It’s hard to believe there are only seven games left in the Lakers’ season, but here we are. Sitting at 21-54, the Lakers possess the 2nd worst record in the league (a half game “lead” over the Suns), which offers both a level in disappointment from a results standpoint and a hope the team will be able to retain its top-3 protected lottery pick come May.
I’d be lying if I said this all sits well with me. Before the season started I was of the mindset that this season would be the one where the Lakers finally stepped out of the shadows of “the tank”; a season where growth in the teams young players resulted in the types of on-court results which pushed the team’s (very likely) lottery pick out of reach. Of course, that hasn’t happened. There’s been growth with the players — if you cannot see that, it’s really your problem — but the wins have not followed.
And while that may actually end up being a good thing (pending the lottery results; fingers crossed) from an asset acquisition standpoint, the rigors of losing and how that can impact team trajectory is something which concerns me for next season and beyond. No, I can’t offer iron clad proof that losing this much, over several seasons, really does engrain bad habits that begat more losing. But I’d argue it does. I am firm believer that you are what your habits say you are and when you work backwards from the on-court results and get into the reasons why the team loses, you see the mistakes, the lack of execution, and the repeating of too many bad habits.
Which brings us to today’s game against the Clippers.
The other LA team is sure to win today. They have given the Lakers loads of problems over the years. Initially it was an influx of good players and a real sense that they would “get up” for games against the Lakers. They were the new and improved Clippers and they wanted to show the Lakers they were going to take the mantle as LA’s best team. Now, though, it’s simply the combination of talent and the tactical advantages it creates. The Lakers just don’t have anyone to slow Chris Paul, to compete athletically with DeAndre Jordan, to match the overall game of Blake Griffin. Those advantages cascade down and create separation between these two teams.
In saying all that, however, in a funny way, the Clippers are an example for these Lakers of how things can turn around. It was not long ago that the Clippers were forever terrible and a laughingstock. Then they drafted Griffin, traded for Paul, and developed DeAndre. The Lakers can use a similar formula to turn around their franchise. They may not have drafted as much of a sure thing as Griffin, but their young talent is real. One or more of their young guys could also take the path of Jordan and make a leap into an all-star caliber player. And, like the trade for Paul, the Lakers could make a run at a star player through trade using some of the assets they have accumulated.
Whether the latter his how the Lakers approach this off-season remains to be seen. And the questions of player development will not just fall on those individuals to harness their skills and make the leap, but on the coaches and player development people to coax it out of them/guide them there. These are the great unknowns and challenges of becoming a contender and, like I said at the top, I wish we could look at all this with a bit more clarity than we currently are able to. And I say this as someone who is, truly, optimistic about the direction of the team. It’s just at some point the results have to align with the direction you think you’re going. And it’s just not there yet.
I know I’ve said little about the actual game today and, really, that’s be design. These early start games are always a bit strange as you never know if players’ internal clocks will be ready to play high level NBA basketball a full 6-7 hours earlier than they’re typically asked to do so. I would not be surprised at all to see a sloppy game early on where one or both sides look asleep. In the end, I expect the Clippers to prevail, but the path to that end may include some unexpected twists and turns. The Lakers have been playing some better basketball lately (even if Thursday’s loss to the Wolves didn’t show it) which could translate into some fun stretches.
Anyway, enjoy the game, folks. We’ve only got so many more of these left.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.