Ronnie Price unified Lakers fans during the 2014-15 season, but not in the way he or the team presumably hoped. Price was a villain to the win-now crowd, pro-tankers, and die-hard Jeremy Lin fans alike. Very few people not named Byron Scott could check all three of those boxes, but the 10-year veteran managed to do it.
When the Lakers signed Price before training camp, very few thought he would make the team, much less play extended minutes, given the Lakers crowded-on-paper backcourt of veterans in Lin and Steve Nash as well as unheralded rookie Jordan Clarkson (whom the team had just paid nearly $2 million to acquire).
Outside of making headlines with a now legendary shoe throw during the preseason, Price did very little to make his mark on the court and earn his way onto the roster. Then, Steve Nash was announced out for the season, and with Scott reluctant to take Clarkson's training wheels off, Price made the team's opening day roster.
Tthe Lakers started the season 5-15, and Scott was looking to make a change. To this point in the year, Price had made very little impact. He was the butt of a few jokes, but otherwise inspired very little sentiment one way or the other.
Then Scott announced Price would make his first start of the year against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers were struggling, especially defensively, but a supposed defensive specialist who has never posted a season average in defensive rating below the 106 he managed 4 seasons prior in 2010 seemed unlikely to change that. For context, according to Basketball Reference, that career best season (in an admittedly imperfect, but still illustrative stat) would not even rank among the top 250 career averages in NBA history. The second coming of Gary Payton, Price was not.
This perceived slight infuriated Lin fans, who are far from the most unbiased observers, but may have actually had a legitimate gripe in this case. Lin is a superior offensive player to Price, whose atrocious 109 defensive rating for the season was only a 1 point difference per 100 possessions to Lin's 110 (the Lakers were very bad defensively). Even this stat is subject to noise, as Lin played in 27 more games than Price but somehow only played 26 more minutes total with Ed Davis (arguably the team's best defender) than Price did.
They were not the only angry subset of Lakers fans. Those who wanted the team to win this season were left wanting by Price's paltry averages of 5.1 points (a career high!), 3.8 assists, and 1.6 rebounds on 34.5 percent shooting. These look especially heinous when compared to the 15.8 ppg, 5 apg, and 4.2 rpg that Clarkson averaged once inserted into the starting lineup, which brings us to the other group of upset fans.
Those who wanted the Lakers to fully commit to the tank and rebuild were similarly unhappy with Price. It was hard to see any benefit in playing a journeyman veteran with a very limited future in the league, or with the organization at all, over a rookie like Clarkson who held some potential of being a piece for the team as it moved forward with its rebuild. When you compare Clarkson's statistical output to Price's (albeit on a nearly 10% higher usage rate) it is not hard to see why.
So in a unique way, Price was probably the most unifying force of the season among the Lakers large fandom. His combination of age, minutes played, and relative lack of talent were a potent cocktail to create rage. This is nothing personal against Price, who by all accounts was a consummate professional and good teammate. No player is going to turn down playing time, especially one fighting for their spot in the league, so it is not like Price can be blamed for Scott playing him in spite of his lack of merit under the guise of intangibles like "toughness" and "veteran presence." At the same time, while Price may have been a security blanket for Scott, he just left the rest of Los Angeles feeling warm.
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