The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t done a lot of things with consistency this season. The team’s offense and defense have had various ups and downs, their rotations have changed in sometimes weird ways, and they can’t seem to play solid basketball for more than one half of a game.
One of the few consistencies for the team, though, has been their messages to their fans and players. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Luke Walton have been in lockstep from the moment the latter was hired that this season was mostly about seeing incremental improvements from their young players.
But since a 10-10 showed that the Lakers had the potential to play better than anyone really expected earlier in the year, Walton has shown a proclivity to question their effort at times after particularly lackadaisical performances like their loss against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. He apparently isn’t the only one doing so, as Kupchak revealed in an interview with Mark Medina of the O.C. Register:
“We’re always prodding them to raise the energy level and play a little bit harder,” Kupchak said. “At this level, everybody’s talented. If you don’t bring it, you’ll fall into a group of ‘somebody that doesn’t bring it but they deserve to be in the league because of their talent level.’ You want to rise above that and you want to raise the bar with energy and effort.”
These are some of the stronger public comments I can remember ever hearing from Kupchak, who normally is a master of talking a lot without actually saying anything (and I mean that as a compliment, some executives [i.e. Phil Jackson] can’t help but stir up controversy and avoiding it is a skill).
He’s not wrong, though. Every NBA player is talented, and the Lakers are by their own admission not showing enough effort at times (especially in second halves). The Lakers are trying to foster an “I’m going to outwork you” mentality among their younger players, and while it didn’t pay dividends for them in December, that was as much due to an incredibly difficult schedule with lots of road games and injuries as any lack of effort.
These comments also don’t mean in any way that Kupchak is exploring the trade market on his younger players, but with only a little over a month between now and the trade deadline, these comments might serve as a helpful kick in the pants for the young members of the roster to come together. It may not result in the Lakers getting back on a .500 pace, but if the Lakers are at least playing respectably even when they do lose it will be a start.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.