Going into the 2016-2017 campaign, the expectations of this Lakers roster were not necessarily sky high. Even though they got a rather high draft pick for the third consecutive year in Duke product Brandon Ingram, uncertainty galore was omnipresent. Even when the advertisements out there asserting that “the future is bright” kept being shown on air, a lot of teeth grinding was happening. Indubitably, it is logical given that the fans (let’s be real here) have been rather spoiled over the years. When it comes to a franchise whose history is richer than a ship full of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, losing does not even seem to be an option.
Needless to say, too, when a bona fide legend who will eventually be a first ballot Hall of Famer retires and a team lacks any immediate, glaring leadership presence, it is usually not the best recipe for success from an on paper frame of reference. Every team needs a guy (or two) that is unafraid to take the reins.
However, the team’s respectable 10-10 start proved a lot of doubters (myself included truth be told) wrong. Seemingly night in and night out, this primarily young Lakers team played with a tangible sense of purpose. They played with a chip on their shoulders. As “Big Game” James Worthy even put it one night from what I can recall during a postgame analysis, their identity was one he defined as “tough as nails” (words we have not heard in some time it feels like). There actually was this underlying glimmer of hope that virtually no one originally surmised.
It was amazing to behold. Even when the team did not necessarily finish on the winning end of the spectrum, the “fight” was there. That is the bottom line in sports—it is not always about results (although some out there may disagree), but bringing it to the opponent each and every possession. And the Lakers generally demonstrated this early on—it was beautiful and refreshing given that the prior three years in Hollywood were not too glittering to capture on film or anything like that.
But then, all of a sudden after that rock solid night in Chicago when the group played arguably their best team defense all year, something changed for some reason. The tenacity and fire started to die out. It is as if the Windy City blew it all away. Yes, we all grasp the whole youth and injuries arguments. Everyone knew about the former parcel of information, though, before play even commenced. And, let’s be plain and simple with the other snippet—injuries can happen to any team. They are what they are, alas, as much as they are despised. But, there is no need to elaborate on those right now. They are getting to be too overused by this point in time.
Indeed, when it comes to a group that does not have a plethora of experience being together, it’s not like anyone anticipated them to magically erupt back to the kind of squad they were in the later 2000’s when they ultimately made three straight Finals appearances. Be that as it may, there is still a fine line that has to be drawn after a while. This is the NBA, after all. This is not a chummy game of lightning at recess on a junior high playground.
In no corporate office would some of these performances by the purple-and-gold be remotely acceptable. With that being said, I seriously think higher accountability needs to be instilled. It could be a matter of Coach Walton shuffling the rotation around a bit. Let certain guys who deserve playing time get it, and let others earn their stripes as the saying is constructed. It could perhaps be a matter of focusing more intently on the fundamentals in practice (like boxing out, for example) in order to therefore limit second chance opportunities. It could scale itself down to someone (I frankly do not care who) getting into the heads of their teammates by being a vocal role model—demanding more. Based on various postgame interviews this year, both players and coaches readily admit the team can be quiet for the most part. Getting out of that comfort zone may ignite a wee bit of fire. Whilst I could go on and on regarding these nitty gritty details, what really needs to be done, though, is something that goes beyond this. It is something that extends beyond what I have already said.
It literally boils down to the sustenance of effort over 48 minutes of play. No ifs, ands, or buts. Granted winning is certainly ideal (well, duh, right?!) the bare minimum in a lofty profession along these lines is to bring relentless effort into each contest. That is an extremely fair expectation to have even supposing that I am a mere surveyor. Unfortunately, this is an area that this Lakers unit needs to work on notwithstanding the fact that well over half the season is in the books. For whatever reason, they’ll look pretty decent during spurts of games. They will look okay enough to where it looks like they have a relatively decent shot at stealing a “W.” But somewhere along the way, the energy dwindles down.
Playing well for, let’s say, a half is definitely not enough. Heck, it is plausible to say that keeping the foot planted on the gas pedal for 47 minutes is not sufficient, either. It’s the full duration.
That is what it takes. I really hope sooner or later the Lakers understand that. Perfect results are not going to transpire all the time, but that never die attitude is something each member must exhibit. This is a man’s league, so, as a result, sporadic stretches are simply inexcusable. Once more, I fathom that there are multiple players in their early twenties on this roster—heck, one of them is still a teenager. I hate to be real in another regard, too, but I will. Most of these players make far more than any ordinary person could even dare to dream about. As long as their funds are not utilized to acquire like a hundred Ferraris, let’s say, a lot of these athletes are essentially set for life. Thus, I think the aforementioned stipulation is more than reasonable.
Some incipiently say, too, that teams sometimes have to wade their way through hell in an effort to grow. It is germane to presume that this could be a similar theme being seen here. This not so kind season could be a way of waking this group up—just a theory. All I can put forward for now is that I sincerely hope this theory is true. Enough can be enough after a decent period of time, and when you’re fortunate enough to be wearing the purple and gold, there needs to come a certain amount of pride. The names and banners in the rafters speak for themselves, and one would think that playing for such a franchise would be more than enough incentive.
As a spectator, I am not trying to sound unfeasible or harsh. The reality of the matter is that this will still take time and patience. That should not be all too shocking to hear. I do not think that even the most optimistic fan believes that this team is built to make a deep playoff run in the immediate future. In spite of that, giving it everything matters in anything in general. This group needs to start establishing those types of habits for the reason that I do believe (whenever it specifically occurs is unknown, though) they will indeed have an uncanny way of paying off.