As of today, Los Angeles Lakers fans the world over, probably even those of us who are rooting for the team to tank for better lottery odds, are still reeling over losing by the largest deficit in franchise history to the hated Doc Rivers and his Los Angeles Clippers. Part of this is probably because most fans had some expectations of the Lakers being good this year, at least a team that would be in the playoff race at the end of the year. That however, was never the plan of General Manager Mitch Kupchak. What he did do, though, was write a new blueprint on how to tank while portraying to your fans the illusion that you were attempting to be competitive.
This accusation has been leveled on this site before, but I thought I would go in depth and outline just how masterful a job Kupchak did.
As the GM of the Lakers, a team with arguably the most dedicated fans in the world, it would not have been acceptable to come out and admit to tanking in the traditional ways that other franchises have done it ("we are rebuilding", "we are evaluating young players", "revamping team culture", etc.). The path that Kupchak had to take in order to appease the ravenous Lakers Nation, still hurting from the Dwightmare and almost ready to riot in the streets, was fraught with the danger of mediocrity, which was actually the stated goal for this year. But again, the stated goal was never what the organization's actual plan was. To give the Lakers the best chance to build for the future, and maximize Kobe's chances to get one more ring, the Lakers had to be bad this year in order to get the best possible draft pick in what is by all accounts a loaded 2014 draft, in one of the few upcoming years they have the rights to their first round pick. Here was their plan:
Step One: Fill Up Part of the Roster with Aging and/or Injured Players
Steve Nash. Chris Kaman. Pau Gasol. Steve Blake pre-trade deadline; even Kobe. What all of these players have in common is that they are all older veterans with an injury history. Another point that has been made consistently on this site is how for all the talk of the horrible luck of last year, some of that could have been expected, despite all of the preseason hype, due to a combination of past injuries, current injuries, and ages of the players. In the preseason, a lot of time was spent stating how the Lakers could not possibly have as bad of injury luck this year, but why not? Kobe was still recovering going into the season, Nash is literally the oldest player in the league, Steve Blake has learned to evade tire spikes but not fatigue from playing big minutes, Pau's hamstrings may be shot, and Chris Kaman has (predictably) run into issues with D'Antoni due to not playing big minutes because he is one of the slowest players in the NBA. Even newly signed Xavier Henry has dealt with leg issues his entire career. It would be foolish not to expect some injuries to crop up among this bunch, and they definitely did. Which leads us to the next part of Mitch's plan.
Step Two: Fill Out the Rest of the Roster with "Athletes" or "Young Guys with Potential"
Jordan Farmar, the aforementioned Henry, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and eventually Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore and Marshon Brooks. All of these guys were billed as value signings with a chance to show their skills on one year contracts. Guys that were meant to play sidekick roles to L.A.'s veterans have been forced to run the team due to the onslaught of injuries among the more highly compensated and more skilled players. One thing that these types of players all have in common is that they will make plenty of mistakes, which leads us to the final step of Kupchak's plan.
Step Three: Maximize the Effects of the Talent Disparity by Playing at a Fast Pace
It has been said by many a basketball observer that a larger number of possessions gives a more talented team more chances to assert that talent. So when you are one of the least talented teams in the league, it would thus give most teams more chances to assert their dominance over you. According to the ESPN Hollinger's team stats, the Lakers are 2nd in the league in pace factor, or how fast they play as measured by average number of possessions in one of their games! In addition to maximizing the effects of talent disparity, playing at a fast pace also can lead to more injuries due to fatigue. I am not saying go ahead and blame all of the injuries this year on D'Antoni, as previously detailed age is a factor here in addition to luck, but the fatigue of playing so fast has been a contributing factor to the merciless attack of the injury bug. You have to give D'Antoni credit for keeping this team playing together for as long as he did, but his insistence upon playing at such an up-tempo pace surely factored into both Pau and Farmar's ailing hamstrings, as well as fatigue being a known factor that can lead to altered or awkward body movements, which then can lead to stress injuries. The added benefit of this part of the plan for Kupchak is that it gives him a scapegoat (D'Antoni) to blame this miserable year on.
So because this site's name references the movies that are made near this team's home, I will quote one of my favorite movies, The Dark Knight, and say that "the night is always darkest just before the dawn." After the prolonged Dwightmare of '12-'13, this miserable Lakers season has not been the one that Los Angeles deserved, but due to the Lakers owning their own draft pick this year, it is the one we need right now. So Lakers fans, try to keep your heads up and know that as miserable as this year has been, it's all part of the plan.