Even the most ardent Laker fan has to admit that things aren’t looking too good for Kobe & Co. with the season just underway. Are times in Lakerland dark enough, though, that the Lakers should already be thinking about tanking?
“Tanking” ranks right up there with “losing to the Celtics” when it comes to ideas that Laker fans despise, but the Lakers might not have a choice this year. Los Angeles lost big on opening night to the Houston Rockets in a game that was never close, and they lost more than the game. Laker rookie Julius Randle, a lottery pick that Kobe and the rest of the Lakers have high hopes for, broke his leg during the game and will be out for much of the season.
In addition to Randle’s injury, the Lakers have other personnel worries that make the 2014-2015 season look like a lost cause. For starters, Steve Nash injured himself picking up luggage, and it looks like the Laker point guard will more likely be cheering from the sidelines instead of stepping onto the court in purple and gold.
Add to that the uncertainty of Kobe Bryant’s productivity coming off a number of injuries, and the Lakers could well be done even as they come out of the gates. Is it time to tank?
Over at Grantland, they’re not too rosy on the Lakers’ outlook. “The Lakers are going to be very bad while marking time before the next free-agency period,” they write. “There’s a chance this is the greatest stealth tank job of our generation.”
Ouch. It’s hard to imagine Kobe “Monomaniacally Obsessive” Bryant being okay with anything that doesn’t make a championship more likely, but Grantland points to the Lakers’ low-scoring offense and ineptitude during this summer’s free-agency period as indicators that the Lakers franchise might have its eyes on the future and not the present.
Why would they tank, though? Why not show some old school grit, gut it out for that eighth spot in the playoffs, and try to shake up the world with a title run?
For one, that’s a lot tougher than feel-good sports flicks might lead you to believe. The Lakers play in the NBA’s Western Conference, where last year the Dallas Mavericks won nearly 60 percent of their games and still came in eighth place. The Lakers won 33 percent of their games that year and were second-to-last in the conference. Even with Kobe back, it would be a Herculean task to nearly double last year’s win total and eke out a playoff spot.
Even if Kobe’s deity of choice smiled upon him and the Lakers did secure a playoff spot, there’s still the matter of winning against the best teams in the West. The Lakers would likely have to go through the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, or their same-building rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, in order to get to the finals. Not one of those teams has gotten worse over the offseason, and not one of them relies on a player who has been in the league 19 years as their offensive focal point.
What’s more, if the Lakers do badly enough this year, they have a better chance at landing a top five draft pick. That would mean they wouldn’t have to give up that pick to the Phoenix Suns to complete the deal that landed the Ghost of Steve Nash in Los Angeles.
It’s not so simple as just going out there and losing one for the fans, though, because Laker fans are notoriously low on patience when it comes to their team winning. With Laker fans, it’s a bit like how Kobe and coach Byron Scott view things: anything less than a championship is a waste of time.
Things could definitely turn around. Kobe could enter some sort of managed-minutes renaissance, and Randle could come back firing on all cylinders. The Lakers could also land a big trade before the deadline. Lakerland is known for just that kind of drama. It’s not looking likely right now, though, and Laker fans could be in for a long, long year.
[Lead image via Deadspin.]