News flash people: this Lakers squad is not good. For some of you, this isn’t breaking news. But others were dazzled by the opening night performance and were convinced this Lakers squad could be competitive. Well regressing to the mean never reared it’s head uglier than it has for the Lakers. Their five losses have come by an average of 18 points. Take away the close loss to the Spurs and it balloons to 21.
These aren’t your Lakers of five years ago.
We knew this Lakers team was essentially a one-year rental. Only a handful of them are signed through next year, and none of them past that. Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Chris Kaman are all on the backside of 30 years old and all are showing their age, especially the former two. With a 3-5 record, this certainly is far, far from a lost season, but it’s heading that way fast. Considering the circumstances, though, the mission of this season should be clear:
Let the youngsters play.
The Lakers brought in an array of free agents this summer, highlighted by borderline draft busts in Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson. But those two, as well as the rest of the bench, have shined brighter than anyone could have expected. Jodie Meeks has left fans befuddled with his play this year, no longer regarded as just a three-point shooter. Jordan Farmar not only hasn’t missed a beat since leaving the Lakers a few years ago, but he looks better than ever. Jordan Hill? All he’s doing is dominating the offensive glass like few others in the league.
Yet, of those five players, only Meeks and Henry have cracked the starting line-up, and they’ve done so in just two games. Their minutes per game figures are even more eye-popping.
Meeks – 26.4 (3rd on team)
Johnson – 23.4 (4th)
Henry – 21.9 (7th)
Farmar – 21.1 (8th)
Hill – 16.9 (10th)
Considering this 5-man unit is the Lakers most-used lineup, it’s a bit weird that the individuals don’t see the floor more often. Their 1.18 points per possession is far and away the most productive unit that’s played more than 10 minutes together. Need some more stats?
1st in effective field goal percentage
1st (of top 8) in close basket percentage
1st in rebound percentage
The Lakers have quite the conundrum in front of them. On one hand, one of the most storied franchises in NBA history has never been one associated with tanking. They always field one of the most competitive teams possible and always strive for a title. On the other hand, you have a first round draft pick in a DEEEEEP draft class, a mediocre team on the court right now, and a huge amount of cap space heading into the summer.
I was adamant against tanking this summer, often arguing against it. In any normal circumstance, I’m still against it. But what the Lakers have is far from a normal situation. The stars have aligned in a manner that may never happen again. They have a chance to add a young star, retain an aging star in Kobe Bryant, and build literally any type of roster they want this off-season. They hold nearly enough cap space for two max contracts, but certainly enough for one and a slew of young role players.
Which brings us back to this season. As is, of the five players listed earlier, none of them have contracts for next season. Robert Sacre and Steve Nash are the only ones with guaranteed deals heading into next season. Therefore, the Lakers should be playing players who could have a future with the team more than others. It’s silly to play Kaman over Hill, Steve Blake over Farmar, and Shawne Williams over Johnson.
The Lakers have nothing to lose this year. Play the youngsters. If they win, well then they’re doing what they’re supposed to. If they lose, they’re setting themselves up for the future with a high draft pick and a knowledge of what the young kids can do. What do they have to lose trotting out a lineup of Farmar, Jodie, Henry, Pau, and Hill with Wes, Nick Young, and Blake the first off the bench?
It’s time, Mike D’Antoni. In with the new, out with the old.