What is Pride? Going All-In on Tanking

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“Pride never helps. It only hurts.”-Pulp Fiction

By Jared Andrea

For a majority of their time since moving to Los Angeles, being a Laker fan has been the equivalent to being a Hilton or Kardashian. The money, fame and success was always a given, not a hope. There was no worrying about acquiring talent, what draft pick they had, or how much cap space was available. That was stuff for the rest of the league to worry about, because the Lakers would always figure things out. The team was never in rebuilding mode, but reloaded. Miss out on 4-Peating with Shaq and Kobe? Go sign two Hall-of-Famers in Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Suffer one losing season Post Shaq? Bring back Phil Jackson-the most successful coach of all time- and then fleece Memphis for Pau Gasol. Through LA Laker history, any potential rebuilding was always avoided-in the 70’s they acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following Jerry West, and then drafted Magic Johnson. In the 90’s after the Showtime guys retired, the Lakers landed Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, keeping them relatively competitive before the summer of 96. Draft day trading for Kobe Bryant and signing Shaquille O’Neal is the biggest summer coup (along with LeBron & Bosh going to Miami) in NBA history, and kept the Laker train rolling along.

That good fortune has been in short supply since the NBA disallowed the Chris Paul trade back in December of 2011. Since that point, LA has been living out the worst case scenario of the franchise, from Dr. Buss passing away to Steve Nash being chronically hurt, and Dwight Howard leaving after only one year. These events have led to the last two years watching the Lakers from a very different way than before: rooting for them to lose nearly every game. That’s right, since the start of the 2013-14 season, I can count less than a dozen times I have actually wanted the Lakers to win a game, the majority being: last season when they played Dwight Howard’s Rockets, and depending on how annoying they are at the time, the Clippers.

Other then the Clippers and Rockets though, the long view mentality of tanking has infiltrated my entire thought process in terms of my Laker fandom.  Actively rooting for the Lakers to lose and have the worst record was the biggest wish this season once Julius Randle broke his leg -again, more bad luck. Being perhaps the best team in league history has prevented many Laker fans from understanding the route back to the top, which is through the NBA Draft and more importantly, the NBA Draft lottery. Routinely checking scores of the Wolves, 76ers and Knicks has me more interested in the outcome of their games instead of the Laker games themselves this season.  In the race towards the bottom, every game counts. Just last month, the Lakers pulled out a couple of wins against Minnesota and Philly that would have placed them in third worst, instead of fourth as well as given the other teams tiebreakers over them. The draft lottery is all that matters now, and winning games at this juncture is counterproductive to the long term success of the franchise. Hell, just last year LA won their final two games of the season, pushing them from having the fourth worst record to “only” having the sixth worst. I was incensed, as if Mike D’Antoni hadn’t done enough to ruin the franchise, here he was leading them to two harmful victories; one last fart to stink up the room before the door hit him.  And on lottery night last May, instead of potentially getting a top three pick and landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, the Lakers received the seventh pick, and drafted Randle.

It doesn’t feel good rooting against the Lakers, but it comes down to: How is the team going to get Jahlil Okafor or Karl Anthony-Towns? Put simply, the NBA more than any other pro sport is predicated on talent. While coaching and scheme are obviously important, because it’s a game played by five man teams, talent always wins out. With Kobe Bryant on his (literally) last legs, and the foundation having eroded besides Jordan Clarkson and possibly Randle, the Lakers desperately need a top pick in this years draft. There is no way to woo free agents if there is no foundation or infrastructure in place for success. Being able to draft a Towns or Okafor allows for the Lakers to start putting pieces around them, attract free agents, and start being competitive again. It’s unfortunate, but when your team isn’t competitive, it’s just better to bottom out and root for your team to lose. So that’s why the most important night of the year for the Lakers is May 19th. Getting a top five pick, in a loaded draft, and things should turn out okay. Get slotted with the sixth pick though, and lose that pick to the 76ers because of the Steve Nash trade? THAT will be the worst loss of the season.

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