As they let go of their collective dreams perhaps the Lakers new strategy is what Jordan Hill referred to as “playing for pride.” Perhaps pride replaces the old Lakers strategy of proving everyone wrong- everyone who said this was going to fail. Everyone who said Mike D’antoni over Phil Jackson was going to fail in such a way it would bring embarrassment. Everyone who said a bunch of scrub players over quality NBA stars was going to fail. So with all of that imaginary thinking out the window, this new strategy/slogan is the pride rallying cry. Fifteen games of pride. Fourteen games of pride. Thirteen games of pride. That sort of thinking is like holding a bridge together with glue. It doesn’t take much. It falls apart under the slightest pressure. Not that this is a news flash- but you don’t play for pride when it is game 69. You don’t play for pride when every win is a lottery disaster, a lower pick, a lesser talent, back to where you started. You don’t play for pride when your lack of achievement has driven a proud franchise to weeping on its knees.
When it is game 30 you play for pride. When you go up against the Clippers, you play for pride so they don’t beat you by 48 points. (Don’t think that will ever be forgotten.) You play for pride when you host the worst team in the NBA. Pride creates discipline. Discipline keeps a third year player from amassing a career high. Discipline keeps Brandon Knight from looking like Chris Paul.
You play for pride the first time you lose a game by 20+ points. You vow it won’t happen again. You play for pride by moving the ball from side to side. You play for pride by not jacking up the first three point bomb early in the shot clock. You play for pride in the paint by chasing down rebounds and getting extra possessions. You play for pride on the perimeter by chasing down long rebounds off of misses. You play for pride by not sleep walking through games. And getting back in transition. How many times in his post game comments has Mike D’antoni said of the Lakers, “they were not ready to play.” That is having zero pride. Not contesting shots is having zero pride. Letting teams do whatever they want to do is having zero pride. Pride? It sounds good. But what does it really mean with three weeks left in the season. Nothing. That is what playing with pride means.
At this point the players will grab at any sort of loose straw. But they are not alone. It is the coaches who have demonstrated zero pride as well. Kurt Rambis has gotten a pass this season. No one talks about what he has not done. For all of D’antoni’s faults, he is what he has always been. A mediocre shooter who was chased out of the NBA and forced to play overseas. D’antoni doesn’t hide the fact he was not very good. Sometimes he implies the same thing about his players. Last week he tried to make a joke. (Note: D’antoni’s joke always fall flat.) When assessing some of the players on his roster he said, “next stop Europe.” It was less funny than it was true. But it was true because it happened to D’antoni.
Perception is everything. D’antoni gets raked over the coals as he should. But no one ever talks about Kurt Rambis. Kurt Rambis sits next to Mike D’antoni. He was hired to coach the defense. Rambis was not an irrelevant NBA player. He was surrounded by amazing talent. He was aware of the thread that links winners together regardless of the era they played in. Winners are devoted to principles. Discipline. Desire. Hard Work. Commitment. They don’t look at their career as a breeding ground for irrelevant accomplishments like “the most 4-point plays” in a season. Rambis was trained under Pat Riley who famously said, “No Rebounds, No Rings.” Where has this philosophy been all season because for the longest time it has been missing in action. Riley also preached about the “peripheral opponent”, meaning the opponent that is out of view. Your ego. Your laziness. Your casualness. Your satisfaction. Those are the things that can derail any team, not just a contending team. Where was that philosophy this season. ‘We just want to have fun’ supplanted ‘we just want to win’. And now it is ‘we are playing for pride.’
Kurt Rambis was a head coach in 2009. He coached the Minnesota Timberwolves. They won 15 games that year. They were 29th in defense. They turned the ball over more than any other team. They were last in blocks. They took more shots than almost anyone in the league. But it did not matter. They were 25th in percentage. The next year the Timberwolves improved; they won 17 games. They were a three point shooting team. (Most bad teams are). They were last in defense. Teams took the most threes against the Timberwolves. They were last in steals. You want high assists. Play the Timberwolves, they gave up the most. Their opponents shot 50% on two point shots. After that disaster Rambis was fired. But of course, he was hired by D’antoni to coach the Lakers defense. Because he was so well qualified.
Playing for pride is not the same thing as playing with pride. When you play with pride you use it as a foundation for your discipline and your technique. Playing with pride is what winners do. Pride is just one of many things that allow games to be decided in your favor. You play with pride when you lose and then take accountability. You play with pride when you win because you have paid attention to detail. You don’t go under screens against the prohibitive MVP. You don’t turn the ball over on a lazy pass. You don’t stand there while your man grabs the loose ball. Playing with pride is playing with integrity. Playing for pride is playing for your ego and hoping this is not your last opportunity.
Kobe Bryant was once asked about the effect of a crowd on the game. Does a raucous atmosphere on the road have an effect? To which he replied, “a fan is not going to block my shot. A fan is not going to steal the ball.” It is the same with pride. Pride doesn’t win much of anything. Other things have to be in place. A system that is proven to win. Multiple skill sets. Confidence. The trust in your teammates- you move the ball because you know someone else has a better shot. You rebound the ball because you want to give yourself as many offensive opportunities as possible. You play as hard as you can because effort is half the battle. Perhaps pride is what remains at the end, once productivity is gone. The Lakers individual games disappeared months ago. Nick Young, after deciding it was a goal to get to 30+ wins, now admits it is a long shot because of their schedule. What he is really admitting to is that his team is not very good. They are experiencing what all losers experience, time is an illusion. A year can seem like five years. The season can seem like an eternity.
The Lakers outlasted the Orlando Magic. But it was not easy. It does not bode well for the rest of the teams on the Lakers schedule, the ones who do not rest on pride but on talent and skill and toughness and defense and discipline. They will beat the Lakers. At least this year’s version who are the worst Lakers team to ever to suit up in Los Angeles. They are the worst ever to represent this honored franchise. It has been said “pride goeth before the fall.” Often it is the other way around. The fall comes first.