The Better Front Office: Lakers or 76ers?


The 76ers play the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles. It is their first meeting of the year.

Two years ago, when the 76ers General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, Sam Hinkie, began selling the team off for used parts and acquiring second round picks, many of whom will never step foot on a NBA floor, the overwhelming sentiment was horror mixed in with a sense that the NBA was watching a car wreck. Never before had a plan so bold, one that devalues achievement and excellence, and dumbs down the very thing Hinkie was being paid to fix, been put on center stage in front of the entire league.

Hinkie was not just starting over and he was not just rebuilding, he was tearing to shreds the very way NBA front offices traditionally do business by setting the building model and all of its agreements on fire and then sitting across the street and watching it burn. On the one hand, he and his miserable team of players, some of who belong in the D-league forever, were looked upon as an experiment conducted by a mad and eccentric scientist and you felt sorry for their role in all of this. But to others, the ones who value progress and thinking outside the box, Hinkie or someone like him, was long overdue. He may not be right in the end but at least he dared to do something no one else dared: destroy the NBA’s rule of ethics.

More from Lake Show Life

Jul 24, 2014; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak during a press conference at theToyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak is not a daring sort of individual. He attended the University of North Carolina where he was fathered, mentored and loved by Dean Smith. He was drafted by the Washington Bullets who won a title in 1978. The Bullets were the underdogs in that series against the Seattle Supersonics, and their unsentimental, grueling coach, Dick Motta, would often chide reporters: the fat lady never sings. After their game 7 victory, Motta had the phrase printed on t-shirts.

After leaving Washington, Kupchak played for another anal, obsessively driven- there is success or there is misery- coach in uncompromising Pat Riley. Kupchak then studied under Jerry West, learning the fine art of the general manager job which at its core is maintaining relationships with your peers in order to build trust. The goal is to put the best team you can out on the floor.

The best team on the floor? No one with working eyesight would consider a lineup of Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre and Wayne Ellington the best team possible. The truth is there were talented players the Lakers passed up for parts in this last off-season. How is that any different than Sam Hinkie and his Philadelphia experiment? Red lipstick on a pig is the same as pink lipstick on a pig.

Kupchak doesn’t get any points for not being original. He took a look at the Sixers model and added one more wrinkle: don’t tell the truth. Create an illusion of effort whereas people think the Lakers are trying to win even as the deck is tilted with the under-talented who won’t be able to win no matter how much they may want to. Besides, the Lakers have a more significant problem than the 76ers ever have had.

The Lakers are the #1 team in their market and have been since the Fox ownership group traded Mike Piazza to the Florida Marlins in 1998, thumping the Los Angeles Dodgers to second fiddle in a town they had dominated for 40 years. The Piazza trade was the third year of Kobe-Shaq. The Dodgers misstep gave the Lakers the opportunity to open a door, drag millions of bitter Dodger fans inside and lock the door behind them. The Lakers death grip on sports fans in the Los Angeles market has never waned, even amid these brutal two years.

The Lakers ticket prices, even for a bad team, are still at the top of the free market and because of their very unique economic circumstances, they can’t do a Hinkie and say they are losing games on purpose. They have too much at stake, too much fiscal accountability. And it is embarrassing too. Shouldn’t they have seen this coming?

So they do this dance. They act as if the word tanking is an outrage at worst and an epithet at best. But then, they re-sign Wesley Johnson and add Ronnie Price and think Jeremy Lin can be Jeremy Lin without pick and roll sets and without a big man and with a coach like Byron Scott who is the tyrannical model of Dick Motta and Pat Riley- unrelenting to the core. Call it whatever you want. The organization set out to lose and then they liberated themselves from any goals of achievement by building a roster that the University of Kentucky could beat.

The Lakers have won the same amount of games as the 76ers (17). But, the 76ers have lost 2 more games (52) than the Lakers. A loss tonight will narrow the gap between the two teams as the Lakers try to snatch the NBA’s third worst record- they are currently fourth. But, somehow you know this won’t be easy.

The Lakers will play against the D-league 76ers and then find a way at the end to let it slip away. No one will care about the how’s and why’s of it.  All that matters anymore is the big picture.

As to that picture, several months ago, a prominent player in the free agent class of 2016 said he would never, ever play for Philadelphia and he knew most star players wouldn’t either. It leaves a bad taste, this whole wanting to lose thing, celebrating it like it is the answer to some question about courage. In fact, losing is easy. It may make the fans happy but it pisses the star players off.

Next: Steve Nash: You Have to Say Goodbye to Your Former Self