One of my favorite NBA podcasts out there is Nate Duncan’s “Dunc’d On”. Nate has good knowledge on the CBA, the draft, is good with X’s and O’s, and does a good job of conveying it all to the listener.
I was happy, then, to hear that he had covered Brandon Ingram and the Lakers in a recent sitdown with Real GM’s Danny Leroux. Their talk covered a lot of ground so I wanted to make sure you, our faithful readers, got a chance to listen to it:
The Lakers played at Denver on Wednesday and lost. This was not hard to predict — we said we expected as much in our game preview. The Nuggets aren’t worlds better than the Lakers (though they are better), but they were playing at home, the Lakers had played the night before in Los Angeles, and that was that.
The Lakers played the game shorthanded, too. They came into the game without Lou Williams (hamstring) and Larry Nance Jr. (rest for a sore knee). They lost Jordan Clarkson during the game to a patella tendon strain (update on the severity of this pending). They also should have been without Kobe Byrant, but he decided to play.
This was Kobe’s last visit to Denver so he gave it a go. He ended up only playing 11 minutes and sat out the entire 2nd half. After the game he said that if it wasn’t his last game in the mile-high city he probably would have sat out, but it was so he didn’t. After the game he also gave an update on how he’s feeling and what that means for the rest of the season. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes has the skinny:
With two wins in their last six games, it’s fair to say the Lakers are somewhat improved of late. Much of that can be tied to the resurgent play of Kobe Bryant who has regained his status as the team’s best player. He’s not what he once was, of course, but what he is — at least lately — is a player boasting a PER north of 20 while anchoring the team’s offense with a combination of scoring ability and deft playmaking.
That level of player isn’t enough to carry a good team, but it’s good enough to keep the Lakers in more contests for longer stretches than early in the season. There are still long stretches of bad play — the OKC games and the first three quarters of the loss to the Clippers on Christmas are prime examples — but those stretches are being broken up by some classic Kobe and some good play from the assortment of kids and veterans who flank him.
Yes, the lead up to this was brutal. Sitting there watching the theatrics and built-in drama of the event was, well, not how I wanted to spend my time. I’d have honestly preferred to have been able to fast-forward this entire day with someone telling me the results just now.
Yet, there I was watching it all unfold. Like a kid reading one of those choose you own adventure novels, I was wondering if when I “turned to page X” it was going to be some unmitigated disaster or if some better, glorious fate awaited.
Turns out, the wait was well worth it. The Lakers not only keep their lottery pick, but they move up to the 2nd spot overall, sitting behind the Timberwolves and leapfrogging the Knicks and the 76ers in the process.
So, now we know. The Lakers will not only keep their pick, but be able to choose from all but one prospect come next month’s draft. Now, the question is, what will the Lakers do with that opportunity? Thrilled to say we get to find out.
Look, let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to business. The Lakers are not a good team. As many people have pointed out over the last couple of seasons, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing. The way the NBA is set up, it’s in the team’s best interests to lose games, get high draft picks and use them as core rebuilding pieces for the future. This season, it has been argued, that strategy is doubly important since their draft pick is only top five protected and will go to the Suns should it be six or lower. If the Lakers want to keep this pick they need to lose a lot of games. The more the better, some would say.
I can understand this logic. I really can. And while I detest the idea of “rooting” for losses, the benefits that come from those L’s stacking up can’t be ignored.
None of that applies tonight, though. No, when the Lakers play the Celtics, I don’t care about the future pick. I don’t care about accelerating a rebuild. I don’t care for your logic. Nope. Not at all. You see, these are the Celtics. I don’t want the Lakers to lose to them. Not today, tomorrow, or next week. Not ever. As I said above, if the only games the Lakers won all season were against the C’s, it would take some of the sting off. This is what a rivalry does.
Of course, when both teams are bad — and the C’s are pretty much equally bad right now — some would say the luster of this rivalry is removed. Yes, these organizations have 33 banners between them but right now they are cellar dwellers. Of all the games on tonight, this is one a lot of fans will actively avoid. Watching Kobe and Rondo is nice and all, but when it’s all said and done a Carlos Boozer/Jared Sullinger duel isn’t something people are using up their Friday night on. Again, I see this perspective. But, again, I do not care. This is appointment viewing for me. This matters.
In saying all that, I could get into X’s and O’s here. I could talk about slowing Rondo, keeping Sullinger off the offensive boards, and making sure that Kelly Olynyk is defended out the 3 point line. I’d discuss Jeff Green and how he must be kept out of the lane and turned into a jump shooter. And ditto for Avery Bradley. I could then get into Lin being aggressive in getting to the rim, how the C’s lack rim protection, and how this would be a good game for Ed Davis to get going. Oh, I’d also discuss how Kobe has a size advantage against most of the C’s wings and how this might be a good game for him to really work to get into the post to create double teams and easier scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. This stuff, in the micro, matters towards the end goal.
But, in reality, all I really care about is getting the W. How they do it, isn’t important to me. If it means going to Nick Young down the stretch, do it. If it means running plays for Jordan Hill, make it happen. If it means playing Kobe a few extra minutes, I’m saying go for it. Like I said, logic isn’t going to cut it with me today. The faces may change, but the goal remains the same. Just beat the Celtics.
With that, here’s a video to get you in the mood. Enjoy, folks.
To be honest, the Lakers aren’t giving fans a lot to be thankful for. They are in the midst of a second straight awful season. So far this campaign, they are suffering (roughly) four losses for every win and dealing with a myriad of injuries to players who would not only help their win total but provide entertainment during games. If what has transpired to this point holds for the rest of the season, this group of players will have provided what would clearly be the worst year in the history of the franchise.
In saying all that, though, I remain thankful. This sounds strange, I know.
The Lakers have, for better or worse (but mostly better), been an institution in my life for most of the years I have been alive. Some of my earliest memories are of watching games with my dad, listening to Chick Hearn describe the action of some of history’s greatest players. Over time I have seen way more winning than losing, seen every down period turn into a period of sustained excellence.
In a strange way, then, a truly low period like the one the team is going through now makes me thankful because it serves a reminder of all those good times. All of these losses and the commentary and shot taking by pundits they inspire only reinforce the fact that it all only matters because it is so damn rare. And maybe that is grasping at straws and maybe fans of other teams will scoff at the fact that losing could make you feel like anything but, well, a loser. The idea of Lakers’ exceptionalism will get thrown back as some sort of fake superiority complex that makes us the worst.
And maybe there’s some truth in all that.
But, on a day where we are supposed to give thanks, I really am thankful today. Not for the losses or the poor decision making by the players, front office, and coaches that lead to them. All of that sucks. But all of it does serve as a reminder to me that things weren’t always so bad and that, if history holds, they won’t always be either.
So, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from FB&G.