Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Kings

Darius Soriano —  April 2, 2014

I typically believe that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. While conspiracy theories and grand schemes are fun to contemplate, the truth is often less sexy and probably pretty boring.

This brings me to Mike D’Antoni and, at least in the view of many observers, his puzzling rotation decisions from game to game. For some context, here is Eric Pincus of the LA Times on Jordan Hill’s lack of time in Tuesday’s game against the Blazers:

On March 27, the Lakers’ Jordan Hill scored 28 points with 16 rebounds against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Five days later, he couldn’t get off the bench, outside of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. “Yeah, man. I don’t know. I’m all out of words. I don’t know what’s going on,” Hill said after the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. “It’s getting old now. Can’t be frustrated.  Can’t be mad. I just need to stay humble. “Hill, who will be a free agent this summer, said he is open to returning to the Lakers but not for more of the same. “Of course not,” Hill said when asked the question. “Who would?”

Forget for a moment the implication Hill makes about not wanting to return next season (should things stay this way) and instead focus on the fact that within a 5 day span Hill went from key player (and starter) to a DNP-CD. Hill’s situation is not unique, of course, as the player who replaced him in the lineup can surely attest. Chris Kaman went from a string of games planted firmly on the bench to suddenly getting a boatload of minutes and even starting against the Blazers next to Pau Gasol.

After the game, D’Antoni’s explanation was pretty simple:

“There’s not enough minutes,” D’Antoni after the loss. “You just can’t play 12 guys just in and out, in and out, in and out. … It just doesn’t work…You’ve got to make choices and you don’t know before you make the choice that it’s the right choice,” D’Antoni said. “You probably know afterwards. You just go on your gut, you go on what you see from previous games.  You go on the opponent and then just try to make the best choice you can.”

I, for one, tend to believe what D’Antoni is saying. In a different quote he explained that, in looking to the future, part of the plan is to play Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre. With Pau a lineup mainstay, that doesn’t leave many minutes for the rest of the front court players. Likely one, or both, of Hill and Kaman will suffer by being left out of the rotation. This is just how things go.

I don’t have to agree with D’Antoni, but it is easy to draw a straight line to get to his conclusions. I have long discussed how this roster is out of balance and when that occurs someone is bound to get squeezed. It just so happens that the players feeling that pinch are guys who, on the surface, are the better players. They are the established veterans and, in most situations where trying to put the best talent on the floor is the goal, they would see time over their teammates who are younger and less effective (at least over the long haul) than them.

This is where things get less simple, however, and start to veer off track from the first sentence of this post. At this point in the season, the Lakers aren’t necessarily about winning each game — at least not entirely. Mike D’Antoni is trying to put his best players on the floor, but is also trying to play his young(ish) players minutes. He is trying to stick to his system, but is also trying to see what can work on the edges of that system by pairing multiple bigs in the same lineup.

This leads to the type of inconsistencies that have served as the backdrop of the team’s rotations for nearly the entire season. It doesn’t help that the coach can be fickle, trying to ride a hot hand only to bury the player when that hand turns cold. Jordan Hill’s game against the Blazers is a prime example of that — in the game immediately following his big game, he shot 5-12, didn’t go to the FT line, and saw his rebounding rate fall off. After that game his minutes got reduced and then last night he didn’t play at all. So, there is an argument to be made that inconsistent performance can lead directly to inconsistent minute allocation as the coach seeks workable solutions.

The flip side to this argument is how much this lack of lineup consistency (and some would argue trust in the player) contributes to the dips in production. I don’t know of any study to confirm this, but I would imagine no one plays as well when uncertainty of role and playing time exists; when minutes can be so unpredictable that a guy can go from having a key role one night to a nonexistent one the next. No one likes looking over their shoulder every night; everyone would prefer to have the peace of mind that their role is somewhat stable.

What does this have to do with the Kings game tonight? Nothing. At least not really. When it comes to tonight I think the coach will play who he thinks will help him win, while still trying to ensure that certain needs are addressed regarding the playing time of young players (like Kelly and Sacre, and to a lesser extent Kent Bazemore). This may make for wonky rotations or things that on the surface don’t necessarily make sense. And it will certainly lead to things that people do not agree with. That doesn’t mean an explanation is missing, however. There certainly is that.

Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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