The Lakers lost to the Raptors 102-93, falling to 1-4 on their current road trip. This, in and of itself, is not news. After all, the team was 3-17 heading into the game. Leaving 3-18, especially after playing a team over .500 in their gym on the second night of a back to back should not raise any eyebrows.
Kobe Bryant shot 50%, making 8 of his 16 field goal attempts en route to 21 points. He also added 8 rebounds, 4 assists and two steals. Statistically, this was probably his best (and one of his more well rounded) games of the year. This is news. We don’t need to rehash Kobe’s level of play this year, but shooting that percentage and cutting his 3-point FGA’s to 4 is worth noting as a true positive. Yes, he still led the team in field goal attempts and dominated the ball down the stretch, but those things aren’t really going to change much, if at all, this season.
The biggest news, though, isn’t about Kobe (or another L on the schedule), but the decision by Byron Scott to remove D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle from the starting lineup in favor of Lou Williams and Larry Nance, Jr. The decision was made this morning and did not involve a sit down with either player to explain the reasoning. When Byron was asked (both before and after the game) he noted that neither Russell nor Randle were playing poorly, but, rather, that the team has been. He cited their 3-17 record and noted there needed to be a change.
This reasoning, regardless of how you or me or…anyone, really, feels about it shows again where Scott’s mindset is. He wants to make a change because he’s tired of losing games. Similar to benching Nick Young (and, in this game, Brandon Bass), Byron wants to “try something new”. That involves switching things up and trying it. If you forget all the ripple effects that come with this sort change; all the interpersonal relationships/player management that can potentially be negatively impacted, you can understand what he’s trying to do.
Here’s the thing, though. If you make this change, you better be prepared to, you know, actually win games. You cite wanting to try something new and tie that to the team’s poor record, you have let us know what is most important. It’s getting those W’s. So, go get some. Against the Raptors that didn’t happen. Russell and Randle were part of a unit which helped go on a run that cut the deficit to 5 points in the final 5 minutes. They went out and the team lost by 9. It’s only one game, but this sort of tells me that this team has problems closing regardless of who is on the floor.
Again, though, this is only one game. Scott says this arrangement will last another 5 to 10 games, so let’s see how it goes. Let’s see how many games this team wins. Let’s see what these changes translate to. Russell and Randle both played about 21 minutes and they were okay (Russell) and good (Randle). If that continues and the team starts to win, folks can still complain, but it comes in the face of winning. No one really likes to complain about wins (unless you’re Philly – ZING!).
But, if they don’t win games, that’s going to be a problem. Because when you prioritize winning, when you decide that core players for the future can “learn by sitting and watching“, when you openly state (as Byron has in the past) that his #1 priority is to win, then you best win. You can’t end up 3-23 in five more games or 5-26 in 10 more games and say that this change was a success. You can’t even say it was anything but a shuffling of the deck and a (truly bad) misallocation of resources.
I can guarantee you if Scott’s rhetoric was that the team was going to ride with the young players — win or lose — and that their development through game action — win or lose — was his top goal, and then he executed his game plan and rotations around that concept, fans would accept what is happening. But by saying you want to win games and then de-prioritize the playing time of this year’s #2 overall pick and last year’s #7 overall pick, the wins better come. So, be careful what you say or people might actually hold you to it.