LA Lakers Must Embrace Underdog Status, Play With Huge Chip On Shoulder

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LA Lakers Must Embrace Underdog Status, Play With Huge Chip On Shoulder
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With injuries, player departures and salary cap restrictions taking a huge toll on the Los Angeles Lakers, they'll be playing one of two roles that don't come natural to one of sports' most storied franchises: tankers or underdogs.

A logical approach to the season would be for Los Angeles to let the year slip away. Preserving cap space and letting Kobe Bryant take his time returning from his torn Achilles tendon would be better than battling for the eighth seed. 

Going even further, letting Mike D'Antoni run his offense for another season with incomplete parts, while trading away Steve Nash and Pau Gasol for assets would be even better.

Completely throw the season away and go all-in on rebuilding in 2014.

Most teams take years to rebuild by finding a few draft picks, digging up some solid second-rounders and flipping assets for a good player on the block.

However, Los Angeles can easily land Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or one of the Harrison Twins, go into free agency with a billion dollars to spend and land LeBron James (unlikely), Carmelo Anthony (slightly more likely) or a combination of any of the dozen solid free agents on the market (there ya go).

They can rebuild in one season, pull up their pants after being publicly shamed by Dwight Howard and work their way back into contention.

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Of course, there are a few arguments that continue to float around regarding Los Angeles' situation.

"The Lakers don't tank," and, "Kobe Bryant won't cooperate in an effort to purposefully lose games," are two popular opinions.

As short-sighted as both seem, I tend to agree with both. Not out of some noble respect for an organization that seems needlessly committed to keeping up appearances, but from the recognition of their mentality.

It's a team that does feel the need to keep up appearances, even if it does make more sense in the long run to sacrifice a single season.

In order to have any shot at working their way up to a playoff spot, Los Angeles will have to adopt an underdog mentality.

As strange as it seems, they're going to have to be the scrappy squad of misfits that they've met so often and dispatched over the past decade or so.

It's a much different approach than the one they took last season when they were largely considered front-runners for a hefty chunk of the schedule.

Once they got down to the final month of the season, however, they took ahold of that scrappy mentality and did claw their way into a playoff spot, finally locking it up on the final day of the season.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

April was their ultimate display of showing the will to win. During an eight-game stretch, Los Angeles won seven and pushed as hard as possible to win enough games to land a playoff spot.

After spending the first six months of the season doing no more than matching their opponents in rebounding and simply outscoring them to win (rather than playing solid defense to keep their opponents down), Los Angeles flipped the script in those final eight games.

They held their opponents to nearly five fewer points per game compared to the season average and out-rebounded their opponents by 5.2 boards per game.

Metta World Peace was playing on a surgically repaired meniscus while the rest of the team gritted their teeth through their injuries and played the team into the playoffs over the final stretch.

That's what the 2014 Lakers will have to look like, only for 82 games instead of eight.

What that means is more of a concerted effort on defense, more energy and a flowing, teamwork-oriented offense.

Jordan Hill will likely be an integral part of showing the effort necessary to win games with this current Lakers' squad—old and talent-barren as it is.

He and the few young players looking to prove themselves will have to do just that, at least if the Lakers are planning on making something of themselves next season.

It's an unwise approach to a season that can't possibly end in a championship, but if it must be done, then they'll have to approach the season with the thought that nobody believes that they can make the playoffs and then prove them all wrong.

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