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National Columnist

Loving the Lakers' slow start? Enjoy it now, because it won't last

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The Lakers are full of star parts that will need time to figure out how to work together. (Getty Images)  
The Lakers are full of star parts that will need time to figure out how to work together. (Getty Images)  

Fool me once? Shame on you, Miami Heat. Fool me twice? Not going to happen, Los Angeles Lakers. Not to me, anyway. It'll happen to other people, because other people will fall for the trap of believing what they want to believe.

And people want to believe the Lakers will stink this season.

Just like people wanted to believe the Heat would stink two years ago.

And you can't blame people now, just like you couldn't blame them in 2010. Both years a group of superstars banded together in search of an NBA title, gaming the system to beat the system.

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Some onlookers have taken the naive position that this is what we want from our stars, to sacrifice money for the sake of something bigger. Which is silly, because these superstars are making ten-plus million per year. Sacrifice? Don't talk to me about sacrifice. At the end of their careers they will have earned $100 million or more -- much more -- and that's just in salary. When three or four of the biggest kids at the local gym form a team to dominate everyone else, that's not noble. That's gutless. That's what a lot of us thought about the Heat in 2010, and it's what a lot of us think now about the Lakers.

Plus the Lakers have dislikeable Dwight Howard.

Anyway, my point: The Lakers have lost their first two games, but don't get excited about that 0-3 start if you loathe the Lakers. And don't get scared if you love them, either, because this won't last. This is fool's gold, this 0-3 start. It's happening, and it's tangible, but it's not of any value whatsoever.

Remember what happened to the Heat in 2010 when they were thrown together? They started the season 5-4. People were giggling. They won a few games, then lost three in a row. Soon they were 9-8, and people were howling. Maybe coach Erik Spoelstra was the problem. Maybe the Heat should trade Chris Bosh. Maybe LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too similar, operating from the same spots on the floor, to share the same court.

Maybe we should all just shaddup.

The Heat were fine, but it took time. They were pieced together like Mr. Potato Head, a pair of eyeballs on top of a nose with some ears attached quickly, and it didn't look right at first. But those were the features of a super-model -- brilliant eyes, perfect nose, cute little ears -- and by the end of the season the Heat were a beautiful team. They would have won the 2011 NBA title had LeBron not disappeared in the NBA Finals, and then the Heat really figured stuff out and coasted to the 2012 NBA title.

Anyone want to trade Chris Bosh now?

That was the Heat then. And it's the Lakers now. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are holdovers. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are newcomers, future Hall of Famers who are trying to play with multiple Hall of Famers for the first time in their careers. It will take time, more time than the usual team takes to come together, because this isn't the usual team. This is a cluster of stars, only more delicate than the Heat, circa 2010, because of the age factor. Kobe is old and brittle. Nash is older. They will battle health issues all season and will probably take off games here and there, because the goal isn't to go 67-15. The goal is to win 16 postseason games.

And the Lakers are more cumbersome than the Heat, circa 2010. This is the Big Three plus one, and that one is Dwight Howard -- a ball-stalling center who clogs the middle because he doesn't have the skill to be effective anywhere else. And the biggest star on the team, Kobe Bryant, is no LeBron James. Don't get me wrong, Kobe can score with the best of them, maybe as effectively as any wing who has ever played. But he's not a beautiful passer, a beautiful teammate, like LeBron is. That's not a problem when his options are Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, players who will defer. But his options now include Dwight Howard, who is all about Dwight Howard in a way that stands out even in a league where the slogan should be changed from "Where Amazing Happens" to "Where It's All About Me."

Point being, the Lakers don't have to start the season sizzling to finish it on fire. Their defense was atrocious Wednesday in a 116-106 loss to Portland, but two things about that should be considered: One, Lakers coach Mike Brown is a defensive guru. He might not be a great head coach -- it's fair to say we just don't know yet -- but he is widely considered a great defensive coach; the Lakers will get better at that end of the floor. And, two, the Lakers usually lose in Portland. They are 4-17 in their last 21 games there, according to the Los Angeles Times. Losing in Portland happens. Don't know why, but it does.

On offense the Lakers are still learning their Princeton-type system that doesn't depend on Nash, Bryant or anybody else to dominate the ball. The Lakers either will get better at it, or they'll revert to the pick-and-roll game played by almost everyone else in the league. Either way, it will take time to get rolling -- more than two games, two weeks, maybe even two months.

But make no mistake, the Lakers will get rolling. They're not winning the NBA title -- that would be the Heat -- but this 0-3 start is a hoax. It's an oasis in the desert for people who want the Lakers to be lousy. They're going to be great, so don't laugh too much now. You'll end up with a mouthful of sand.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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