Thursday, March 27, 2014
How should these Lakers be judged?
By Dave McMenamin
MILWAUKEE -- Granted, there are still 11 games left before this disappointing Los Angeles Lakers season mercifully will come to an end.
And history will almost assuredly show that the 2013-14 Lakers were the worst group of players ever to don the purple and gold, as the team would have to finish 7-4 to avoid assuming the title from the 1974-75 team that went 30-52.
After a second loss this season to the lowly Bucks, Mike D'Antoni said the Lakers don't have the urgency they need most of the time.
But after Thursday's 108-105 embarrassment of a loss to the league's bottom feeders in the Milwaukee Bucks, there's no use of holding the guillotine of judgment off any longer.
This season's Bucks team isn't just on pace to be the worst team in Milwaukee franchise history, but it will end up with one of the 32 worst records in the history of the NBA unless it goes on some kind of unforeseen run and finishes 4-6 or better to close things out.
Yet those bad-as-they-come Bucks are now 2-0 against the Lakers this season (and just 12-58 against the rest of the league).
After the latest pox on an already ugly-as-sin season, what should Lakers fans think of these players? Hate them for failing to live up to the standard set by the squads before them who wore "Lakers" across their chest? Sympathize with them for leading the league with 256 combined games missed because of injury this season, by far tops in the league? Accept them as a necessary evil in the rebuilding process and simply look forward to the draft prospect the team will acquire as the fruit of their lackadaisical labor? Pretend they never existed and pass the time searching for old Showtime clips and Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant highlights on YouTube instead?
"All the stuff that's been thrown at us all year, it's been tough for everybody," Wes Johnson said when asked how fans should judge him and his teammates. "I wouldn't say we're underperforming, I'd just say we're not going out there every game focused and ready to compete at all times. That's just us. I can put it on us. I wouldn't put it on us having injuries or anything."
Jordan Hill, who had a strong night with 28 points and 16 rebounds Thursday but didn't do enough to help L.A. out defensively, was also asked how fans should view the team.
"I mean, without our leader, Kobe, it was definitely tough," Hill said. "I feel like guys that came out of nowhere and started playing their hardest -- Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, Kent [Bazemore], MarShon [Brooks]. Everybody is trying to do good. ... We're a young team with not as much talent as everybody else has, but we're still trying to battle."
But after losing another battle to the Bucks, isn't the fight already over?
"We don't have the urgency that we need most of the time," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said glumly after the game as his whole body seemed to take the downward curved shape of his mustache.
Nick Young was asked how it was possible the Lakers could lose twice to a Milwaukee team that is 44 games under .500.
"It happens, man," Young started to answer.
"They scored more points than us," interjected Kendall Marshall, loudly, with his back turned to both Young and the reporter asking the question as he stood at a nearby locker. "You ask the obvious question, you get the obvious answer."
It's understandable that emotions run high after a loss, but the Lakers have remained a mostly composed group -- with one another and with the media -- all season long no matter what the circumstance.
But losing to the Bucks again clearly constituted a breaking point.
"It hurts," Young continued. "Sometimes you underestimate, look past the people on the schedule and that's something that we can't do."
As bad as the basketball played by the Lakers was Thursday -- and it was plenty awful with the offense coughing up 20 turnovers and the defense allowing the Bucks to shoot 55.7 percent from the field -- perhaps the more lasting part was that the night took a turn back into the theater of the absurd, with Chris Kaman arriving at the arena less than 20 minutes before tipoff and still getting the start.
Young credited Kaman for taking care of his personal business back in L.A. and flying commercial to meet them in Milwaukee.
"For him to come in fresh off a plane, that means we're still trying to get it," Young said. "To see that from Chris, that's big."
And personal business is personal business, of course. But Kaman is the same guy who flopped prone across the bench in Cleveland during the game in which the Lakers started the night with eight eligible players and ended it with only four, something that got under the skin of Bryant and team president Jeanie Buss.
"We're the Lakers! ... Not, like, the Bad News Bears," Buss recently told the New Yorker when asked to recall Kaman lying down on the job. "We're not the lovable losers, where the only luck we have is bad luck."
Kaman is also the guy who, after D'Antoni informed him a few weeks ago that he felt as if his skill set was too much of a replication of Pau Gasol's so he would be playing only one of them at a time, spent the next several games following Gasol out onto the court like a shadow during pregame introductions to mock D'Antoni's assertion.
When Kaman arrived at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a Lakers staffer entered the media room and announced, "Chris Kaman is in the building," as if Elvis had been reincarnated.
The reality is, hope left the building for the Lakers long ago this season. Whatever happens from here -- losses, wins, the exploits of a certain bearded backup center -- will be merely footnotes on the Lakers' story.
It's up to the fans to decide where they want to file that story in their heads.