Lou & Trez

There’s a whole essay to write about what is going on with the Lakers, and the profound insanity of playing LeBron and AD at the 3 and the 4 instead of the 4 and the 5. I’m interested in why the players insist on it. I’m interested in why the coaches are willing to let it happen. On its face, it makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s going to cost them games like the one it cost them last night against the Clippers. Psychologically, it’s interesting to me, but I’m not going to write about it, because I’m going to write about Lou & Trez.

The idea of the 6th Man is, at this point, a timeless basketball archetype. John Havlicek, Bobby Jones, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, Ricky Pierce, Detlef Schrempf, Cliff Robinson, Ben Gordon, Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams: these players constitute a lineage of singular bucket-getters and rhythm-alterers who sacrificed the dumb glory of starting for the true glory of kicking ass.

What feels unique about Lou & Trez is kinda simple: there are two of them; they are together. Also, they play, like, the whole fucking game. These dudes played 37 and 38 minutes last night—most of anyone on either team, just slightly more than LeBron and AD. Basically, once they checked in, they didn’t come out.

Lou & Trez are a rich combination of stylistic strangeness and harmony. Lou is a technician, all staccato jabs and slices. He’s a genius at taking what you give him. You drop back, he pulls up. You lurch forward, he knifes by you. He’s a master at the extra dribble; he’s a master at the wrong foot. Trez is a goddamned bulldozer, but he’s light on his feet. He’s relentless, but he’s got touch. He’s the kind of player about whom you find yourself pontificating, “Ah, yes, you see: energy is a skill.” Together, they make screens sing. To Lou Williams, a defender is just a traffic cone in a river, and he is the water itself. To Montrezl Harrell, a defender is a statue of sand in a storm.

The Clippers! What a great team! They get to be so many things. They’ve got the standard issue basketball team: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet or Mo Harkless depending on how you want to play, Kawhi, PG, Ivica Zubac or JaMychal Green. Patrick Patterson and Rodney McGruder filling in gaps. Mfiondu Kabengele and Jerome Robinson waiting in the wings. You can do really competent, regular basketball shit with those guys. Fuck: that team might be a title contender already. How wonderful to also have Lou & Trez, a joyous cyclone of smarts and fun, an offensive system in and of itself.

Often, when we talk about great players, we talk about how they make their teammates better. Last night, I started thinking of Lou & Trez as their own kind of great player unit. Together, they create a hub that lets everyone else just play basketball. Alongside them, Green gets open 3s, Harkless sneaks and cuts, Shamet comes off screens shooting or attacking closeouts. It just works, and in a moment in basketball in which we seem to be veering towards various forms of stylistic hegemony, it’s nice to see this kind of searing, enlightened madness rising off the bench for the Clips.

2019-20 Previews: Los Angeles Lakers

Losses: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Mike Muscala, Lance Stephenson, Reggie Bullock, Moritz Wagner, Josh Hart, Tyson Chandler, Isaac Bonga.

Additions: Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Alex Caruso (was on a two-way contract with the Lakers last season), Jared Dudley, Dwight “Farts” Howard, Troy Daniels, Talen Horton-Tucker.

Likely Starters
Guard: N/A
Wing: LeBron James, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma
Big: Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard (unless Boogie somehow recovers this season)

Predicted Record: 48–34 | 10th in NBA | 7th in West

It isn’t easy for me to write about the Lakers. I’ve hated them all my life, and root against them with a kind of automatic fervor that feels woven into my DNA. On the other hand, I know the Lakers. The abiding attention of my hatred means I’m a keen observer. I’m familiar with the history, the long and historic run of excellence and the recent nonsense and idiocy.

As such, I’m always a little worried about the Lakers. People make fun of the idea of Lakers Exceptionalism, especially given the bumbling incompetence of entire period since they won their last title in 2010, but it’s also true. LeBron and AD are here now. The Lakers ultimately get whatever they want.

And yet more and more, as the league around them gets smarter, the mistakes the Lakers make around the edges loom larger. Consider the final years of Kobe Bryant in L.A. (a scorched-Earth disaster of wasted talent and resources) as opposed to the final years of Dirk in Dallas (it’s fine). Consider the Lakers in the context of other teams that acquired star pairings this summer. The Clippers and the Nets built actual teams around their guys; they have the flexibility to change things if they need to. The Lakers are locked in to this mess no matter what, and they are heavily relying on Dwight Howard.

Nevertheless, the Lakers got LeBron and AD, and in terms of playing basketball, it’s hard to imagine a better combination of two players. For all the problems on this Lakers roster—and wow are there lots of those—there’s a feasible way of getting to a crunchtime group of LeBron and AD surrounded by shooters that should be devastating offensively.

I used the word feasible in the previous paragraph, however, because a lineup like that isn’t inevitable. It remains to be seen what kind of team this is. Anthony Davis seems to not want to play center, which means the team has devoted all kinds of resources to DeMarcus Cousins (injured again) and Dwight Howard (Dwight Howard). The lineups they’re going to default to make no sense. Look at that starting lineup at the top of this page. Do you notice that there aren’t any guards there? I know positions are over, but who is handling the ball besides LeBron? If your answer to that question is Rajon Rondo, I have to ask whether you’ve just arrived here in a time machine from seven years ago.

It seems to me that in order to imagine this Lakers team winning 50 games (meaning: they are a write-it-in-pen playoff team in the West), you’ve got to take a lot on faith. First on that list is health for LeBron and AD, who played 55 and 56 games last season respectively. Didn’t we all head into last season imagining that there was no way LeBron would miss the playoffs? Are we so sure that Anthony Davis can keep this terrible roster afloat if LeBron misses time? What about vice versa?

The honest truth is that I have the Lakers as a playoff team right now because I can’t trust my own schadenfreude over how shitty this roster is. I keep looking at it, and it keeps looking bad. I can’t really understand how this team is going to regularly do important things—like play defense, for example—in the regular season. I don’t trust their coaches, their management, their sense of themselves. The only thing here that I trust is LeBron James, so I’m picking them to make the playoffs, but I’m telling you right now that my brain is screaming this team is going to miss the playoffs. It’s confusing, I know.