LOS ANGELES — What we’ve found regularly in recent years from the Los Angeles Lakers are lessons for life through their behavior, relationships and growth backstage...made into meaningful teaching points because of their competitive success on stage.
So what happens when you do the right things and put forth the admirable efforts but don’t find the success?
It’s not inspirational, it can’t foster greater understanding, and it just doesn’t feel good. That’s the reality the Lakers are discovering as they’ve hit 11 losses out of 12 games without the injured Kobe Bryant.
Look at Pau Gasol, for example. He was taken to task for his soft commitment to the team earlier this season, letting up when it got too hard to fight through his upper respiratory infection, the Lakers’ lack of loyalty to him and all the on-court battles he was losing to younger, fresher players.
But just as he bounced back into full practice the morning after he was criticized for skipping the Lakers’ Dec. 29 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Gasol stepped up for the team Tuesday night. Despite a moderate strain of the flexor tendon of his left big toe, Gasol accepted a heavy tape job from Lakers trainer Gary Vitti to lessen the pain and gave it a shot.
By doing so, he gave the Lakers a shot in what was their only home game in this brutal stretch, with seven straight road games upcoming.
The offense moved properly early on because of Gasol’s presence, and the Lakers wound up with a chance to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers despite his being severely limited on defense and not scoring for 16 consecutive minutes in the second half. Gasol still finished with 20 points (9-of-13 shooting), 12 rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocks.
Yet the Lakers lost. So there was no message of redemption, no uplifting story in this space about Gasol’s personal triumph.
The truth is that his effort did not go unnoticed within the walls of that room with the Lakers’ logo in the middle of the carpet, especially after he was a no-show at previous times.
“I thought he wasn’t going to play,” Nick Young said of Gasol. But not only did Gasol suit up, Young also said the old man on the team was vocal in motivating everyone to go get this valuable game.
“He came out with the most energy, hyping us up,” Young said. “That was big. That showed a lot. He’s still fighting for us.”
And Gasol, despite the losing effort and clearly laboring to run back on defense late in the game, knew he had done the right thing.
“I want to be out there with my boys,” Gasol said. “And I think I did OK.”
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But because the group still didn’t win, the returns were limited. The nature of the business is that one team wins and one team loses, no excuses allowed, even if Cleveland making an NBA season-best 76.5 percent on three-pointers (13-of-17) was a fluke, no matter that the pregame injury report listed six Lakers and no Cavaliers on it.
Gasol, 33, might still be traded in the coming month if the Lakers can fetch a future prospect and find the right spot for his $19.3 million salary. But as long as he keeps trying, honestly seeking to better himself even if his body and this roster make compelling arguments that he cannot, at least he’s taking the proper steps toward virtue and respect.
It’s just impossible to look glowingly upon doing the right things when they still produce the wrong results.
Ask Young, who continues to grow his game and prove his boyhood love for the Lakers persists with all the pride he’s showing. The guy with a career ledger of one assist per game over six-and-a-half years in the NBA tied his career high with six assists Tuesday night, besides his 28 points.
“It’s on you if you want to get embarrassed,” Young said afterward. “I take pride in this Laker uniform.”
But so did Bryant, whose lessons in leadership development were riveting because of the team’s results in 2009 and ’10. Derek Fisher never wanted to get embarrassed either, and despite all his limitations he ultimately didn’t—because he was a winner.
When the team’s talent just isn’t good enough, there are no morality plays with happy endings. If you try and you still lose, then you’re just left to try and lose a crappy postgame feeling.
Take Jodie Meeks, whose competitive fire hasn’t wavered. He scored 26 points, his most as a Laker, on Tuesday night and also had Kyrie Irving gushing about his defensive effort. Partly because he stayed so glued to Irving, Meeks’ streak of a steal in 15 consecutive games—the longest streak in the NBA—came to an end.
“I’m trying to do everything I can, personally,” Meeks said, “but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not winning.”