By all accounts, the Los Angeles Lakers have played and injured themselves out of any serious postseason talk.
At 16 games below .500 in a loaded Western Conference, the discussion isn’t about whether the Lakers will find their combinations fluttering around the lottery tank (sorry), as much as “how many?"
When your starting lineup consists of Kendall Marshall (in the D-League two months ago), Steve Blake (recently injured), Wesley Johnson (somewhere between “disappointing” and “disaster” on the lottery-bust scale), Shawne Williams (we’ll get to that) and Chris Kaman (going through hunting withdrawals living in L.A.), it’s bound to be quite a few.
But please, whatever you do, don’t say they’re tanking. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t like that. From Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell:
Kupchak on "tanking": "I’m not a karma guy. Ff you try to manipulate this thing, it never works out the way you think it’s (will)."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 14, 2014
Wait, isn't worrying about a specific decision coming back to haunt you later the very definition of karma? Or our totally misguided Western understanding of karma, anyway?
More from Trudell:
Kupchak: "Certainly the hole we’ve dug is deep & going into the trade deadline, our approach is going to be different than in year’s past."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 14, 2014
More: "If you’re asking me do I think if we’ll pick up somebody that will help us this year, that’s probably not the approach we’re taking."— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) February 14, 2014
That makes sense. The Lakers are currently a half-game ahead of the Sacramento Kings for last place in the Western Conference. Why on earth would they jeopardize such a sweet spot on the draft board by, like, trying to improve and stuff?
Of course Kupchak isn’t dumb enough to come out and admit to throwing games—be it explicitly or tacitly—for the sake of improving the Lakers' stock ahead of one of the deeper drafts in recent memory.
Over at CBS's Eye On Basketball, Royce Young sums it up thusly:
But imagine bottoming out this season and landing a top five pick in the draft. The Lakers need to face the reality that Kobe is not going to be Kobe much longer and it's time to find the new Black Mamba in L.A. Hunting stars in free agency is fine, but building through drafting a long-term franchise cornerstone is the way to go.
The good news: The Lakers are bad, and are going to lose games anyway—lots of them. They’re literally fielding the best team possible given the almost unbelievable slew of injuries and setbacks the team has faced thus far.
In short: Everyone wins! Well, everyone except the fans who paid to see a healthy Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, and not Shawne Williams—who, by the way, is now starting after being invited back for his second 10-day contract of the season.
Nope, no tanking here! Move along!