Considering the current state of the Lakers — you know, the fact that whatever hopes they had to make the playoffs are gone — it’s difficult to meaningfully write about what is now the portion of the season that feels like the last 35 minutes of your Friday workday before an extended weekend. This team is simply playing out the string.
Rather than dwell on the total absurdity of a season that both delivered LeBron James and another trip to the lottery; rather than just look at all the bad (of which there is much), I’d rather focus on one piece of good: the reminder of what happens when you have hungry players with a want to play hard and how that inspires happiness in the viewing experience.
There aren’t many silver linings to having this many players hurt, LeBron suddenly being on a minutes restriction, having veterans who have an expertise in being able to go through the motions while still accumulating counting stats (hi, Rondo), or having a lame-duck coach overseeing it all. But one of those silver linings is that it creates an opportunity for said coach to give minutes to the group of young players who actually want to go out there and compete during every minute they’re on the floor.
The insertion of Alex Caruso, Johnathan Williams, and Moe Wagner into the lineup has been great fun. No, they’re not as talented as their opponent on most nights. In a recent game vs. the Nuggets, for example, the lineup with Moe/Caruso/Williams along with Josh Hart and either LeBron or Rajon Rondo turned a double digit deficit into a competitive game only to have the Nuggets starters re-establish order and turn the game back into a rout by out-talenting them.
Still, though, what that stretch (and a similar stretch vs. the Clippers) showed is that playing with the correct amount of urgency and effort can be meaningful. And that doing a bunch of little things, and doing them repeatedly, can make a difference. It also brought to stark light that this team, as currently constructed, does not have enough players who do those little things with enough consistency or effort.
The Lakers’ current roster is constructed of three types of players: 1. Lebron. 2. Up and coming young players trying to find their place in the league. 3. Veteran players who seem to view their counting stat contributions as more outsized to the success of the team than what the team really needs to be successful. In an ideal world, you’d still have LeBron operating as the uber-star and the young players trying to find their way, but you’d counter them with veteran players who thrive on doing the little things that contribute more to wins.
Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. But, my sincere hope is that whatever fallout this season bares, one is the lesson that you need to have the proper framing of a roster and a coach in place who can connect with that specific group in a way which brings out their best collective efforts. This Lakers season did not have that and the results speak for themselves.