So, the Lakers won again. They beat the Spurs. On the road. On another one of those 1-game road trips to the mid-west that we all love. Hooray! Hooray? Ugh.
This is the collective response across the internet this morning, with more and more Lakers’ fans moving past the conflicted about wins stage to the why the hell are you winning games stage completely. You’ll also very easily find people taking glee in the Lakers’ misfortunes by actually winning games — and not just Suns fans.
Anyway, I’m not here to tell you how to feel. You’re mad? I get it. You’re mad online? Okay, I’d advise against that, but to each their own.
Again, I do understand why fans are upset. I don’t need to spell it out completely, but losing close to 60 games and then losing your (high) draft pick is bad. Losing that draft pick and having that trigger losing your pick two years later is pouring salt on the wound and then rinsing it off with some hydrogen peroxide. This is the situation the Lakers face with their 2017 and 2019 picks. None of that is lost on me.
If you talk to Luke Walton, though, he’s of a different mind entirely.
Luke Walton talked of momentum into the offseason. That could cost them a lottery pick. I asked how he handles that. pic.twitter.com/yGQl2EaRI6
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 6, 2017
I know, I know. What else is the head coach supposed to say? Well, we were trying to lose, but Tyler Ennis didn’t cooperate! I mean, we already sat Russell and then pulled Clarkson from the game after bumping his knee — which didn’t even look that bad! We never play any veterans unless we absolutely have to and these guys still won. What more can you ask from us???!!! Yeah, I’d imagine that would go over well at the league office.
I remember when our good buddy and Pro Basketball Talk HBIC (head blogger in charge) Kurt Helin ran FB&G, he always had a go-to talking point when the Lakers lost a close game and/or had some issues with the refs. He’d say that the Lakers should have done more to win the game earlier and that a missed call by the refs or a bad break near the end of the game wasn’t the sole reason the team lost. Don’t put yourself in position to lose that way in the first place. Make more FT’s or turn the ball over less or be less terrible on defense for that stretch where the other team went on a run. Etc, etc.
I know there’s a flip side to that argument too, though. When you get near the end of a game and the score is close, the stakes are magnified and each possession takes on greater importance. If a ref misses a goaltend call or doesn’t see a player step out of bounds in the final couple of minutes and the team who benefits from those missed calls wins the game? Oh, boy. Fans are going to be mad even if the rational line of thought is what Kurt used to say — you should have done more to not be in a position where those things even matter.
I bring this up because I sort of feel like this is where the Lakers are now with their lottery odds and getting these end of season wins. The Suns are going to continue to lose. They are unabashedly gaming the system as much or more than the Lakers are. So, by winning games now, the Lakers are, in essence, the ref’s missed call or the bad break at the end of a close game I mentioned above. They are now finding themselves on the wrong end of things at the end (ironically, by winning).
This is where it’s easy to also use the same argument Kurt used to use. The Lakers should have done more to put themselves in a position where these end of season wins didn’t matter. I mean, how’s that 10-10 start to the season look now? Remember how excited we were? Remember those dreams of a chase for the 8th seed? Those feelings were real too, you know.
Of course, it’s not really the same and is more complicated than that. And there’s an argument to be made that what helped the team get those wins (Lou Williams being fantastic, Nick Young bombing 3’s, some stabilizing play from other veterans) were things some fans were against anyway. Some will quickly point out that they wanted more minutes for the young players (I wanted those things too, by the way) and that as long as the kids were getting minutes the wins and losses didn’t matter so much. Those were fine, rational points then just as they are now.
But, you know, that’s now how it went down. And I would argue that trying to get the most out of the team you have in front of you, teaching them good habits, and, yes, trying to win games should always be the goal. And when you do that, you know, you’re actually going to win some games. Which is what the Lakers did. Are the young guys better off for that? I’d argue they are, though reasonable minds can have alternative views.
This is why all of this is complicated and, really, I’m just going to take the same approach Walton does in his quote at the top of this piece. I want the Lakers to play hard and to do the right things on and off the floor. If that leads to wins, it leads to wins*. In the end, the Lakers are going to need some luck to keep their pick. The same luck they had to keep their picks the last three seasons. I’m hoping their luck doesn’t run out, but the team really can’t control that**. There’s only 4 games left and then we wait. Buckle up, you guys.
*It’s hard to legislate what other teams do too. For example, against the Spurs, Gregg Popovich sat Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge the entire 2nd half. Tony Parker and Patty Mills only played 5 of the final 24 minutes. The Lakers can’t control what their opponents do, they can’t control what the Suns do, they can’t control what anyone else does. If you think the Lakers should be doing more to lose games themselves, I don’t know what that would really be beyond shutting down everyone and just forfeiting.
**I feel this needs to be explained again: the Lakers having the 3rd worst record vs. the 2nd worst record doesn’t mean the Lakers are going to lose their pick. It means their chances of landing in the top 3 change from 55.8% with the 2nd worst record to 46.9% chance with the 3rd worst record. This 9% difference is significant enough to mean something, but insignificant enough that I’m not shedding tears over it. Don’t get me wrong, over a large enough sample size, I think 9% matters a fair amount. It literally means if the lottery were to happen 100 times, the Lakers would, if the odds held, keep their pick 9 more times. But the lottery won’t be held 100 times in May. It will be held once. And in that single sample, that 9% means less to me. Even though I understand the math, it just does. Sorry.