Posted Jan 31 2011 6:56PM - Updated Feb 2 2011 7:54AM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Lakers officially entered crisis mode Monday, when general manager Mitch Kupchak told NBA.com that the recent poor play by the two-time defending champions may drive him to make a trade to shake up an underachieving roster.
"Regarding a trade, I may have to," Kupchak said at the team's practice facility a day after the convincing loss to the Celtics. "I'm not saying that I've made calls today or I'll make them tomorrow. But I just don't think that we're playing as well as our talent level should allow us."
Even speaking in his usual measured tones, Kupchak's disappointment and frustration were obvious. More importantly, while saying he had not talked to owner Jerry Buss since being controlled by the Celtics in the fourth quarter at Staples Center, Kupchak said, "I'd be surprised if he feels any different."
The Lakers are 33-15, good for second place in the Western Conference, 7 1/2 games behind the Spurs and a game ahead of the Mavericks heading into Dallas' meeting with the Wizards on Monday night. But Los Angeles mostly built that with a good start against a soft schedule. Even the recent showing of 10 wins in 12 games did little to erase internal concerns, especially since that has been followed by home losses to the Kings and Celtics.
Most glaring of all, the Lakers have struggled to play with consistency against the best teams in the league, the clubs that will become the obstacles between a third consecutive title and a disappointing end to what Phil Jackson says is his final season as coach. Since Christmas alone, they have lost to the Heat by 16, the Spurs by 15, the Mavericks by nine and, now, the Celtics by 13, while beating the Thunder by seven.
"I try to be as objective as possible, but I'm concerned that our performance is not living up to our talent level," Kupchak said. "Our record is certainly OK. But we've lost a bunch of home games. We've lost a couple of big games at home. And to me, those are red flags.
"I'm not convinced it's lack of talent. I think it's there. Our team is very similar -- certainly our starting five is exact -- as the team last year. Yes, we're a year older. But it's not like our guys are 34, 35 or 36. They're all between 29 and 31 or 32. I think we've added a couple players that may make our roster even stronger, with Steve Blake and Matt Barnes. ... You don't age off the charts in one year when you're 30 or 31."
So, the Lakers may consider trades.
"I wasn't," Kupchak said. "But it looks as if we may have to. ... It's something I may do in the future. I just don't think that our talent level is playing as well as they can play. We have an incredibly high payroll and we do that because we have players that normally produce at a high level. And I'm not sure I see that now."
Also Monday, Jackson added to the growing unease by admitting, in response to a question of whether he is alarmed, that "Yes, I am."
Asked what alarms him the most, Jackson said, "Inconsistency, I think, offensively is the thing that bothers me the most. We have defensive mistakes. We've plotted them out. We talked to them about it today and what we made mistakes doing. But really, our inconsistency playing offense is really something we have to work on."
The Lakers play the Rockets on Tuesday at Staples Center before hosting the Spurs on Thursday in a game that suddenly has unusually high importance for February. They begin a seven-game trip from there, now with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the roster.
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