Luke Walton did what a coach is supposed to do in a close game on Friday night.
He put four starters back on court.
Well, maybe he wasn’t supposed to do that.
The world of protecting lottery picks and trying to improve odds of landing a top-3 pick can lead to some strange commentary and coaching decisions.
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And, oops, the Lakers won that game, extending their winning streak to three games at the wrong time of the season for lottery’s sake.
Walton knew fans are rooting for the team to lose to have the best chance of keeping its top-3 protected lottery pick.
“There is obviously a unique situation we are in but the fans are behind the guys, at least here in the arena,” Walton said.
The Lakers aren’t alone. The Kings have incentive to lose, even as coach Dave Joerger said Friday night there was “no tanking” going on with the Kings to finish the season.
With playoff hopes long gone, the season became a mission to improve chances for a better pick or, in the case of the Lakers and Kings, hold onto picks that could be lost because of past trades.
So don’t think there wasn’t some grumbling among Laker fans when Walton inserted four starters into Friday’s win over the Kings when Phoenix had already won (or lost for lottery purposes) and the Lakers would have been just a half game from the second-worst record in the league.
The Lakers are in this position thanks to their attempt to go all-in for a championship in 2012 by trading for Steve Nash. Phoenix has since traded the rights to that pick to Philadelphia.
The general manager who made that deal, Mitch Kupchak, was fired in February.
The Kings are in this predicament because of a 2011 trade for J.J. Hickson. Their pick is top-10 protected and Cleveland has since traded the rights to the pick to Chicago.
Geoff Petrie was running basketball operations for the Kings at that time.
All the ifs and protections have led to lineups that look the end of preseason games.
Things got especially wacky last week when the Lakers had a lineup of seldom-used players going against the San Antonio Spurs, who were already sitting out players to prep for the postseason.
The Lakers won that game and by beating the Kings have a three-game winning streak at the worst possible time of the season for their draft stock.
But what’s a coach to do? He can’t tell his players to not try to win.
“Like I said after the (Spurs) game, it’s our players’ responsibility to play like that every night and try to win no matter what else is going on as professionals,” Walton said. “That was a really solid performance from them (Friday).”
The Kings and Suns didn’t ask players to lose. They simply kept players who could help them win out of games.
For the Kings that began with trading DeMarcus Cousins. The Suns have kept Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler out of games.
Yes, young players gain experience, but it’s no secret young players are more likely to lose games and get a coach fired.
Still, organizations have to look out for the big picture. So if management wants Bledsoe watching, coach Earl Watson goes along with it and looks to get the most out of rookie Tyler Ulis.
Still, the NBA needs to revisit the lottery process as a whole. The current setup does not prevent teams from tanking, which the lottery was supposed to do.
It’s heavily weighted in favor of the worst teams (which seems fair), but also means fans can spend more than a month paying for games neither organization wants to win.
Or if you’re Walton, you have to explain players are only doing their jobs by winning.
The This Can’t Be Life Award
Last I checked, the NBA isn’t little league basketball.
So why was there so much anger at Lance Stephenson for scoring a late layup in a blowout win over Toronto last Tuesday?
Yes, sportsmanship is good. But what’s sportsmanlike about accosting Stephenson for a meaningless basket in front of fans who cheered him on in his return to the team?
Could Stephenson held the ball and not scored on a wide-open break for a layup? Sure. But why should he? For the “unwritten rules” of sports? It’s not as if Stephenson ran to the Raptors bench to taunt them.
Seeing the reactions of some of the Raptors, you would have not guessed it was Stephenson being labeled as classless.
The Keeping It Way Too Real Award
“I mean, I was 6 for 25. (Expletive), what you want me to do? I wasn’t making the shots, so somebody else can help. My job is to see what’s going on, and try to find guys that can make some shots and maybe we can get something going.”
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook on the notion he was hunting for assists in the fourth quarter of the team’s blowout loss at Phoenix. It would have been his 42nd triple-double of the season, a new NBA record.
Westbrook fell two assists short of a triple-double.