By Rob Mahoney
Although Pau Gasol has already become the Lakers' post-Mike Brown scapegoat, the cooler heads in the peanut gallery have preached patience. Los Angeles' defensive woes, after all, hardly fall on Gasol alone, and the learning curve of picking up Mike D'Antoni's offense similarly spans the entire roster.
On top of that, there's little fair ground on which to judge these Lakers because Steve Nash -- the steady playmaking hand that justified D'Antoni's signing in the first place, given their preexisting relationship -- hasn't played since Oct. 31. Ideally, a team this talented would be able to get by without Nash. But it's still too early for us to make any sweeping generalizations about the Lakers' place in the league, given that they've cycled through a coach, dealt with a depth-chart disaster at point guard and continue to manage the back aches and pains of Dwight Howard.
This isn't to say that all is well, but getting Nash back in the lineup is the first step in figuring out what kind of team these Lakers might eventually be. And according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Nash is still about two weeks away from returning, and thus we're due for another good bit of alarmism despite an obviously incomplete offensive roster.
The game will come easier to Gasol with Nash out there, just as it will to all Lakers. We're no longer operating in a Princeton-style alternate universe wherein Nash is masquerading as a spot-up shooter. He's going to have the ball in his hands and complete creative freedom, and we can expect all of the most prominent Lakers to eat well once Nash starts setting the table. Of course, Nash's eventual return does little to assuage concerns over L.A.'s miserable defense, which most recently imploded against the Orlando Magic juggernaut. There is something to be said about offensive confidence carrying over into defensive effort, but the Lakers' problems in coverage are far too significant to be solved with hustle alone at this point. They'll need Nash, they'll need a healthy Howard and they'll still need plenty of time; even if Nash's return allows us to evaluate the Lakers on relatively fair ground, realistically this team is still months away from substantive development in terms of chemistry and defensive execution. That won't stop fans, writers and pundits from checking in on L.A. throughout the course of the season, but hopefully at some point the overreaction might quell for the sake of evaluating the long game.