For whatever reason, people seem to lack an understanding of what tanking is. This kind of makes sense, given how rarely the Los Angeles Lakers have put their fans through that experience, but one would hope that after four years of this stuff, they’d understand the concept a little better.
Just so we’re all clear, tanking is when teams play worse players with the intention to lose on purpose. By this definition, it’s literally impossible to imply the Lakers are tanking anytime D’Angelo Russell is on the court. Same goes for Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, etc.
When guys like Tyler Ennis, Thomas Robinson and David Nwaba are on the court over those guys, then the Lakers are being pretty clear with their intentions.
Players aren’t to blame for tanking. Organizations are. So when fans spew vitriol at players on social media for winning the occasional game, they’re missing the point almost entirely.
Russell gave an interview with Drew Ruiz of SLAM Online and had this to say about the tanking experience.
SLAM: The average NBA spectator thinks certain teams tank on purpose. How do you react to that?
DR: I don’t know. This year was the first year I got to be part of a—what you would consider—tanking. Last year I was too, but with Kobe, I had no idea what that meant. This year, I guess we were supposed to lose, you know? We started winning and a lot of fans were getting upset. It plays a percentage or whatever in us getting better with that pick, but I just don’t understand why you want to lose. How can you go out there and try to lose?
The answer to the question Russell asks there at the end is what I was talking about above. No matter which player is currently on the floor, they are not going to go out there and try to lose on purpose.
When the Lakers won games on Russell and the young core’s backs, that was a good thing. On nights where they sat and the Lakers won anyway, that was obviously frustrating, but taking that out on the players who won is misguided.
The good news in all this is: Hopefully, fans won’t need to understand tanking much longer.