may return Saturday after missing 23 games with a fractured fibula. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
If all goes according to plan, the Lakers' season begins anew on Saturday. According to an initial report from Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Steve Nash -- who is due for a series of workouts throughout the week with L.A. having an unusually light game schedule -- intends to suit up for the Lakers' Saturday game against the Warriors. That report was later confirmed by Sam Amick of USA Today, who also noted that Pau Gasol is likely to play in Tuesday's game against the Bobcats provided that all goes well at shootaround. That would give Los Angeles its full starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 31st -- a time when the very idea of a coaching change was woefully premature, the Princeton offense itself was under fire and Jodie Meeks was half-buried on the Lakers' bench.
Having a full cast of star players won't fix L.A.'s defensive shortcomings overnight, but it would undoubtedly go a long way in terms of getting a fraying team back on the same page. Nash won't have the dominant voice in the Lakers' locker room so long as Kobe Bryant is around, yet his influence both on and off the court is a calming one, particularly when paired with the principles that form the basis of Mike D'Antoni's offensive systems. He'll help this team in ways we can't necessarily predict, as the precise benefits of his game tend to come in the subtlest ways. Nash will still be on the mend and the Lakers will still be a sub-.500 team, but better health should give L.A. a chance to make up for its early woes and the built-in limitations of a shallow roster.
But beyond that, the Lakers will have to take it upon themselves to turn the optimism of Nash's and Gasol's joint return into something much more tangible. It won't be enough to simply be the talented team lurking in the weeds all season. L.A. will need to make some considerable defensive improvement if its ever to climb back to the heights of its preseason projections, though even that may now be out of the question given what we know of L.A.'s lacking defensive work on the perimeter and the strength of the rest of the Western Conference field in general. Nevertheless, the Lakers have used up their margin for error and the luxury of flipping the switch late in the season; this is a team that needs to figure itself out post-haste, and make the best possible sense of the remarkable basketball talents at their disposal.