On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost yet another close contest, 95-92, to the Portland Trial Blazers, and this time, Lakers coach Luke Walton could no longer bite his tongue.
As he was answering his first question during his postgame press conference, Walton paused as if to decide whether he should finally say what was on his mind and accept the likely financial fine that would come with it.
"It's funny," Walton started out. "Every night, I learn about new rules about what's a foul, what's not a foul."
The frustrated coach rambled somewhat incoherently for a moment about the technicality of a defensive blocking foul, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not getting a couple calls, James Harden marching to the foul line every time a Laker sneezed on him and Lonzo Ball having his "shoulder ripped" before he got to the point he was attempting to make.
"It's frustrating," Walton said. "We're trying to teach this young team how to play and what to do and do it properly, and it just feels like every night, it's a different excuse on why we're not getting calls."
Walton did not put all the blame of Saturday's loss or the other recent close defeats on officiating alone, but clearly, the issue had boiled to a point that he felt he needed to address it publicly, even if his comments will likely bring a hefty fine from the NBA's league office.
Of course, the experienced response to Walton's comments is that he's coaching a team of young players, and referees have a reputation of swallowing their whistles when rookies are the players getting fouled. On Saturday, the Lakers started three rookies, and one of the plays that frustrated Walton was a non-call on rookie Kyle Kuzma that would have given the forward three free throws with the Lakers leading by a point late in a close ball game.
"Some of it, yea," Walton said when asked if the lack of calls had to do with rookies simply not getting calls. "But then, I was told in Golden State that [the referees] don't look at names on jerseys. They only call what they see. So, if that's the case, that shouldn't be an excuse for it. So, I don't know."
Walton added, "I'm getting different answers every night."
Lakers Frustrated By More Than Officials
After a brutal stretch of games, the Lakers started a four-game home stand on Saturday with a tough loss to Portland. With the defeat, the Lakers fell to 11-20 on the season and have now lost five of their last six games. Saturday's loss seemed to sting a bit more than the others, as the Lakers faced a Blazers team that was without Damian Lillard.
Even with Brandon Ingram sitting out for the Lakers, LA had a great opportunity to get a victory. After the game, Walton said that something felt off and that the energy didn't feel right for his team. He said his guys seemed like they were "pouting" and wasn't sure exactly why that was the case.
Asked about the team pouting after the game, veteran center Andrew Bogut offered his opinion on what was going on.
"Guys are frustrated," Bogut stated the obvious. "There’s [sic] some injuries right now. There’s [sic] different rotations. So, guys are frustrated obviously. You’d be lying to say that there are guys that are not frustrated on this team."
Then, Bogut pulled the curtains back and shared a bit of insight into the psychology of the Lakers' young team playing in front of a backdrop of a major free agency shakeup coming in the upcoming offseason, based on the front office's public comments.
"Everyone knows what’s going on with the salary cap situation next season and all that," Bogut said. "They’re distractions that we can’t let affect us. That’s part of this league. They’re the business decisions that front offices and coaches make. So, if that’s distracting guys, it’s going to be like that your whole career. That’s just the nature of this league."
Asked if the players talk about the front office's public statements about saving salary cap space and chasing top level free agents in the summer of 2018, Bogut confirmed that the topic comes up from time to time.
"We make light of it," Bogut said. "We have a laugh about it. You just can't let it affect you. It's hard to tell young guys, 18, 19, 20 (years old), that comes [sic] from a great college environment which is usually great cultures that are built on team first and then you come into a situation like this sometimes where kind of guys don't know if they're coming or going."
Bogut added, "That's just the way it is in professional sports. You just have to come in and do the job to the best of your ability."
Bogut, though, did not put Saturday's defeat on any one player: "Tonight, as a collective group, not just one guy, we didn't have that energy and focus."
Next, the Lakers play on Christmas night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.