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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