"Whoever came up with that sh*t needs to be fired," said LeBron James less than a year ago, after the Lakers lost six of their last seven games and fell to no.7 in the standings. It was apparent they would have to participate in "that sh*t," a.k.a. the play-in tournament, and LeBron was not happy about it. Oh, how the tables have turned.
A slice of humble pie
LeBron and the Lakers find themselves in a similar position this year. The only difference is that while injuries are a factor this year as well, general team dysfunction and the Russell Westbrook trade make things a lot grimmer. This isn't a "we just need everyone healthy" situation, and the standings make that painfully clear.
Last year, The Lakers went into the play-in tournament as the 7th seed. They had a winning record (42-30) and a three-way tie with the Mavericks and Blazers. This year, they are clinging on for dear life, currently 9th at 29-40. Let me put it like this - they are more likely to fall out of the play-in completely (the 11th Spurs are 2.5 games back) than to get to the 8th spot (the Clippers are 5.5 games ahead.)
Last year, LeBron was annoyed that his playoff legacy might be ruined by "that sh*t," this year, "that sh*t" will most definitely save it. In a collective moment of schadenfreude, we are all waiting for the moment the regular season ends, and a reporter asks LeBron does he still thinks "whoever came up with that sh*t needs to be fired?” One man in particular.
"That was fun"
Evan Wasch is the Executive Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics at the National Basketball Association. He is the guy credited with coming up with the play-in tournament - the person LeBron wanted to get fired. When asked what did he learn from all the attention the play-in tournament got, Wasch was funny and insightful.
”I learned not to piss off LeBron. We said going into last year, whatever team ended up 7th and 8th is going to feel unhappy, because, in the old system they're in the playoffs and now they gotta go play the tournament. That's where the Lakers happened to end up, the 7th seed - not a surprise that we heard from him [LeBron], though he clearly made the playoffs anyway.”
Wasch continued to point out that the overall reaction from the NBA community, be it players, coaches, front office personnel, and most importantly fans, was "resoundingly positive.” The tournament brought a new level of competitiveness to the regular season, something it was sorely missing, particularly in the later stage of the season. Then it was time to twist the knife, just a little bit.
I've not gotten my thank you card from LeBron yet this year, as they pursue the 9th seed which will give them an opportunity to get in the playoffs. [laughing and groaning from the audience] ... We'll see.
Evan Wasch, ESPN Daily
Given his track record, we can all expect that LeBron will be a gentleman, accept he was wrong, apologize to Wasch and say he's happy the play-in tournament exists, right? I mean, players always point out the one thing members of the media shouldn't do is mess with someone's money.