accepts his role, responds well to coaching and keeps his eyes on the reason he was brought to town in the first place. That would be to finish one spot above second place.
On paper, no doubt, the Lakers appear to possess the very skills and savvy to make that happen. But as Durant, Bosh and the ghosts of paper teams of the past would tell you, the key is taking all those great names and turning them into something equally awe-inspiring on the court.
Otherwise, you'll likely be crinkled up, tossed in the trash and quickly forgotten.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO
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