After a couple of days off — the first of which involved Luke Walton not holding a practice the day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Mavericks — the Lakers are back on the court tonight against the Raptors. And while the Lakers may not be as bad as they seem, that might not matter with the quality of opponent they will face tonight.
2016 brought a lot of memories for Lakers’ fans. Mostly bad ones. The losses piled up and as the 2015-16 season wore on fans became more interested in whether the team would keep their top-3 protected draft pick than anything that happened on the court. Game after game many fans either actively cheered for losses or became so apathetic about the on-court results being a fan felt like work.
Of course, not the entire year was bad. The team did keep their draft pick. The team also made a coaching change and hired Luke Walton. The start of this season also offered some truly genuine feel good moments as the team shot out to a 9-7 start by playing a fun brand of basketball that reminded us all of what it was like to enjoy watching the Lakers play basketball.
But all the good moments were just about ushering in change and the resulting bump in play under the new regime. In fact, I would argue none of those things come close to the feeling we all had on the final day of this past season when Kobe Byrant rode off into the sunset in the most Kobe Bryant way imaginable.
I know, I know. You just read that title and wanted to close your web browser. What the hell do I mean the Lakers aren’t as bad as they seem?! They’ve lost an ungodly number of games recently, going 2-14 in the month of December. They’ve found ways to blow games late, blow them early, and play poorly enough to not really be in games at all. That there, my friends, is some trifecta.
Here’s the thing, though, despite all those losses, they are still mostly competitive in every single game. Beyond that, in some contests they’ve led by large margins and played strongly for most of the game only have a bad quarter (or a terrible stretch within one) to find a way to lose.
Come from ahead losses have to be the most frustrating for players and coaches, but fans might take them even worse. There’s nothing like sitting their watching the team play well only to see them inexplicably start to play terribly and give it all back. In a post earlier this year I likened it to a gambler stacking up huge winnings at the craps table only to decide he needed to test his luck at roulette instead of just cashing in.
In a bit of a twist I certainly did not see coming, the Lakers have worked out former Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas. From ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne:
The Los Angeles Lakers have auditioned free-agent big man Donatas Motiejunas within the past week, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN that the Lakers brought Motiejunas in before Christmas to work out in front of the front office and coaching staff, but it remains unclear whether they’ll go ahead with signing the former first-round pick.
Apparently, the hold up in potentially offering Montiejunas a contract has to do with the current depth in the front court and how that might disrupt current roles:
But sources said the Lakers are weighing whether there are enough minutes to go around, with the blossoming Julius Randle and Tarik Black playing the bulk of the frontcourt minutes while Nance is out.
The fact that the Lakers are still kicking the tires on available players and looking to add talent is a good thing. Regardless of how much they like the construction of the current team, adding talented players who fit the team’s scheme should always be on the table — and Montiejunas certainly fits that description.
Episode 3 of the Laker Film Room Podcast is ready for your consumption. In this episode, Pete and I discuss Luke Walton’s rotations, who should be playing more, the team’s front court depth, and also get to a few listener questions. It was a good discussion and I hope you take the time to listen and enjoy it. As always, subscribe, rate, and review the pod at iTunes here.
Click through below to listen.
The Lakers were able to finally pick up a win in their last game, providing a nice Christmas gift to their fans by beating their Staples Center co-tenants. After the game Luke Walton expressed happiness at the win, but also warned his players against feeling too good about a game which saw them nearly surrender another lead while going through another stretch of uninspiring play in the 3rd quarter. Walton’s message was one of support and of teaching, a message that might have gotten lost on his guys if he hadn’t built up the positive capital earlier during the year.
After doling out those sobering messages, though, Walton also reminded the press corps that his team does have what it takes — when they’re dialed in and focused. He cited the big leads against good teams and how accomplishing those things are not easy. He used this message as a reminder and to attempt to coax his players into doing the right thing more often, to bring the correct level of focus for more minutes. This is teaching. This is coaching. Walton too has a learning curve, but I’m happy to see him trying to hit the right notes with a team he’s trying to sculpt into a winner over the long haul even though they are not yet there right now.
First off, a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone! The last 12 months have offered a year unlike any other for the Lakers with much uncertainty, a goodbye to a legend, upheaval in the coaching staff, and the additions of new players. Through it all it seems as though things are finally steadying, even though there’s been uneven play from this year’s team.
As I wrote in the preview to the game vs. the Magic, I think any burying of this team is premature and lacks the nuance and context required. I get the frustrations of losing and of seeing the team build leads only to forfeit them with mistake ridden play. But those frustrations must be placed against the proper backdrop. The Lakers are playing the long game. That might be hard to swallow for a team coming of three consecutive terrible seasons, but take it with some eggnog and it might go down easier.
A funny thing happened last night. Not funny “ha ha ha”, but funny like I totally saw it coming but still got a bit perturbed by it. In words I have uttered to others multiple times, “that’s your fault” — but this time I was saying it to myself. Last night, against the Heat, the Lakers blew another double digit lead and lost to the Heat. Immediately after that loss, on social media, fans flooded my mentions telling me how terrible the Lakers are. Here, at my site, commenters did the same thing.
This frustrated me. It frustrated me because I think that’s short sighted. It frustrated me because I think the Lakers aren’t as bad as they come off by losing these games. But guess what, that’s my fault. It’s my fault because, let’s face it, I know how some of ya’ll are. Not how all of you are, but some of you. That vocal minority tends to talk loudest when things go poorly and then get silent when things go well. That’s their prerogative and their right. It also frustrates me. But, again, that’s my fault. I know these people exist. I should just let it slide.
What does this have to do with the game against the Magic? Well, not a lot. The Lakers look like a bad team right now. The Magic, as confusing as they are as a construct, are better than them right now. Their record is better and they just beat beat the same Heat team the Lakers blew that lead against. In other words, if the Lakers’ lose tonight I will not be surprised. After all, they will again be without Julius Randle who traveled back to Los Angeles to be with his fiance for the birth of their child. They will also be without Larry Nance. Tarik Black is doubtful to play. This is three-fourths of the team’s front court rotation and they are facing a Magic team whose strength is their front court.