The Los Angeles Lakers are currently tied for the second-worst record in the the league with the Phoenix Suns, a fact which fans would be excused for thinking means the team hasn’t made much progress from last season despite the fact that they’ve already won more games.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton just disagrees with that way of looking at things.
“I know success is different for everyone, but I think we are succeeding, honestly, with where we’re trying to get to,” Walton said during an appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast. “I tell our guys, it sucks to lose, nobody wants to lose, but the important thing for us is how we’re building habits right now (and) the direction we’re trying to go to.”
The Lakers may not be showing the results of this work with their record, but Walton says that will come as the players continue to grow.
“We’re playing a lot of young guys. But I think that the way it’s going right now, we’re actually having success in those terms, which is most important to me right now,” Walton said. “I mean, even if we made the playoffs and went on a 15-game win streak and got the eight seed, we’re playing the Warriors in the first round.
“So to me, more importantly right now is we’re building winning habits in the way that we practice and in the way our young guys are in the gym every morning before practice getting specific work in with specific coaches on what we think is most important for them, a weakness of their’s to get better at,” Walton continued. “Building those types of habits at this young of an age I think carries over when you do it day after day after day then year after year. Now all of the sudden these players that were young with this raw talent start to blossom into phenomenal NBA basketball players.”
The Lakers just aren’t blossoming yet, which is why many fans have “embraced the tank,” so to speak, hoping the team loses down the stretch to give the Lakers the best possible chance to keep their top-three protected first round pick in the 2017 NBA draft from conveying to Philadelphia.
Walton is aware of the weird situation, but he doesn’t think it’s followed the team to Staples Center.
“It doesn’t feel like [the fans want us to lose] though because that Charlotte game, they were going nuts. They were into it. Our players were into it. It doesn’t feel like that in Staples Center. The people that are showing up are still rooting these young guys on,” Walton said.
The key word their feels like “young guys.” Most fans want the young players to do well and prove they can be foundational pieces moving forward. Walton has started to play those players even more down the stretch, benching Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov and no longer having Lou Williams to rely on.
The Lakers will now rise or sink based on the progress of their young players, but as Walton said, the team isn’t looking at wins and losses. They just want to see progress.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.