Lakers big man Andre Drummond did a tweet Wednesday afternoon that with the benefit of hindsight is maybe not quite as cryptic as it at first seemed:
A day earlier he’d stumbled and flailed his way through 22 extremely poor and discouraging minutes in the Lakers’ Game 5 loss to the Phoenix Suns. DeAndre Ayton had spent the series to that point drinking Drummond’s milkshake; the Suns were ruthlessly hunting him down in the half-court; 36-year-old Marc Gasol, Drummond’s backup, was plainly the more viable option. The things Drummond could control—the literal placement of his feet and movement of his body and articulation of his hands and fingers during his time on the court—had become a major sore spot for his team.
It was therefore not a huge surprise to learn ahead of Game 6 that Frank Vogel had finally made the decision to yank Drummond out of the starting lineup. Presumably this is what Drummond was conspicuously laughing-and-definitely-not-mad about between games, that he’d been replaced in his gig by Gasol, with the season and Los Angeles’s title defense on the line. You can’t help but wonder, following Phoenix’s comfortable Game 6 win, whether Drummond knew all of what his demotion entailed: Even as the game got away from the Lakers, even after Davis limped off the court for good after just five minutes, even after Gasol got into early foul trouble and was limited to just 18 minutes, Drummond stayed pinned to the bench and earned the dreaded Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision. That’s a humiliating, ignominious finale for a guy who started the season in the final year of a near-max contract and arrived in Los Angeles as a buyout-market savior for the banged-up defending champs. You’d be not-mad, too.
The trajectory of Drummond’s time with the Lakers makes two things very funny, in retrospect. The first, and funniest, is the big freakout everyone had about inequalities in the buyout market, when Drummond went immediately from the lousy and unsexy Cleveland Cavaliers to the Lakers, on a prorated one-year deal at the veteran minimum, back in March. Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated imagined up the title of “NBA’s premier rebounder” and, lacking anything of genuine substance, pulled some Marvel shit and redrew Drummond as “a 6-foot-10 spring-loaded mass of muscle” in order to do the owners’ work of turning players’ self-determination into a competitive crisis. Suddenly Drummond, a waning stiff who hasn’t made one single team genuinely good since college, had “elite skills”—never mind that the only skill Drummond possesses that is definitively superior to those of Jan Vesely is beating his teammates to defensive rebounds—and the mere fact of his having once signed an inadvisable mega-deal was evidence that the Lakers had scored a landscape-altering coup available only to the super-rich.
It’s cheap and easy to cherry-pick takes from the hazy past and subject them to scrutiny informed by recent and not especially foreseeable developments. And anyone who has ever taken takes has had at least one take slapped back in their face by events that, in retrospect, were not all that unlikely. I once mocked the Suns for lavishing 21-year-old Devin Booker with a maximum contract; Booker is now the top scorer on the Western Conference’s second seed, and the Suns just drop-kicked LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers into a septic pool, and Booker scored 47 points in the deciding game. Clearly I am a shit-for-brains moron. Beck’s take, and the chorus of unnamed league and team honchos lending it a flimsy veneer of credibility, wasn’t ultimately about Drummond: The take was it is bad that teams prematurely buy out the remaining years on the expensive contracts of players who are not helping them win, because this sliver of empowerment for unwanted players upsets the league’s competitive balance, and inflating Drummond’s empty-calorie box-score productivity into Unicron-esque world-destroying powers was an immediate tell that exaggeration was needed for an appallingly anti-labor argument to scan as anything other than baldly preposterous. That Drummond spent his time in Los Angeles being exactly who the rest of us thought he was is just a nice little garnish.
The other thing that becomes funny in retrospect is Dave McMenamin’s report from over the weekend, following Drummond’s deeply shitty performance in the Lakers’ ugly Game 4 loss, that Los Angeles had “signaled to everyone listening” that they intend to make Drummond a part of their long-term future:
“They’ve been so committed to him being the ceremonial starter. And obviously he gets more than just ceremonial minutes. That seems to be something that is important to Drummond, which makes it important to the Lakers front office because they’ve signaled to everyone listening that this isn’t just a half-a-season-buyout-market rental. Andre Drummond is part of the future moving forward with this franchise.”The Lowe Post
Yikes. Fourteen of Los Angeles’s 15 active players touched the court during their season-ending Game 6 loss, and the one who did not was Andre Drummond, Panacea And Extremely Part Of The Future Moving Forward. It appears the signals have been crossed.