Thursday Reading: Lucky Tanking, D’Antoni’s fate, & Derek Fisher’s Lakers’ Roots

Darius Soriano —  January 9, 2014

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & Roll: The Lakers did not choose to tank. And that’s why they are lucky, because they didn’t have to choose. Instead, the tank chose them. Despite the Lakers’ best intentions, they are one of the worst teams in the league right now. And with one of the league’s hardest schedules over the next month (ten of their next thirteen games are on the road), the Lakers could easily be in the bottom five, record wise, by the All-Star break. Strategically, there can be no arguing that this is the best position for them to be in. For some, that’s enough to approve of tanking as a strategy. For others, tanking is a dirty word, because it is cheating the system, challenging the integrity of the game. And the Lakers are too proud to choose tanking. “We don’t do that”, the Lakers say. And they haven’t. They’ve tried their absolute best to put an entertaining and competitive product on the court, and considering the limitations they were dealing with, they’ve done a great job. Only, none of it matters, because the team is being absolutely decimated by injuries. So the Lakers now get to shrug their shoulders and say “Well, we tried” all the way to the bottom of the standings. They get to have their cake, and draft it too.

From Andy Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: Whenever possible, teams look to avoid firing coaches midseason. It creates the appearance of instability, of a franchise spinning out of control. When that midseason firing comes directly on the heels of another midseason firing, and paired with the death of quite possibly the greatest owner in professional sports history, it’s an even worse look. This scenario should be avoided unless a high-end roster is being blatantly mismanaged or a bubbling sense of urgency leaves the front office with no outs. For the time being, it’s exceptionally difficult to argue the Lakers have reached this point on either count. To begin, what exactly has D’Antoni done to merit being fired right now? Really, truly, what? With all hands on deck, the Lakers are a fringe playoff team in a loaded Western Conference, and that’s being optimistic. Beyond Kobe Bryant and (on his best days) Pau Gasol, the roster at FULL STRENGTH is composed entirely of players best suited as players off the bench. Some might only play 10-15 minutes a night on a good team. Others might not even make a good team. On the Lakers, they’re being asked to start or make major contributions as reserves. Even more so now, since half the roster apparently shares the same disease as Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Unbreakable.”

From D.J. Foster, ProBasketball Talk: No one was winning anything substantial with this roster – not even the great Phil Jackson, who surely would have a whale of a time coaching Nick Young. That’s part of the issue with evaluating D’Antoni’s performance this season. What standards should he be held up to? Those set by past coaches and teams far more talented, or ones more in line with reality? The Lakers have been entertaining, and not solely in just a trainwreck sort of way, as was originally anticipated. This is typically a fun brand of basketball to watch, but more importantly, it’s a style that’s hospitable to star players, Bryant included. The Lakers move the ball. They feel empowered to take open threes. For the most part, they play pretty unselfish basketball, which is pretty much unheard of considering that nearly everyone on the roster is on an expiring contract and playing for their next job. There are defensive failures, naturally, but what did anyone reasonably expect? From Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak’s perspective, D’Antoni has probably met his expectations so far this year. The reclamation project of Kendall Marshall has been a huge success thus far. D’Antoni has a reputation as a point guard whisperer, and maybe it was Kupchak’s confidence in D’Antoni that made giving Marshall a two-year non-guaranteed deal a high-upside play that looks like it’s going to pan out. That may not seem significant, but it’s a big deal for the Lakers. Most of the players currently on the roster, including Gasol, will be long gone next year. Finding cheap options that can contribute to next year’s team has to be the top priority, so long as we’re going to ignore the white elephants of tanking and taxes.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Hope springs eternal, right? That next win is just around the river bend? You don’t know until you try? ”I would expect them to play hard, as hard as they can possibly play, no matter what our record is,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday when asked to assess the state of the purple and gold these days. Longtime Lakers special assistant coach Tex Winter liked to say, “Everything turns on a trifle,” so maybe there is a bit of healthy belief going on here. The Lakers’ suddenly slumping season started with an opening-night victory over the favored Clippers after all, a 116-103 shellacking of their city cohabitants that was supposed to set the identity of this group as the overachieving underdogs with an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude as the Lakers won by playing five bench players for the entire fourth quarter. But these days, they’ve just looked like dogs. ”Man,” Nick Young said, asked to think back to that Oct. 29 victory. “What, this is our 35th game or 36th game today? Man. So, time flies. But we should be ready.” It could be lip service, but the Lakers are at least trying to present the appearance that this season isn’t a wash already. They even scheduled a practice Thursday in L.A. after originally planning an off day coming off their back-to-back games on the road in Dallas and Houston. There’s some nobility in refusing to succumb to a bad hand. And failing to prepare is preparing to fail and all that. But is it also failing to recognize the reality of where their season is at as a 14-22 team? And what about knowing when to fold ‘em? ”It’s still going to be exciting, of course,” said Young. “Because that’s the battle of L.A. still. That’s still one of the games that if we win, the fans will look past us losing [recently]. We need to go out there and just have fun and enjoy the moment and try to get the victory.”

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Looking back now, on his re-vamped personal website, Fisher — who now plays for the Thunder — makes clear he felt he had some serious work to do to keep his job under the legendary new coach. Fisher couldn’t help his lack of height, but he could at least increase his value to Jackson by mastering the art of shooting…Fisher remembers clearly Jackson’s first regular season game as Laker coach. It was in Salt Lake City, it was on national TV and it was close down the stretch. The Jazz had traditionally manhandled those Lakers, Fisher remembers, writing: “They were just so physically strong and mentally tougher than we were at that time in our careers, and they would show it just about every time we matched up against them.” The Lakers led 84-82 with about 45 seconds left when Fisher caught a pass in the deep right corner and fired away. Nothing but net (as you can watch, in grainy YouTube, on Fisher’s site). The Lakers won that game 91-84. They also won 67 regular season games that season, and the NBA championship each of the following three years, and twice more besides. Hardly anyone has doubted Fisher’s place in that Laker dynasty.

Darius Soriano

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18 responses to Thursday Reading: Lucky Tanking, D’Antoni’s fate, & Derek Fisher’s Lakers’ Roots

  1. I say forget this season.. TANK.

    Been thinking that for weeks now…

  2. -Lakers are 1 – 9 in their last 10 games…ouch!

    -Just played the ESPN 2014 mock draft 20 times. 14 times the Lakers got the 10th pick choosing Noah Vonleh, 6 times they slid to 11th. Since the Lakers don’t have a pick in 2015, this pick will be that much more important. Here’s hoping the ping pong balls are in our favor for a top 6 pick.

  3. A professional team – and the Lakers are a professional team – does not tank.

    We fans need to stop all this ‘tanking’ discussion. We may lose because we don’t have the talent or strong leaders, but this will not be something inflicted on the team by the coaching staff or the players. Just the word – tanking – implies something like taking steroids. This isn’t that. The players don’t cooperate to help the front office satisfy some nebulous objective. This is their career(s) and they are on 1-year contracts. Tanking does nothing for any of these players and it sure doesn’t help the coaching staff retain their jobs.

  4. Craig

    I agree players on one year contracts don ‘t tank . Also prefer offense to defense as one is more measurable.

    The question is has the FO created a tank by putting there players on the court.

  5. the front office put just about as good a team as possible this year, given the actual realities of player contracts, league rules and talent available to them. my goodness, i keep saying it. this is not a time to wring our hands or look for a scape goat to sacrifice. as long as they play hard, this team should be supported. even last night, a quick check of scoring by quarters shows that they were very competitive three of four quarters against a team that is supposed to be one of the better teams in the league even if their performance has been a bit disappointing. that points clearly to the difference between a team with star players vs a team with only role players, consistency. there’s no way to expect a team like last night’s Lakers to keep up with last night’s Rockets. yet they still at least produced the effort. support the team. there’s noithing else that can be done at the moment.

  6. Tanking has negative connotations, sure, but let’s separate on-court tanking from organizational tanking. The first one implies players and coaches quitting, or giving less than maximum effort. I don’t think anyone who’s watched a game this year would make such a claim. I think it happens rarely, if ever, in professional sports.

    Organizational tanking is something else – something I would say is more defensible. We are clearly not going to make moves to try to get better this season at the expense of the future. We are not going to trade our first rounder for a guy who might help us make a playoff push, should such a guy exist. We are probably gonna trade our best assets for draft picks if possible, which means we are likely to lose more.

    That’s organizational tanking and it happens all the time. That is what I think most of us are talking about. And given this year’s lottery and the current state of the Lakers, I think it makes sense.

  7. I totally agree with Mud. Excellent perspective.

  8. Good point from minorthreatt.

    I would also suggest that “organizational tanking” is for the most part just “rebuilding.”

    I don’t think that anyone has suggested that the guys in uniform will, have, or should, not try to win the game in front of them each night.

  9. Very good post, minorthreatt!

    Some really good articles, and posts in the past week.

    #FB&Gknowledge

  10. minorthreatt.
    mud pretty much said it all better than I could. We may not like what was done over the summer, but – given the circumstances and the CBA – what were the alternatives?

    Might we have kept Dwight here if we had hired a different coach? That is debatable because this city and this fanbase are who they are and this organization has certain demands on all star players who perform here. Dwight fell short in a couple of areas demanded by the city and the organization. Perhaps the biggest reason may be that he apparently didn’t really want to be here in the first place. Yeah, Kobe is tough on people who aren’t as serious as he is, but so are the fans over the long term. Also, the situation was better for him in Houston, regardless what we did or didn’t do last year.

    Even if Dwight had signed, exactly what else could we have done this year? We would still have had to pick up the types of players we did. Given the injuries, we would still be a 6-8 seed at best and – IMO – Howard couldn’t have gotten us past the 1st round.

    Regardless of the future, we would still be having the same discussion we are now going through.

  11. I’m with Mud. And it’s fun, even amidst losses, to root for upcoming guys pushing their limits. When Hill gets 14 rebounds, Wesley hits his 3s, Young goes off, or the new point guard on the block gets 20 & 15 – It’s not about moral victories or pollyanna, but being inspired, seeing improvement where it exists, and just being a fan. The wins, picks/FA’s, playoffs … they’ll come, we’ll all be patient and they’ll come.

  12. I look at it more as what I’vr always called it: a transition year. Where expectations arent as lofty and where we can afford sone failures.

    This is why people need to get a grip with calling others names and all, cos its all said intoxicated. In other words, you wouldn’t be saying it if you were 100% sober.

    In the end its about counting your blessings, enjoying the trip and looking forward to better things.

  13. From the other thread: no reason to believe Thibs will be coaching us as he is under contract. Much as you may want that to happen, be it you love his defense or you hate Mike, such talk involves tampering, and thus is not sensible to put faith on.

  14. Here’s hoping the ping pong balls are in our favor for a top 6 pick.

    The ping pong balls only set the top 3 picks. After that, it goes in reverse order of record.

  15. RR is correct. Its if you win a top 3 pick or not. The rest is based on worse record.

    ESPN has us picking Embiid at #1 and Vonleh at #10. I think the Lakers will not hesitate to pick Wiggins or Parker at #1. But our notable fetish for big men is also a factor.

  16. I think the draft should be determined by best record. So the best team not in the playoffs would get #1.

    Or you could arrange a mini tournament for the best 4 teams to miss the playoffs, and let them play for the top 4 positions in the draft (at the same time as the first round of the playoffs). That would remove all of the ugly tanking, and the temptation for some teams to stay stinky year after year.

  17. “I look at it more as what I’vr always called it: a transition year. Where expectations arent as lofty and where we can afford sone failures.” Do franchises resign 35 year old guards coming off of possible career ending injuries (before playing one game) to a two year contract making him the highest paid player in the league in a transition year?

  18. Anonymous,
    Get a grip. This has been discussed to death. Yes, this is a transition year.