The Lakers close their preseason tonight, again facing off against the Kings. The Lakers, still winless in the exhibition season, will try to avoid going 0-8.
I understand that the constant losing has been frustrating for everyone. The fans hate it. The players hate it. I’m sure there’s not a Lakers’ employee that is happy with not winning a single game to this point. That said, I think Pau Gasol said it best after last night’s game, saying “We’d all love to be 7-0 instead of 0-7. Would that make us win more games in regular season? Probably not.”
Like Gasol, I think taking the big-picture view is important here. Not to sound like a broken record but this Lakers’ preseason has been much more about process than results. With three new assistant coaches, a new offense and a roster that turned over by half there’s a need to get on the same page and try to build towards actually becoming a team. Taking some lumps on that path was a given and it’s much more important to clear those hurdles than be the team ahead on the scoreboard at the time the final buzzer sounds.
With that said, dealing with some of the variables associated with “the process” is where my frustration is most directed. In an ideal world, the Lakers would really only be dealing with Howard’s injury and subsequent absence from the lineup. They’d then have been able to work together sans (only) their starting center (which wouldn’t be ideal, but would have been expected) and start that growth process.
Instead, Jordan Hill has only played in two of the Lakers’ seven games. Kobe’s missed two games already and will miss his third tonight. Pau Gasol sat out a game. Those absences were not planned for and have affected the team in a myriad of ways. Most notably, the team has not been able to even scratch the surface on what a potential rotation would look like. Neither have they been able to examine nearly as many lineup combinations in game situations to be able to evaluate which groupings work and which ones don’t. There’s a domino effect to having key players out and the Lakers have had to deal with that more than anyone expected, much less wanted.
There are ways in which the preseason doesn’t matter and there are ways where you can’t dismiss things so easily. The Lakers not being able to get the floor time together, in game situations, counts as the latter. I’m not overly concerned about this, but I’m also not thrilled with it. The team will have time during the regular season to sort out issues. But by the very nature of that premise, the team will be going into the regular season a bit off schedule.
Even if you were a person that thought it would take time to find that chemistry (and I’m raising my hand here), we must acknowledge that the process — at least in game situations — has been pushed back somewhat. If you want to vent, vent on that.
As for tonight’s game, there’s really only one goal. The players need to walk out of the game as healthy as they walked in. Kobe is already sitting out tonight and there’s now a question as to whether he’ll play in the season opener. Jordan Hill isn’t yet 100% and he’s a pretty important bench player. Steve Nash suffered a tweak to his ankle (that looked pretty bad) and no one wants a repeat of anything close to resembling that again. This team doesn’t need anymore question marks in terms of health between now and next Tuesday.
I don’t care about winning. I don’t care about 0-8. As far as I’m concerned, I’d love it if this team had a historical footnote of winning it all in June after not winning a single game in the preseason. If anything it would finally kill the concept that preseason mattered in any way.
Lastly, it may not seem like a huge deal but there is a battle to see what’s going to happen at the bottom of the Lakers’ roster. They currently have 13 guaranteed contracts on the team, leaving Andrew Goudelock, Robert Sacre, and Darius Johnson-Odom as the guys trying to make a big enough impression to be kept on the roster. At most two can make the team. For my money, I’ve got Sacre already on the team. He’s been a pleasant surprise and has proven he can add value to this roster. As for Goudelock and DJO, I don’t see either making the final cut. Neither has stood out and history has taught us the Lakers usually like to have an open roster spot should they want to add a player once the season begins (either via a trade where they trade one for two, or by signing a FA outright).
So, I leave you all with a reminder of the reality that tonight is the last game where the results don’t really matter. And in that respect, enjoy it. The pressure and expectation of performance will change dramatically starting next tuesday.