Not Tanking the Path to a Better Future? The Lakers Seem to Think So

Darius Soriano —  July 30, 2013

Free agency, for the most part, is run its course and nearly every major name on the market has had his fate decided (Brandon Jennings is the one player still twisting in the wind). With that being the case, the rush to grade the winners and losers has also commenced and the Lakers aren’t looked upon too kindly after losing Dwight Howard. Here’s a sampling from the great Zach Lowe at Grantland:

Oh boy, was there a lot of Lakers schadenfreude among rival execs in Las Vegas — and a lot of confusion about why the Lakers are bothering with Chris Kaman/Nick Young types instead of going into full-blown tank mode.

I keep hearing from L.A. fans assuring me this is a playoff team. Really? Take a look at the Western Conference: The Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Warriors are locks, barring catastrophic injuries. That’s six spots. Denver still lurks, Portland fattened up its bench, Minnesota and New Orleans are both going for it, and Dallas has shown it’s hard to win fewer than 40 games with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and even a so-so supporting cast.

News flash, Lakers fans: Kobe is coming off one of the worst late-career injuries a player can suffer, and this defense was a giant sieve anytime Howard hit the bench last season. This looks like a lottery team banking on free agency for salvation, only it’s not quite bad enough to get true lottery value.

Whether the Lakers are a playoff team, at this stage of the off-season, isn’t really an argument to get into. There are simply too many unknowns to account for and opinions are mostly shaped by whether you envision each team reaching their ceiling or not.

A topic worth digging into more, however, is how the Lakers have responded to losing Dwight Howard and what that signals for the direction they want to go. As Lowe states, the Lakers aren’t tanking. They’ve taken a punch on the chin in losing Howard, but have responded by getting up off the mat and sticking to their game plan of trying to land their jab in hopes of setting up a power punch at a later junction of the fight.

Mitch Kupchak spoke to the idea of tanking in a recent conference call with the media. From Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times:

“You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

“We have challenges. There’s no doubt. We don’t know when Kobe’s coming back, and we don’t know what level he’s going to come back at, although we’re optimistic. Everything’s good with Steve [Nash]. Pau [Gasol] should be fine. We’ve added some athleticism. We’re hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.”

As Kupchak states, there’s really no way of knowing how many games the Lakers will win next season considering the variables they’ve faced in building this team and the circumstances they face heading into training camp. Kobe’s recovery, Pau and Nash’s ability to remain healthy and perform, and how well that added athleticism translates to actual basketball performance all remain to be seen. If all those things break in the Lakers’ favor, the team will likely defy expectations and be better than early projections suggest. If they don’t, the team will fall to the back of the pack of a crowded Western Conference.

The bigger point, however, is that the Lakers aren’t simply surrendering that position in the race before the starting gun is fired. They’ve decided to at least try and field a competitive roster and see where that takes them rather than eschewing trying to win in order to secure a high(ish) lottery pick, as enticing as that may be. And, in trying to win, the team is sending the message (or at least trying to) that winning is what matters most, not necessarily the accumulation of another young asset that can be part of the future.

Make no mistake, this is a strategy that comes with a fair amount of controversy. The most valuable asset a team can have is a top level contributor on a rookie scale contract. And while those players can be plucked in mid to late portions of the first round, they most often come from the top several picks in the draft. Looking ahead to next June, the 2014 draft is one of the deepest and most talent filled groups in more than a decade and the prospect of setting yourself up to land one of those top players has the potential to be extremely rewarding. The Lakers, though, aren’t doing that and, as Lowe questioned above, many are wondering why, especially when this team, no matter how competitive they can be, are clearly a step (and likely two or three) below championship contention.

I’d suspect the answer has multiple layers — franchise pride, being able to sell tickets, convincing veterans like Kobe, Pau, and Nash that losing is what’s best — but the most important may be a look at the one thing those who support tanking so often cite as the goal of all those losses: building a better future.

The Lakers hope to rebuild their team quickly through free agency. They hope to convince stars on other teams that leaving their current situation for the Lakers is the best move for their respective careers. That sell job, however isn’t as easy as it may seem. Recently Paul George spoke about speculation that he’d leave the Pacers to go to the Lakers when he enters free agency:

Indiana can’t offer near the same luxuries off the court that Los Angeles does. Still, George is excited about the future of the Pacers, including the recent re-signing of forward David West.

George also is happy that Bird and Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard are at USA Basketball’s minicamp to support him. The Lakers, meanwhile, are transitioning after Dwight Howard departed in free agency for the Houston Rockets.

“I’m happy to be in Indiana,” George said. “I’m happy to be where I am. If I was going to leave Indiana and come to the Lakers, it just wouldn’t be a smart move for me. We got a great thing going right now.”

What wasn’t said outright was certainly implied by George. Why would he leave the Pacers for a team that is not as good? The answer is, he wouldn’t. What was also unsaid was that George would be forfeiting financial security to try and get to the Lakers and that surely plays a part in his decision making as well. But, if the biggest goal is winning, a lot of these players are likely to look at a the team recruiting them and openly wonder how close that new franchise is to competing for a championship.

That brings us back to tanking. The Lakers aren’t in a position to compete for a title next year as constructed and with the rest of the league as strong as it is. But, that doesn’t change the fact that they are in a position to remain competitive and, thus, show other free agents that they’re not that far away from competing should they choose to relocate to Los Angeles.

The point is simple: by trying to win (and, hopefully, succeeding) the Lakers position themselves as a team that can take the next step as an organization with just a little bit of help from a couple of new pieces. If that pitch sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same pitch the Chandler Parsons used on Dwight Howard. Of course Parsons (and Harden, Lin, etc) are younger than the core the Lakers have to offer next summer. But the point remains: the better the team is, the closer they are to winning, and the more appealing they are to a free agent.

This isn’t to say this is a pitch without holes in it. A high lottery pick could be viewed as even more of an asset when trying to win games than an extra 10-15 wins on the docket that won’t be carried over from one year to the next. And, you can never truly know how veterans view the next up and coming “star” as a teammate. Do they want to wait on his development? Do they think he can instantly be part of a winner? Does his low salary play into their minds as a positive when considering roster construction? These are unknowns and likely vary on the individual free agent.

But as it stands, the Lakers seem to be gambling on the fact that winning as many games as they can next season is best not just for next year, but beyond. Time will tell if that turns out to be true.

Darius Soriano

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66 responses to Not Tanking the Path to a Better Future? The Lakers Seem to Think So

  1. From a couple of threads ago:

    Keno,

    I am perfectly relaxed, buddy; I just don’t think the team is likely to be very good. If I am wrong I will be happy to be so and happy to admit it.

    Craig,

    MDA made a few adjustments, but the Lakers still finished 5th in Pace Factor with the slowest team in the league, and were 3rd in 3PA although they were 19th in 3P%. He also, as he has almost always done, ran a short rotation. Call it a style of play rather than a system if you like, but you need focus more on the facts and less on your preferred narratives.

    As to this year, some SSR guys think that Buss and Kupchak are doing some covert tanking–trying to tank without really tanking. I disagree, and I think Darius is probably closer to what they are thinking. I think they are trying to build next year’s bench now, and I think that Buss believes that SSOL/D’Antoni will make a comeback of sorts, and the Lakers will be a fun team that has some appeal to FAs. I am skeptical, but we will see.

  2. If the Lakers return to dominance, it won’t be solely through the magic of a big free agent signing (or three). They will need to make excellent selections through the draft, augmented by low cost pick ups and yes, by a significant free agent signing here or there. And yeah, it isn’t going to happen over night. Not by a long shot.

    Take a look at how the Warriors are going about things; it’s probably a reasonable model for future NBA sucess.

  3. phalic baldwin July 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I think they can be a really good team on offence. An elite jump shooting big in Kaman and a better floor spacer than Metta in Young. If we know one things its that Nash plays well with space. If we know one thing its that Pau Gasol is really good on the inside. They have stars but equally important there isn’t anyone to help off for the starters plus Hill and Blake off the bench. I’m no optimist though, this could be the worst defensive team in basketball.

  4. Excellent write-up Darius. I, for one, am not a believer in tanking for reasons that you’ve mentioned (tho I must admit, the kid Wiggins looks like the real deal). Unfortunately, I also feel that with this roster, there’s a high probability that, even without outwardly tanking, we’ll end up in the lottery anyway.

    Off Topic,
    From Dave Mac’s ESPN Article: Howard’s move puzzles Mike D’Antoni –

    “I foresee 11 guys playing a lot of minutes and 11 guys getting involved and 11 guys getting to where we can be more up-tempo and put a lot of pressure on teams”

    Looks as if he’s hell bent on breaking away from his customary 7-8 man rotations. Hopefully this isn’t just lip service because, if for nothing else, the one thing that Mitch has done this off-season is acquire the type of depth that can play multiple positions within D’Antoni’s system. Farmar can play the 1 or the 2. Young can play the 2 or the 3 and Johnson, like Young, can play the 2 or the 3 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few instances where he’s playing the 4, Shawn Marion style (remember, this is D’Antoni that we’re talking about). This, on top of hold-overs such as Hill (4 or the 5), Pau (4 or the 5), Kobe (2 or the 3) or even Blake (1 or the 2) that can man more than 1 position, makes for an interesting scenario. And while it would seem that by having multiple players that can play multiple positions would be reason to not have a long rotation, if one was to peer deeper, they could come to the conclusion that the more versatility that a team has, the more credence it gives to mixing and matching your personnel, due to its diversity/depth, to that of the opposition.

    So although my outlook for the team, as currently constituted, isn’t favorable (as I mentioned a few threads ago, I have them fighting for the last playoff slot out West) due to what I predict will be terrible overall defense (particularly within the interior), it’ll be interesting to see if D’Antoni sticks to his word and goes out of his comfort zone by stretching his rotation for the betterment of the squad.

  5. Tra,

    That’s a good point, in that this roster is constructed in such a way that it makes sense to have a long rotation. Young, Farmar, Johnson and Kaman are all guys who will expect minutes, as are Meeks, Blake, and Hill. That makes 10, adding Pau, Nash, and Kobe.

  6. I’m looking forward to seeing what Farmar adds to this team. If there were ever a system in which he could thrive, it’s the one D’Antoni prefers. And with Nash being Nash at this stage in his career, the minutes will come to Jordan one way or the other, especially while Kobe is out and Blake and Meeks share time at the two.

    Not to say Farmar will ever replicate Nash’s career, but people forget that Steve really didn’t hit his stride until his fifth season in the NBA. (Over his first four seasons, Nash played only 78 games total.)

    Nash was 26, 27 years-old when he finally figured it out; Farmar will turn 27 in late November.

    Coincidence? Sure. But we can hope for a repeat of that turn of events as much as we can hope for a high lottery pick, right?

  7. I believe that one of the keys to the Lakers’ fortunes next season will be the rarely discussed Jordan Hill. There’s a good chance that Hill will start at PF and, possibly, play significant minutes if healthy. He is one of the very best rebounders per minute in the NBA and is a demon on the offensive boards. He’s also an above average defender, is very good against the P&R, and he runs the court well even though he’s 6-10.

    In his last year at Arizona, he averaged 18 and 11, was their best offensive player (he played along side Chase Budinger), and was a lottery pick. He’s only 26 years old and could be entering his prime.

    Is he guaranteed to have an outstanding year? No. Of course not. There are no guarantees in life. But it should be interesting to see how he responds to the opportunity to play extended minutes. The energy is certainly there. And he has played impressively from time to time. One thing for certain–the Lakers are going to need him.

  8. I think that next year is just an audition for ALL players (including Kobe) for 2014. They are hoping 2-3 of them pan out as worthwhile keeping in 2014. At least they have picked the right style/physique of player and hopefully some will work out.

  9. Mid-Wilshire,

    I too do like Jordan Hill’s game. As pointed out if healthy hes a great offensive rebounder, defends well, and plays with energy. My only critique of Hill is that he has no range. Most of his scoring comes point blank at the rim. This leads to him playing time at center where we don’t need him. I think if the Lakers really want to run MDA’s system then they should be looking to acquire a stretch PF who could feasibly start.

  10. Has Lamar signed with the Lakers! There’s something on social media saying that he has.

  11. Chris J,
    Adding to your Steve Nash information…
    Steve was playing behind Kevin Johnson and he was a short, slow, white guy who couldn’t defend. It was generally assumed he wouldn’t stay in the league very long. He had to get to a situation where his skills matched what was needed and his weaknesses weren’t considered poison. This started to turn around with Dirk in Dallas, but he was still considered expendable and Mike D’Antoni got him in Phoenix, then he blossomed.

    Farmar could be considered in the same situation. But, then again, so could Jordan Hill.

    I may be looking too much at the flowers, but there are several signs that this team could create several careers, even if it ultimately isn’t for the Lakers. Of course, I would hope the Jordan’s both succeed and then stick around to provide firepower for the new era Lakers.

    Finally, I think Wesley Johnson has the talent to be a really decent player and Mike D’Antoni is the coach to be able to bring that out. Farmar, Nash, Kobe, Johnson, Hill, and Gasol – that could be a pretty decent main group by the end of the year.

  12. Vasheed,

    You offer a good point: Jordan Hill is NOT a stretch 4. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t play a major role on this team. When Hill is out there, I would play him with others who CAN stretch the floor, players such as Nick Young, Nash, Farmar, and Kobe. I see Hill as being both our defensive conscience (along with Wes Johnson) and an energy-guy similar to Kenneth Faried only bigger and not as fast. When Shawn Marion played at Phoenix with Nash, he was neither a stretch 3 or 4. But he was vital to that team’s success. I really believe Jordan Hill could be important to the Lakers.

    Craig W.,

    I like your comments as well. No, I do not believe you are staring at the flowers. There are a number of players on this team–the 2 Jordans, Wes Johnson, possibly Nick Young–who could thrive in D’Antoni’s system. They are all about the same age (26-28), all are athletic, and all are entering their prime.

    I am not a cock-eyed optimist. But the more I think of it, the more interesting (in a positive sense) this next year could be.

  13. Double R,

    The way in which Mitch has constructed the roster leaves no doubt in my mind, at all, that Kobe, Nash and Pau should all be on a minutes count this upcoming season. We all know that Kobe can be quite difficult, to say the least, in regards to being subbed out (something that D’Antoni alluded to within the same article). So much so that he has a history of subbing himself back into games without the blessing of the coach (no matter who was the coach at the time). However, after what took place late last season, hopefully, he’ll be amenable to a mins restriction policy.

  14. This started to turn around with Dirk in Dallas, but he was still considered expendable and Mike D’Antoni got him in Phoenix, then he blossomed.

    Nash made two All-Star teams before he ever played for D’Antoni. In 2003 in Dallas, Nash posted a 22.6 PER and .206 WS/48. In 2005 in Phoenix, his first year playing for D’Antoni, he was at 22.0 and .203. He then had the two big years, the MVP years, in his early 30s, but the MVP years were not huge outliers for him. Nash was an established star before he ever played a game for Mike D’Antoni.

    What actually happened was that Nash dropped off slightly in 2004, and Dallas was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. With Nash pushing 30, Cuban and Co decided not to pay him what Phoenix was willing to, and Nash walked.

    Again: facts work better than narratives when it comes to analysis.

  15. I have a detailed response to Craig stuck in mod, but suffice it to say that his characterization of Steve Nash’s career arc is at odds with the facts. So, using Nash as an example to suggest that MDA will have a huge effect on guys like Johnson and Young makes very little sense. MDA may help Farmar, but people need to be realistic.

    As to this team, leaving hopes and dreams aside, there are a few tangible reasons to be optimistic:

    1. Pau and Hill looked good together in a small sample, and intuitively they seem to fit together.
    2. Johnson and Farmar will probably help the perimeter D. They certainly can’t hurt it.
    3. Everybody on the roster is playing for next year’s deal, so even if the team is sitting at 11-19 or so after 30 games, guys will still be motivated.

    Andy Kamenetzky said that if at any time this year the Lakers put short-term competitiveness ahead of long-term rebuilding this year, that would be in his word, stupid. I don’t know if it’s quite that simple, but there is a case to be made there, because the ceiling for this group is pretty low.

  16. Daye to the Raptors.

  17. Darius:

    “The most valuable asset a team can have is a top level contributor on a rookie scale contract.”

    That’s the entire reason for tanking. Not only allows you have top level for cheap, relatively speaking, but also allows you the CAP space to sign some other top or near top level contributor. You’d have to play with their positions, since there is overlap, but if we use the Thunder, they took Durant in 07, Westbrook in 08, and Harden in 09. So tank and take Durant and Westbrook. Then draft Harden and sign a Rondo level contributor at his price range of 15 mil. And there’s the core with only suitable bench and rounding out talent required.

    Re the other part, a free agent and his agent would be entirely daft not to consider that the Kobe, Pau, Nash window is all but closed. No one signs on to this team thinking that they’re a piece away, since even if they were, the window closes rather shortly (there’s about an inch of open window left, as it were). Re the other end, sure, there is the unknown, but at least there’s a better pitch and spin with the young folks than with an injured and rehabbing Kobe, an injured knees with surgery Pau, and a clearly one step slower Nash, all of whom are in the twilight of their careers.

    Lastly, and by the way, the one angle that I’ve yet seen explored in the media is the contract with Time Warner. Everyone and his third cousin, 25x removed, speaks to team culture, etc., to explain the not tanking, but I’m wondering whether there’s some provision in the contract that might be construed to allow Time Warner to void the contract if the team intentionally tanks. That might explain why some haven’t appeared to appreciate the extreme need for the tank, when, as you wrote:

    “The most valuable asset a team can have is a top level contributor on a rookie scale contract.”

    Now, I’m not suggesting that I have any idea of the odds that such a provision exists, since for the same reason the Lakers ought to tank, Time Warner should be okay with a tank, but who in the heck knows, so some media soul might want to inquire, as inquiring minds want to know…

  18. C.hearn – post the link of what u saw on social media

  19. No team admits they are tanking. The Lakers haven’t made one move that suggests Theyvare trying to win games this season. Chris Kaman is one of the worst starting Centers in the League when you account for defense (the biggest job for a Cente). He can’t move his feet and can no longer create his own shot in the paint. His offense consists of 12 foot set shots.

    Young, Farmar, and Johnson don’t help you win ball games when they are your star players. Make no mistake about it… Those guys will be the lakers three best pkayers next year. The lakers brought in their young role players to be available for them next year to help seduce the big three. These guys help you win as role players… But as your best players they won’t do much.

    No team admits they are tanking. But the Lakers basically have done so by declaring they won’t add salary and want to keep te books clean for 2014. When your best players are all going to be playing bit parts (Farmar/Johnson)Young) and your prime time players is a 40 year old PG, a washed up 35 year old PF, and a 35 year old SG who just had a career ending injury who’s return is unknown… Guess what… You’re tanking!!!!

  20. This is just such a great article that only misses one point… The Heat don’t have the choice!!!! Hahaha. The choice is Wade’s to opt out and he of course isn’t a moron. He isn’t going to give up a max contract in his early 30’s while his body is breaking down.

    Does LeBron James’ Miami Heat Future Depend on Ditching Dwyane Wade?
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1721759-does-lebron-james-miami-heat-future-depend-on-ditching-dwyane-wade

  21. the Thunder

    As I have said before, they are the outlier. Other teams, like Washington and Minnesota, have had years and years of lottery picks. IIRC, Minnesota had 9 lottery picks on their roster at one point last year. Washingon and Minnesota will probably both make post-season this year, but neither is a serious contender. That is not to say I am opposed to tanking, but using the Thuinder as an example of why it should be done is like using the 1997 Spurs of an example of why it should be done. Tanking guarantees nothing except losses.

    Aaron’s point about Wade is well-taken; everyone needs to realize that Wade and Bosh do not have to opt out, and, neither, for that matter, does James, although he almost certainly will.

    But yes, if Wade has a bad year and continues to have health issues, whether he stays put is not up to Miami.

  22. Adding to the previous post: there is of course wide consensus that this is a special draft, but again, that doesn’t guarantee anything.

    I think it is possible that Kupchak/Buss figure that Pau and Nash will play well enough to generate decent in-season returns, but in spite of that, the team will be bad enough that no one, including Kobe, will object to their being moved in-season, and that perhaps they can package them with Kaman, Hill and Blake to get something back and Young, Johnson,and Farmar are seen as next year’s bench.

    Or it may be that Kupchak and Buss are where some of the fanbase seems to be on this team–going to surprise people, better than people think, etc.

  23. The Lakers, like any other NBA team, will never agree to tanking. Doing so would leave them open for sanctions by the League. The same goes as far as to why they have not “announced” their plans for the future. If they say we want to target x player or y player for free agency or try and trade for z, other teams would cry collusion and sanctions would rain down on us.

    Actions speak louder than words. All you have to do is look at the team as constructed and realize that we are loaded with trade bait and expiring deals. Remember that tanking does not guaranty you getting a top 5 spot on the draft, so perhaps you can trade your way into one or more late 1st or 2nd round picks. Alternatively, you can land talent who have expressed a desire to leave their club (or the GM thinks they want to). Or, you can also stay put, convince your expiring stars to re-sign at a reasonable amount and then hopefully have enough cap space to compete for 1 or 2 “marquee” free agents.

  24. Given where this team has been the last two years – i.e. in the playoffs – I am not sure how anybody can say we are tanking this season.

    Sure we lost Dwight, but it wasn’t like last year was such a good year, and we still have Kobe, Nash, and Gasol as a base of HOFers. Even if they are a year older, neither Pau or Kobe are old enough to consider them completely useless. Our bench is clearly considerably better and we have a training camp to make changes with.

    Perhaps if you expected this club to run up a $150M payroll and be favored for the championship, you could consider this year tanking, but given our circumstances, I think there are actually some good looking possibilities out there.

  25. 27 games before Christmas, 16 games before December 1 last season for the Lakers. Lakers regular season record w/o Kobe: 3-1 in 2012, 5-3 in 2011, 6-3 in 2009. A 2 to 1 ratio is nice. Wouldn’t be mad at a 18-9 or more likely 16-11 record by Christmas. I think this team as constructed is capable of that.

  26. this year’s team’s cieling is low?

    well, i’m ok with saying that it’s unlikely that they win it all, but winning it all is more than possible if the team is healthy this year. people can have thier opinions on whether they will be healthy or not, but there’s no reason to say that they won’t win it all next year. too many crazy things can happen, including season or career ending injuries to important players like LBJ and Durant or career defining seasons for someone like W Johnson or Farmar, all possibilities at this point. the Lakers have plenty of talent. it remains to be seen if they will gel into a cohesive unit. the sky is the limit for this year’s Lakers until reality PROVES otherwise. if this isn’t so, just give up playing the games altogether. everyone can just go golfing instead.

  27. Our bench is clearly considerably better and we have a training camp to make changes with.

    Some people, including Darius and the KBros, have talked about the value of a full training camp. It is worth noting that Mike Brown’s 2012 team that had a very short training camp went 41-25, and there was a lot of talk going into that season about how teams with continuity would have a big advantage after the lockout and how the Lakers would be in trouble with a new coach, new system, the Odom deal, etc.

    Then, in 2013 with a full training camp, Brown’s team went 0-8 in preseason–a rarity–and 1-4 out of the gate, and he got fired.

    So, while there probably will be some comfort level and marginal benefits thereof…I don’t see MDA’s having a full camp and his own coaches as being a big deal. This issue could be studied to an extent, by looking at how teams who changed coaches during the season did in the first full season in cases in which they kept the new coach, so I could be wrong. But IMO the “We have a full training camp this time” meme is mostly just PR.

  28. Sometimes I think rr comments mostly just to disagree with Craig W. haha.

    Arguing that having a full training camp being beneficial to a team is “pr” seems, for lack of a better word, silly to me. Camp is where coaches, especially ones who face have new team or have a lot of roster turnover, learn a lot about their players — who can play, what skills guys bring to the table consistently, what combinations work best, etc. I’m sure a counter to that is that “most coaches should know who can play, what guys are good at, etc” but I think last year showed, especially with MDA that he needed to tinker with lineups and different combinations before settling in on a viable rotation, adjusting his schemes, and getting the most out of his guys. It should also be noted that MDA has said multiple times that he uses camp as a teaching time to really drill down to individual players about their roles and how they should play within the system. Camp is also a time when you can practice fully, with scrimmages and with the players going all out, which isn’t really true with practices during the regular season when the grind of an 82 game season means less exertion during practices. This allows coaches to better learn what guys can and can’t do and further informs the evaluation process. I’ve gotten feedback like this from multiple coaches so this isn’t something that is unique to MDA.

    As for Mike Brown, I’d argue the lack of success in his 2nd year had a lot to do w/ the lack of buy in and/or difficulty of adjusting to the Princeton Offense and a combination of injuries that limited how often guys actually played together in the actual pre-season games.

  29. I consider myself a big time lakers fan. And in light of Dwight leaving. Metta being amnestied. Nash being overpaid and injured. With Kobe attempting to come back from a devestating injury for any player, let alone a 35 yr old wing player…. With this being a deep draft, and with us not having a 1st rd pick in 2015, I think we should tank. And tank good. This is the first time we will have a chance to get a franchise changing player since Bynum. There is nothing worse in sports than being mediocre. Not good enough to compete for championships, and not bad enough to get a new franchise player like Durant or James. Or even a 2nd tier star like Harden, or Westbrook. This is our one chance to get that player for our future post Kobe and I think we have to take it. James isn’t coming. And Melo isn’t leaving his hometown Knicks. Our best chance at an all-star is Kevin Love and even he won’t be good enough by himself. Tank!

  30. Darius,

    Couple of points:

    1. Like I said, you could study the issue after a fashion by studying how teams did in this situation–coach comes in during the season and is retained the next year. Not saying that you should take the time to do that, but let’s face it–you are and Xs an Os guy, so that is what you are going to place a lot of value on. Everything in the post is just opinion, based on your belief in the value of Xs and Os–you even once said, “Xs and Os do so win championships” But, you may be right. I just don’t see any evidence to that effect. Of course coaches are going to say training camp is a huge deal; that’s tied to their job security and job description. It would be just as easy to explain the Lakers’ second half improvement by Howard’s back getting better and by their luck in close games evening out. And the reality is that, yes, the Lakers pretty much know what all these guys, except maybe Elias Harris, can do, or at least they should.
    2. As to Craig, any time he wants to bring some specific facts, or refute mine, he’s welcome.

  31. rr has made it known that he is not optimistic on this year’s team. This does not mean he is not a good Laker fan, he is simply stating his opinion which he has said – he hopes is wrong. He has also stated some pretty compelling reasons why he feels that way. Many people are responding to him simply because they are Laker fans and they want to be optimistic. The reasons stated for being optimistic are often not reasons at all. They are simply statements saying that the Lakers will be “interesting” or that they will “not be as bad as people think”. The courtroom equivalent I am picturing is rr as prosecutor laying out mounds of compelling evidence, and then he is countered by the defense attorneys who say nothing about the evidence and stand up and say “my client is innocent”. The jury then goes out and acquits. Well – OK – on FBG – the Lakers are innocent. however, FBG is not the courtroom where this trial will take place. It will take place on the court. So enjoy the off-season while you can, because the season will start soon enough. My own opinion is that the Lakers will either seek a plea deal (tanking) or they will be found guilty on the court. Either way they will be do’in some time.

  32. Each year the NBA has teams that disappoint and teams that overachieve. Which possibility we fit into is what we are arguing about. There is no absolute rule we can point to, therefore all we are left with is our opinion.

    I have consistently felt that statistics don’t prove points, but only explain some history and point out some places to look that we hadn’t previously considered. Therefore, I will not indulge in trying to ‘prove’ my opinion that the Lakers are more likely to be an overachieving team next year. The players we have do seem to fit the style of play we are likely to use and Mike D’Antoni is the type of coach who seems to make better use of average or previously unused players. Those are my ‘facts’ and I am optimistic about them.

  33. Craig,

    Count me among those who are (somewhat) aligned with your thinking. My own feeling is to be guardedly optimistic. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be statistically predictive about the forthcoming season. As the saying goes, “That’s why they play the games.” But I see some validity in your argument that the Lakers have done a fairly decent job of recruiting players who might be a good fit with D’Antoni’s system. (I’ve read several articles that concur with that view.)

    I think, by the way, that the Lakers WILL be interesting. Last year, in its own way, was rather boring and dull. Whether “interesting” will translate into wins–we’ll see. I share your optimism–at least in part. And I’m actually looking forward to the next season. I think it’s entirely premature to predict an apocalypse for the Lakers.

  34. Last year was painful.

    My disdain for Howard is well known here, and that was a huge part in it.

    But that d-bag aside… from the 0-for-training camp start and Nash’s almost immediate leg injury to Pau being hurt off and on; Hill being lost for almost the whole season; Kobe’s Achilles; the infighting (rumored or otherwise); the guardless playoff roster; as well as Dr. Buss’ death… we could go on and on.

    There were plenty of reasons to want to see last season end and be buried in whatever place we store/try to forget bad memories.

  35. i’m willing to bet that it’s more probable that this year won’t have nearly as many tragedies as last year. it could easily be worse, but it could more easily be better.

  36. In 08 a backcourt with Farmar, Sasha, Fisher, Kobe, Luke and Ariza ranked 6th in steals. Kobe and Fisher were very solid on defense in 08 and the other players made mainly opportunistic plays. Not sure about Young and Johnson’s instincts but they have some speed needed to jump passing lanes. With a new defense scheme and Rambis back in the fold Lakers may get some of that back and won’t rank 25th in steals like last year.

    In 09 it’s tough to compare to next season because they had the continuity and years together to get chemistry down. But Lakers ranked 2nd in steals with Fisher, Farmar, Ariza, Kobe and Sasha on the perimeter.

    In 10 when the pace slowed they ranked 11th in steals. With Farmar, Fisher, Kobe, Ron and Brown as the main 5 man rotation. Man to man defense improved with Metta and Kobe and Fisher aged a bit. But still right around top 10. Still with Rambis on the sidelines and some youth on the perimeter.

    As the pace got even slower and players got even older from 11-13 they ranked 14th, 30th and 25th. The youngest player on the perimeter that got at least 19 minutes the last 3 years was Brown and Meeks at 25. The other 4 were 30 and over, most springy was Barnes. This year Lakers have at least 4 players 28 or younger who’ll see minutes in the backcourt, drastic turnaround from last 3 years. Not saying a few younger players will make the Lakers the ball hawking team they were. But it could change their defensive mindset to one of aggressiveness and taking more chances rather than sitting back playing prevent defense because they’re so slow. Young legs and having Rambis helps Lakers stay in front of their man, quicker on closeouts and jumping passing lanes. But going smaller probably means being a top rebounding team is done so rotations must be quicker and gang rebounding must happen to prevent 2nd chance points from stockpiling. Could be an okay trade off if a nice scheme is implemented.

  37. Few can call me over optimistic over the years. I like to think my 40 years has taught me something about the Lakers. Yet this year I am very positive. I didn’t like last years team. I have never been a Dwight fan and felt he is way over rated with a huge ego. I like this team. Not to win it all but to be a 48 to 50 win team. Faster, better shooters, better bench and I see a team who will try harder and be way more fun to watch. If I am wrong I will send bottles of top quality Italian Wine to all who disagree with my prediction. That called a win/win to all of you! There is no way Lakers can have as much bad luck as last year and of course luck is the residue of effort and preparation.

  38. Last year was the first year in the last 50 where I really didn’t want to watch some of the games. I recorded most of the games and skipped over parts. They were just not fun games to watch – win or lose. Whatever the record, I am looking forward to the games this year.

    I think the injuries had something to do with it, but Howard – though a hard worker – just didn’t seem like a great fit. I hope it is not just Monday morning quarterbacking. I wish Houston well, but I am not sorry I won’t have to cringe when Dwight starts to back his man down, or shoot free-throws. I certainly will miss the rim protector, however, and I think this team is really going to have to work together on defense or they could get slaughtered.

  39. I’m glad to see Farmar will back in a Laker uniform. As much initial hoopla given for Ramon Session’s trade a couple of years back, to me, this is bigger as Farmar is at least as capable, attempts D and doesn’t shirk from opportunities to win. He had good stats with the Nets and was making good money overseas. He, Nash and Gasol (if healthy) are going to play to win. Will there be enough horses on this team to run with them? But I’m looney enough to not cancel the parade until the season’s over.

  40. Not good enough to compete for championships, and not bad enough to get a new franchise player like Durant or James.

    Again, this is pretty much where the Lakers were when Shaq came, and it is exactly where Houston was when they got James Harden, which lead to getting Howard. The “don’t be mediocre” thing has become a meme, but like most memes, it isn’t truth.

  41. 2012-13 Steal Percentages:

    Metta World Peace: 2.5
    Dwight Howard 1.6
    Wesley Johnson: 1.3
    Nick Young 1.3.
    Chris Kaman 1.1

    Farmar is pretty good at getting steals; his career numbers are at 2.0

  42. Robert,

    The courtroom analogy is apt. Good post. The one caveat I would add to my statement about hoping to be wrong is that this year only matters in terms of how it affects July 2014, 2014-15, and July 2015, and I am not sure what the best scenario is for the future of the Lakers:

    a) 22-60, trade Pau and maybe Nash, Hill and.or Blake, get a Top 5 pick, fire D’Antoni

    b) 46-36 fun LakeShow II team that many people here are somewhat aggressively suggesting will be what we see; D’Antoni’s image recovers and he gets some CotY votes.

    c) 33-49, get a 10-14 pick (but maybe Pau, Hill and/or Nash show they can play/stay healthy or Johnson/Farmar step up and Kobe comes back. Probably fire D’Antoni). This is more or less where analytical types think the team is, and that is one reason that those types–like Lowe–are so down on the Lakers.

  43. rr,
    Do you think the 2003 draft happens almost every year. Even in that draft there were only 5 true winners, and that was the best draft in modern history.

    The NBA lottery is the same as the CA lottery – very little chance of winning it all and mostly just good-to-terrible players available to the remainder of those in the lottery.

    Any team who ‘tanks’ just to get a chance at Andrew Wiggens is simply foolish. Only one team will get him and they will probably really be a surprise. When was the last time the worst team got the #1 pick?

  44. Does training camp matter? Of course. How much does it matter? Right below “Seeing movies as a team on long road trips.”. Training camp helps your lazy players get in better shape. Teams have an entire season to adopt the X’s and O’s that really will work for them in the playoffs after much trial and error. But everyone knows how little I put into X’s and O’s. The reason? Every coach basically looks at the same stats and same film in the SAME way. Mike Brown plays one way… The team sucks. MDA plays another way… The team sucks. Dwight Howard gets healthy… They start winning games. Talent is basically all that matters.

  45. Aaron,

    Two words and two numbers for you: Mike Brown 0-4

    Two more words and two more numbers for you: Bernie Bickerstaff 4-1

    And that was with the same team no?

  46. Aaron: I agree. There are no “Miracle Mets” type stories in the NBA. Unless you are in the top 3-4 teams in terms of talent going into the year, your chances at a title are almost zero. In fact most years, the winning team has one of the best players, if not the best player in the league (as stated many times last year – other than Detroit every 15 years or so). The x’s and o’s and the match ups can/do make the difference between winning it all and losing in the later rounds. However you can’t take inferior talent and strategize your way to the title. As much as I love Phil – there is no way he can win without talent. However there are many coaches who have had the talent and not won. In any case, the long term focus should be on how we can get that type of talent (and I think it is), and in the meantime we do the best we can – or not – as you have implied : )

  47. Rubenowski: All true. You can take good talent and get poor results with bad coaching. What you can’t do is take inferior talent and win a title.

  48. I find it strange anyone is disagreeing with rr. I guess they aren’t Lakers fans. This team has no shot at winning anything. If you root for the Lakers you should be rooting for the worst record possible as to ensure the best odds at acquiring a top lottery pic.

    Rubenowski,
    Context. Haha. The Lakers with Bernie played awful teams all at home and barley won. Only one good win against the Nets (and it was close). Let’s keep it real.

  49. If we are going to carp because we are not likely to ‘win it all’ this year, then we all might as well try another sport. We are very unlikely to get to the Western Conference Finals this year, never mind win it all. But should we just whine and complain because that is the likely case? I watch sports as much to enjoy the game going on as to follow a winner. Don’t get me wrong, I like winning and I would expect our ownership to try to win, but even the Lakers can’t win every year and the new CBA was designed to ensure that fact.

    I think this team has a real chance to finish above .500 in the Western Conference. That is my starting point, not the Larry O’Brien trophy. With that in mind, I am optimistic.

  50. Craig,

    Basically everyone who talks about/studies the NBA says that this draft is a big deal and goes 10-12 deep with All-Star talent. And, it is doubly important for the Lakers since they will only have their 2015 pick if it is Top 5 protected and do not have their 2016 pick.

    That noted, I have said several times–including in this thread–that tanking guarantees nothing except losses.

    And the problems with your position are 1) that there is no chance that the Lakers can contend with this roster. So the question then becomes what kind of season in 2014 will help the Lakers get back to that point. Some people, like Aaron, think the answer is a season with as many losses as possible and as high of a draft pick as possible. 2) You have written many times about what you see as the importance of the new CBA, and if that is the case, in that context getting guys on rookie contracts who can contribute will be a key to success. The Lakers’ dearth of draft picks is, therefore, a problem, and so making sure that they maximize this one is far more important to them than it is to, say, Boston, which has nine first-round picks over the next five years.

  51. Classic Bill Simmons…

    Lakers (+700): For these odds to drop, we only need a sentence that starts, “Kobe Bryant suffered a major setback today … ” Plus, wouldn’t it be just like the Lakers to land Wiggins and LeBron in the same summer? I’m moving back to Boston if this happens.

  52. Craig,

    My reply is stuck in mod, but in case you missed it, I was saying that I am not sure which scenario, A, B, or C–is best for the Lakers long-term.

  53. Phil was a rebound away from taking a team featuring Kwame Brown and Smush Parker in the starting line-up from taking out a top-level talent team in pheonix out of the playoffs in 2006.

    Kwame had 1-2 games where he had 20-10 that series and was outperforming amare stoudemire under Phil’s leadership for the majority of the series.

  54. thank god that aaron and his source (the famous finger puppet) can tell us the real laker fans from the fake ones.

    the value of a training camp varies. if it’s the same coach, same team, same approach, then it’s not so important.

    that’s not the case this year. it’s so obvious it’s kind of incredible people here dismiss it.

    it’s like some of the people here have never played on a team before. stop playing video games and get into the real world.

  55. Look like a TE just fully recovered from an achillies tear – hopefully Kobe will be more than ready for the opener.

    Fred Davis (Achilles’) “appears to have recaptured his speed and explosiveness.”

    Davis has shown no signs of the rupture that ended his 2012 season. Per the Washington Post, he “has run routes without limitation and gotten open, beating coverage by linebackers and safeties.” An athletic and big (6’4/258) tight end with solid route-running chops, Davis should start creeping up draft boards. He was on pace for 54 catches and 742 yards before going down in Week 7 last year.

  56. it’s like some of the people here have never played on a team before

    Played HS ball. We had a really good coach but a bunch of slow kids like me, so we struggled against teams with better athletes.

    But the NBA is different, so I will issue the same invitation to you that I issued to Craig and in a different way, to Darius: bring some specifics. If you can find some examples of teams that

    a) Hired a coach in-season
    b) Retained that coach the next season
    c) Lost a superstar big man/some high-level talents
    but d) had an unexpectedly good year

    Let’s see those examples. If they are there, I will look at them. Also, what, specifically, are the benefits of D’Antoni having a full camp that will give the Lakers a competitive advantage over their opponents, who, of course, will also have full camps? Which players will specifically benefit and in what ways?

  57. Craig,

    You do more complaining that just about anyone here; you just complain about different things.

  58. who cares about what other teams have done in the past? there always has to be a first. maybe this year’s team can surprise everyone and be a first. if they compte hard and give themselves a chance, i’m ok with them. i don’t need a center who has no post game, but demands to be the focal point of a post offense. i’d rather find another solution, even if it means a trying couple of years. at least the current squad actually WANTS to be in Laker colors.

  59. Also, to clarify, I don’t think camp is meaningless. I just don’t see it as a reason to adjust hopes for the Lakers significantly upward in view of the talent on the roster.

  60. i agree with your last comment. training camp alone is not necessarily grounds for a significant adjustment in expectations/success. As much as I dislike MDA, not having training camp last year was huge. Maybe the team would have performed the same, but you’ll never know. Learning on the fly is never fun, and that was not the only problem he faced. But he still made some rookie coaching mistakes (the Pau conflict for one) that are inexcusable. But he’s learning on the job, just like his boss Jimmy Buss. Laker fans will have to suffer until they figure it out.

  61. Craig: I am not sure why you think we are “complaining”. I have complained plenty (especially about certain things), but not in this thread. If you think 500 is a good target, I can live with that. Also, while part of me wants the lottery scenario (middle of the pack is never good), you can be certain I will root for the Lakers every game.
    Triangle: I started for a back to back state championship team in high school and also played in college. rr is correct – this is not comparable to any of that. You can have those miracle stories in high school (and a little bit in college). The NBA is talent driven. We can still have fun and watch. That is what we all did in the 90’s. We just did not have as much fun as other decades.

  62. And, it is doubly important for the Lakers since they will only have their 2015 pick if it is Top 5 protected and do not have their 2016 pick.


    Is that really true? (Honest question)

    How could that happen given the so-called “Stepien Rule” that says teams can’t deal their first round picks in consecutive drafts? Even with the contingency that they could keep a Top 5 pick, the likelihood is greater that a team will pick later than that, so it seems improbably the NBA would allow even the possibility of such a situation occurring.

  63. Aaron,

    Mmmmmm…I guess I missed the context of an 0-8 preseason as well, huh?

    Aaron: It’s the preseason!!! Nobody cares about it! Everyone’s trying to tinker with lineups!

    Yeah, I guess the Lakers were trying just as hard as every other team out there and it was just pure chance that they didn’t even win one game. It wasn’t that the players weren’t enjoying Mike Brown. Not at all.

  64. Chris J–

    Here is Larry Coon:

    In the trade, which brought Steve Nash to LA and ensured that the Lakers will not have a first round pick in this year’s (2013) draft, the team also sent a future first round pick and two second round picks to the Suns. The first round pick will be conveyed no sooner than 2015 due to the Ted Stepien rule. It is protected 1-5 in 2015, protected 1-3 in 2016 and 2017, and unprotected in 2018.
    _______________

    http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/lakers/post/_/id/35622/assessing-the-lakers-second-round-and-future-picks

  65. But he still made some rookie coaching mistakes (the Pau conflict for one) that are inexcusable. But he’s learning on the job, just like his boss Jimmy Buss. Laker fans will have to suffer until they figure it out.

    Well, D’Antoni is 62 years old and this is his third NBA job. He has coached in the other mega-market (New York) and he was brought in last year specifically as a quick fix when things started off badly for Mike Brown.