The last day of the 2014-15 NBA season was also the strangest. With half the playoff seeds up for grabs in the West, the No. 3 and No. 8 seeds unsettled in the East, the fight for the worst record in the NBA reaching its morbid conclusion and an all-time great tanking battle in Philly, Wednesday night featured the NBA at its most entertaining and wackiest.
Except for the Lakers and the Kings.
Overshadowed (and ignored) because of Joel Embiid deciding to coach, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder getting bounced from the playoffs, and every other more exciting sub plot from the last day of NBA action, two bad teams played one last bad game before heading home for the summer.
If this was the last day of school, both of these teams would be going home with an “F” on their report cards. The Lakers yearbook quote would be “I got a sense of a whole lot of them I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with. I think they’d end up shooting me in the back” which is something that Lakers head coach Byron Scott actually said about his team.
That quote sums up just how miserable things got for the Lakers. It began early, when first-round pick Julius Randle broke his leg in the fourth quarter of the first game. Kobe Bryant followed that up with a season ending injury of his own, but not before cursing out the entire team at a practice. Jeremy Lin never found a fit, Nick Young completely failed to live up to his 4-year, $21.5 million contract, and Steve Nash retired. On top of all of that, the Lakers only have a 11.9 percent chance at the top pick, and their pick goes to Phoenix if it lands outside the top 5. (That Nash trade is looking great two years later, huh.)
But the Kings might have been even worse. With somewhat meager expectations going into the year, the Kings imploded in the first year under new owner Vivek Ranadivé’s reign. SacTown went through three coaches in half the season, drafted Nik Stauskas ahead of Elfrid Payton, and wasted another year of prime DeMarcus Cousins. Now they’ve actually got a coach for the long term, and George Karl is already looking towards the future.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Karl said last night. “It’s a 30-game process and it started in the middle of the season. Me coming in in the middle of the year I think was a positive thing. I’ve got a better feel for what we are and what we need to do.”
But before Karl could set his sights totally on next season, he still had one game left before summer.
And…it was surprisingly entertaining!
For a game where half the players were D-Leaguers, the points just kept coming and coming. The Kings jumped out to a 10-point lead early behind 10 early points from Ben McLemore. By halftime it was all but over, with Sacramento up 67-53. Not surprisingly, the Lakers’ lineup of Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill, Vander Blue, Jabari Brown, and a Staples Center usher couldn’t hang some competent NBA talent. The Kings buried the Lakers from three (8-17), passed the ball extremely well (30 assists) and forced turnovers (14). Without Cousins, Reggie Evans and Rudy Gay, the bench players competed. It was more than enough to beat a Lakers team with more injured players than players on the court. Seriously, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Lin, Wayne Ellington, Ronnie Price, Wesley Johnson and Swaggy P were all injured.
Still, for a totally meaningless game with zero implications, there wasn’t much more you could have asked for. D-Leaguer David Stockton (son of John) had a nifty and-one, Blue (who was signed on Monday) had 15 for the Lakers, and LA started a lineup with players named Black, Blue and Brown.
Even the sellout crowd was into it, as practically every fan at Staples went home with some combination of a makeup gift bag, gas card, Jeremy Lin hat, tacos, portable speakers, autographed Carlos Boozer Jersey, trip to a resort in San Diego, AAA gift bags, Nike basketball, free subs, grand slam breakfasts, a FREE TRIP TO CABO, autographed Nick Young everything, and free subs.
But when it was over, when the hellish Lakers season had finally come to an end, there was the reality that the Lakers had finished 21-61, their worst record ever. It was sobering for Scott.
“We got what we probably were going to get with the guys that we put out there,” he said. “I’m a little pissed off right now, I’m not happy.”
But while Scott was not pleased with the effort, he was pleased with Black, who established himself as a young player with a bright future over his year with the Lakers. As an undrafted rookie, Black competed in 63 games (25 with the Rockets earlier this year) and averaged 6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He had five points Wednesday night, in his final game during a life-changing season where he established himself as an NBA player.
“Playing time gives you the best experience,” Black said afterward. “It makes it a lot easier for you and the biggest level of growth comes from just being out there and getting the experience. It’s been the biggest blessing to get the chance to play.”
Fellow rookie Nik Stauskas has struggled in his moments in his first season with the Kings—Stauskas averaged only 4.4 ppg in 15 minutes per game in his rookie season, although he was the No. 8 overall pick. “It’s been a rocky year and we haven’t been winning so it makes things tough,” he said Wednesday.
But Stauskas has already set his sights on next season. “I want to improve on my strength and speed. Getting in the weight room, getting stronger and improving my handle.”
He had a chance to show it off late in the Kings’ dominant win, his last opportunity to play in a game until Summer League in July. For now, it’s playoff time, and for the Lakers, Kings and other lottery bound teams, time for the draft and free agency. The Lakers are looking forward to it.
“When we start bringing in guys and getting back to work,” Scott said, “The bad taste from this season will be gone.”
Russell Simon is an Editorial Intern at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @RussSimonSays. Image via Getty.