The Los Angeles Lakers are spiraling into the worst season of their history and with a top three protected lottery pick at stake, no one would blame them if they just let go of the flight stick and let the entire thing smash into the ground. It’s a perfectly viable option. But that’s not what Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers are doing; they’re targeting the ground in the hopes that it’ll help them to fly.
And there’s a narrative taking shape that the Lakers are secretly tanking, that they’re really this bad on purpose. But that only fits the narrative when you look at the resulting nosedive that this season has become. And it’d be nice to believe that there’s some sort of method to all this madness, but make no mistake about it, they thought they actually had a chance when the season started.
In fact, Kupchak spoke about the exact opposite of winning a championship with Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
“The goal every year, of course, is to win the championship,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that we can be fun to watch, and certainly win a lot more games than we won last year. I don’t know why hopes of a playoff position shouldn’t be in the picture. That’s kind of where it stands.”
Look, he could’ve said something like, “This is a year to build for the future. We don’t have the pieces yet, but we’re rebuilding. Every team deserves one or two rebuilding years every half century or so.” But the conventional interpretations were either that he was right or that he didn’t really believe it, and he was telling Lakers fans what they really wanted to hear.
When Amick gave him the chance to back out, he doubled down, declaring:
“You know something?” he said when asked if he truly believed they could push for a playoff spot. “I don’t know why we don’t believe that. I think there are five or six teams in the West, without naming them, that are locks for the playoffs. We’re not one of them, so that would leave one or two teams that may be able to get in.
Then, before the Lakers played the Raptors in Toronto, Kupchak spoke with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, saying:
“Last year and this year have been very challenging for a coach of this franchise. Period,” Kupchak said. “I think Byron has got to continue to mess with combinations and search. That’s really all you can do. What we’re doing right now has not resulted in the kind of record that we like, so my guess is he’s going to try and continue to move things around and try to find something that does. That’s what a coach does.”
Yes, Kupchak really believed he put together a winning roster. And no, he’s not just telling fans what they want to hear because the fans are the ones who keep saying they really want the team to tank. That’s precisely why they’re spinning the Lakers’ season into an under-the-radar tank job.
And maybe, perhaps, you could buy that this was a masterful guise for discreet tanking, but the problem is nothing the Lakers have done match the idea that they’re tanking either. They match with losing, but that’s not the same thing as tanking. If they were deliberately losing, it’d be with an eye toward the future, but nothing they’re doing is indicating that.
If this were a tank job, why would they have traded for Roy Hibbert? And, knowing that the Pacers were looking to offload his contract, why would they offer draft picks instead of asking for them?
If this were a tank job, why would they stick with the antiquated coaching of Byron Scott? Not just now, but at the outset of the season. If you want to develop young players, why expose them to his broken philosophies even for a moment? That is unless you don’t realize it’s not broken?
If this were a tank job, why would they waive Jabari Brown and keep Metta World Peace? Because leadership?
If this were a tank job, why would they be standing behind the inane coaching decisions of Byron Scott that endanger the confidence of the young core they’re trying to develop rather than support the core?
And we can’t just begin with this summer either. How many of the decisions that have gone on in the past have led to the situation they’re in? Trading for an ancient Steve Nash?
Or how about leading Phil Jackson to believe he was going to be the head coach, only to pull the rug out from him and announce that it was going to be Mike D’Antoni?
Or how about how that hiring was the beginning of ruining any chance of keeping Dwight Howard?
Or how about giving Kobe Bryant a $48 million contract when it was quite knowable that he would never be the same again?
Sure, it’s easy just to keep bringing up the David Stern veto and bemoaning that as the reason for where the Lakers are where they are now. But there are a plethora of bad decisions that have gone on since then to help them get where they are today.
No, the Lakers are tank-bad but they aren’t tanking. Somewhere in their minds, from Kupchak to Scott to Bryant, they all think they can still win, and it appears no one in the front office has a lick of basketball sense. It’s time to clean house and rebuild — not just the roster, but the entire organization.