Lessons In Losing

Kurt —  January 8, 2009

Celebrities Attend Lakers vs Clippers Game
The NBA season is a long one, and every team has its ups and downs. In early December, the Lakers had one of their downs and much of the fanbase was freaking out., calling for trades and suggesting that there was just no way this team could win a title. Right now, the Celtics are in a down phase, and their fan base is freaking out, calling for personnel moves and suggesting that there was just no way this team could win a title.

To me, what has been different is how the coaches handled those streaks.

When the Lakers played like crap in December, Phil Jackson was coaching for April and May. He let them struggle, and while his placid style can drives fans nuts during a game against Sacramento, Phil knows it’s not about the Kings. A loss now can be a lesson learned as the team finds its own path. We all know from our lives, despite warnings from those in the know, sometimes we have to learn hard lessons for ourselves. And those are the lessons that stick. Phil puts out interesting lineups in the clutch in December seeing what worked and what didn’t. He tests players to help them and the team grow, and doing that means allowing them to fail. Coaches are competitive people, allowing a player and a team to fail is not in their nature, but Phil knows the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term gains.

There is no other coach in the league that has his eye on the big picture all season long like Phil, Greg Popovich could be the other. But those two guys have a lot of rings because they keep their eyes on the prize.

I’m not sure Doc Rivers can do that. Darius said it very well in the comments.

I think Doc (and this worked masterfully last season with a hungry group that had never reached the highest level) coaches to win every game and to maximize effort and production for every game. This goes hand in hand with KG, so for last year’s Celtics, I think this was exactly what was needed for them to win the title. It worked, so good on them. But now, this season, the Celtics are not as good, not as deep, and are coming off a 100+ game season where they played intense ball (or strived for it) every single night….and ultimately that same strategy is not going to work this season. Doc has to make adjustments, but with the makeup of his team (led by KG) I’m not sure if that’s even possible. They’re going to go hard every night, and that’s a tough thing to do when they’re in year two after a Finals win. Not because they don’t *want* to, but because it’s just a hard thing to do coming off the grind of a championship season.

Think back to the Lakers threepeat years earlier this decade. In those second and third title years, how truly impressive of a regular season team were we? How hard did we push for regular season dominance? The fact is we weren’t impressive or dominant in the regular season. In fact it was quite the opposite, we *flipped the switch* (as the pundits say) and dominated the playoffs (at least the majority of the series we played) and won multiple titles. Boston (and really Doc’s) goal should be to win the title. But he’s going to have to realize (and never being in this position before is going to hamper his ability to do so) that you can’t have a team play with maximized effort and energy for two straight seasons and 200+ games. Either he’ll learn or they’ll lose.

This is why I love our coach. People can complain about his style and the fact that he just sits there, but he wants his team to peak at the right time and he wants them to find their own path. How often does the General of the Army really go and give orders on the front line anyway? The soldiers, when in the heat of battle, need to know what to do on their own. He knows what he’s doing.

I like our army’s chances in June, in large part because of December.