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Robert Upshaw: The Lakers’ Sacrifice for Progress

Going into the offseason, we (as Lakers fans), knew that the team needed a drastic improvement in both front line talent and just talent in general.  Going into a game with Wes Johnson, Jordan Hill, and Carlos Boozer defending your basket becomes aggravating and monotonous, am I right?  Those guys didn’t represent potential or room for growth like I’ve talked about in some of my Obvious & Underlying Storylines.  One can argue that every team needs talent, and that they’re all the equivalent of 30 toddlers fighting in a kiddie pool over three pool noodles.  There just isn’t enough obvious talent to go around.  An Anthony Davis or a Lebron only come around once every ten years or so, and very rarely (maybe once every few years) do we encounter a “pool noodle” star switch teams in Free Agency or a trade.  Which makes acquiring talent all the most difficult.  There are several avenues to secure talent, but none are certain.

You can look to the draft but even this year there was a consensus #1 pick (according to some) but Towns isn’t that guaranteed surefire All-Star, All-NBA, Hall of Fame-level talent.  You could try to persuade Free Agents, but we know better than to assume everything goes your way on that platform. (See: #LAtoLA, and The Dwightmare).

UpshawWatchingWhich left the Lakers in desperate need of talent, almost more than any team in the League, with only a few ways to get it.  Those ways were their three draft picks, trades, and, of course, the infinite possibilities of free agency.  When you’re in such an up-against-the-wall place as the 2013-2015 Lakers were and wanting to improve as quickly as we (as fans) have been demanding, hitting on those opportunities is vital.  The desire to want to “play it safe” with those picks or free agency spots would seem to be forgivable.  At this point in the Lakers Franchise History, we just want them to employ competitive basketball players.  Then once the offseason began and the Lakers started to take risks with D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr. Marcelo Huertas, and the biggest illustration of risk in the NBA: Robert Upshaw.  We started to see how risks could be fun.  Watching the brief highlights that Upshaw compiled in his disheveled college career was exhilarating.  I got caught up as much as anybody in the “Youtube Robert Upshaw.”  Risks are fun, playing it safe isn’t.  Jahlil Okafor was the face of safe, you know what he’s going to be in the NBA.  D’Angelo Russell is a risk, he could be a Curry/Harden hybrid or another Sebastian Telfair/Jonny Flynn cautionary tale.  As those risks amassed we (as fans) got so excited at the prospect of what all of these guys could become together that we almost forgot about the other inquiry that we’ve made.

An overwhelming faction of Lakers Nation demanded that the Lakers adjust their focus to include more analytics and make advancements in that arena.  The venom and disgust over Byron Scott’s dismissal of three-point shots almost became tangible last season. “The Lakers have to get with it as far as analytics” was a popular phrase uttered on several LA Sport Talk shows.  As a Laker fan, listening to Mason & Ireland almost every day and hearing other fans vomiting their appeal for the Lakers to “use analytics” became depressing.  Even if some of their requests were warranted.

Now that the Lakers have acquired all of this talent they should just plug them into their “analytics” and everything should work out, right?  Make them shoot more threes, play position-less basketball, and take percentages and make them into points and eventually wins.  Right? That’s what we wanted.

UpshawSL2We’ve seen the Lakers embrace a lot of these new analytical trends in the preseason.  Three points attempts are up almost 220% from 10 per game in 2014 to 22 per game so far in 2015.  Positionless basketball has emerged with lineups that include Kobe with two lead guards (Russell & Clarkson), and front lines that don’t include a traditional center and instead utilizing a combination of two of: Bass, Randle, Kelly, or Nance.  Are we getting the best of both worlds right? Well, nothing comes without payment.

It’s difficult to not view every single move in a vacuum.  Sometimes it can get us in trouble, like the Dwight Howard trade that we all became weak in the knees over.  Or dismissing a small risk like paying for a draft pick in the late second round and selecting an unknown guard out of Missouri (Jordan Clarkson).  We never know how a move is going to end, but demanding that a team both acquire talent and use every inch of that talent in the exact way we want is an impossible task.  We can’t have it both ways, we can’t demand talent and then insist on all of it fitting with the analytics and new wave of basketball that’s overrunning the League right now.  It just doesn’t work like that.  You can’t take fit square pegs into a round hole, and the analytics of positionless basketball is the round hole and Robert Upshaw just happened to be the last square peg off of the bench.

UpshawSLA few times this preseason I’ve heard Bill McDonald, the Lakers TV play-by-play voice, say that there are four guys (Hibbert, Black, Sacre, Upshaw) competing for three spots in the depth chart for centers.  Meaning one would have to be out, the vast majority of us agreed it should be Sacre.  He represents that same lack-of-potential we endured with Johnson/Boozer/Hill & Company.  What if that wasn’t the case, though? What if there aren’t three center spots on the depth chart? What if embracing these analytics as we’ve petitioned has caused there to be only two spots while guys like Brandon Bass and even Julius Randle fill those minutes?  Isn’t that us getting what we want?

The backlash for waiving Robert Upshaw is understandable, I still believe there’s a place for him in the League, we just can’t expect to get everything that we’re requesting from this organization right now.  There are risks that they’re going to take and maybe Robert Upshaw just wasn’t a risk worthy enough to surrender to our precious analysis.

What do you think?

Written by Nick Angstadt

Follower of Jesus Christ and aspiring broadcaster/writer. Diehard Lakers fan since birth, NBA Aficionado, tortured Bengals supporter, and situational Reds enthusiast.
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