In the eyes of Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, the last 28 regular-season games are about more than just playing out a season that could be the worst in franchise history.
It is about the players auditioning for future employment with the Lakers and the other 29 teams in the NBA.
And Kupchak is keeping a close watch on his team, hoping it plays harder than the Lakers did in the decisive third quarter Friday night during a 114-105 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center in both teams’ first game after the All-Star break.
But two players who didn’t get to show their stuff were Carlos Boozer and Wesley Johnson, two rotation players and former starters who didn’t play while the Lakers were extending their losing streak to seven consecutive games.
Neither Boozer nor Johnson, who are both playing for contracts next season, were injured. They didn’t play because Lakers Coach Byron Scott wanted to look at other players.
Scott instead went with a big-man rotation of starters Robert Sacre and Tariq Blake and reserves Ed Davis and Jordan Hill, who had sat out the last five games before the All-Star break because of a hip flexor injury.
Boozer was upset when Scott took him out of the starting lineup, but said this time he was OK with sitting.
“I was just supporting my teammates,” Boozer said. “Byron knows what he’s doing. We just follow suit. We just follow what he does.”
Scott said he wasn’t worried “at all” what Boozer’s reaction would be. Scott said he didn’t tell Boozer that the power forward wasn’t going to play.
“If he’s upset, he’s upset,” Scott said. “But am I concerned about that? Not really. I think he’ll handle it as a professional. But if he doesn’t, that’s not going to bother me.”
The Lakers dropped to 13-41 for the season, moving ever so close to breaking the worst record in franchise history that the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers own at 19-53 when the NBA played just 72 games.
Still, Kupchak wants to see his team give an honest effort the rest of the season.
“It’s important for our coaches to maintain a culture of spirited practices, of players playing hard in games,” Kupchak said. “A lot of our players are on expiring contracts so they should be playing hard anyway.
“You’d think they would. And if they don’t, they are showing you something. But playing hard doesn’t necessarily mean that you go out and play for yourself either, because you don’t want that kind of guy on your team either.”