“To tank, or not to tank: that is the question,” said William Shakespeare (or something like that) and the question looms large for the Los Angeles Lakers over their final twenty-seven games, beginning Friday night at the Staples Center against the visiting San Antonio Spurs. Lakers games hardly resembled Shakespearean drama in the first half of the season; more like Netflix one-star cheapies—occasionally interesting, but mostly forgettable. So let’s examine potential second half plot lines in terms of bad movie clichés.
Will They Beat The Ticking Clock?
The Lakers’ ticking clock is more of a bouncing ball. As in the percolating ping-pong balls that set the NBA draft order. In order to assure their place in the lottery and compete for the number one pick overall, the Lakers must finish no better than third-worst in the league or the pick gets shipped to the Phoenix Suns (a final gut punch from the Steve Nash debacle). Currently, the team sits at 11-44, trailing only the Philadelphia 76ers for last place. Insiders swear the team hasn’t been tanking and the consistent effort, even in blowout losses, tends to back that up. Consider the “Draft Pick Drama,” the most enthralling storyline of the second half. Expect the Lakers to beat out the Suns and Brooklyn Nets in a tight race to the bottom, even if some authentic tanking is required down the stretch to do it.
Will The Hero Ride Off Into The Sunset?
It sounds blasphemous to complain about Kobe Bryant’s season-long farewell tour, but color this observer exasperated. It’s not that Kobe doesn’t deserve his send-off. What he’s done for the Lakers, for Los Angeles, and for the NBA’s brand worldwide has earned him a glowing tribute. But one of the league’s most storied franchises has been reduced to the Harlem Globetrotters, an NBA version of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. The real problem with all the Kobe-love is that it serves as a blatant smokescreen for business-as-usual management miscalculations and coaching blunders. Expect more of the same, though. Much more, building to an epic, delirious crescendo. ESPN is televising the last game on the schedule, a Wednesday night game against the Utah Jazz. Wonder why?
Will The Grizzled Head Coach Have A Change Of Heart?
Of all the criticisms of the Lakers in the first half, Byron Scott’s maddeningly whimsical line-up changes have been most loudly decried. Whether part of a shrewdly unscrupulous plan to save the draft pick or just basic coaching ineptitude, Scott’s machinations have kept Lakers fans from seeing the one thing they expected to see this season: the young core of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., and Tarik Black from playing and growing together, building on-court confidence and cohesion in the process. But once the magic calculus for securing that draft pick has been reached, expect Byron to let go of the reins. Seeing the youngsters play together earlier and for longer stretches will not only energize the fan base, but offer would-be free agents an enticing glimpse of the goods stashed in the team’s cupboard. With Randle averaging a double-double and Clarkson pitching in for 15.4 points a game, the cupboard is certainly not bare. It’s a win-win for the players and the franchise that should’ve happened by Christmas, but better late than never to get the future started.
Will They Cast A New Lead For The Sequel?
A year after getting very publicly Heisman’d by a string of top free agents, expect the Lakers to land at least one big fish this year once Kobe signs his retirement papers. We are talking about the Lakers after all. And that means that Byron Scott must go. Don’t expect him to get fired in-season, but the morning after the final game wouldn’t be too soon. Despite management having his back all year by claiming he isn’t responsible for a “lost season,” it appears they’ve been giving him enough rope to hang himself. Even if his rotational strategies prove crazy like a fox in terms of saving the draft pick, he’s damaged his relationship with his young players and hampered their development. Inexplicably benching Randle and Russell for effort and calling them out in press conferences has not helped his team’s overall defense, which ranks as the league’s fourth-worst. Rumors swirl regarding potential replacements, but one name to keep an eye on is Luke Walton. His command of the Golden State Warriors in Steve Kerr’s absence was stellar and assured. He won two rings with the Lakers and trained at Phil Jackson’s knee. In a Lakers season dominated by memories of faded glories, it’s worth recalling.