Evan Wasch, the Guy LeBron James Wanted Fired, Doubles Down in Defending the NBA Play-In Tournament

Just over a week ago, following a Los Angeles Lakers loss to the Toronto Raptors, a loss that inched the Lakers closer to having to participate in the upcoming NBA play-in tournament, LeBron James ripped the new concept and even went as far as to call for the firing of its creator.

While there really isn’t one single person responsible for the new tournament, Evan Wasch, whose official title is Executive Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics, is essentially the league’s designated “play-in guy” and hasn’t had any problem defending the concept since James made his comments.

LeBron James blasted the new NBA play-in tournament and called for the firing of its creator

LeBron James argues a foul call during a Lakers-Timberwolves matchup in March 2021
LeBron James during a Lakers-Timberwolves matchup in March 2021 | Harry How/Getty Images

For those who may have missed it, the Lakers took a 121-114 loss at home on May 2 to the lowly Raptors, who, outside of a four-day stretch in February have been under .500 the entire season and have zero chance of making the postseason.

James, who was playing just his second game since March 20 and hasn’t played since due to an ankle injury, scored 19 points in 28 minutes in the loss but didn’t play the final six minutes and 42 seconds after experiencing soreness in that same injured ankle. The loss dropped the Lakers to 36-28 and into the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference.

Per the new rules this season, only the top six teams in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the postseason while seeds seven through 10 are relegated to the play-in tournament. When asked about it after the game, this is what James had to say:

“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired.”

LeBron James

Come on, LeBron, tell us how you really feel.

Funny how he didn’t seem to have a problem with his top-seeded Lakers waiting on the winner of the Blazers-Grizzlies play-in game last fall in the Orlando bubble. But I digress.

Evan Wasch, the NBA’s designated ‘play-in guy,’ continues to take the high road when responding to LeBron’s criticism

RELATED: How Does the NBA Play-In Tournament Work?

Soon after James made his comments on the NBA play-in tournament, Wasch defended the concept, which certainly wasn’t all his idea as the league has been kicking around the idea since 2009, two years before Wasch came to the league.

In a text to the Washington Post, Wasch said he welcomed feedback but also stated he believed “the play-in tournament offers more benefits than downsides.” And he’s absolutely right as some seemingly pointless games down the stretch in the regular season now feel like a playoff game. And the actual play-in tournament itself will have that same feeling. Are you telling me that one game between James’ Lakers and Steph Curry’s Warriors (a real possibility) to decide who gets in and who goes home isn’t must-see television?

On Monday, Wasch made an appearance on Yahoo’s Posted Up podcast and doubled down on his defense of the tournament and just laughed when asked by host Chris Haynes how he responded when he heard LeBron’s comments, simply saying he got a lot of text messages.

And Wasch again took the high road, saying it’s a “helpful process” when players speak out as he feels it’s important for players and teams to be able to speak out on everything, not just certain things. He even welcomed offseason conversations on how the tourney could be tweaked if the NBA chooses to move forward with it following this one-year trial run.

LeBron and the Lakers seem destined for the NBA play-in tournament

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While LeBron still might not be happy about the NBA play-in tournament, it seems more and more likely that he and the Lakers will end up participating.

Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the New York Knicks, a game in which James will not play as he’s opting for one more day of rest, the Lakers (four games remaining) are 1.5 games back of the Blazers (three games remaining) for the No. 6 spot in the West. If the two teams end up tied come season’s end on Sunday, Portland wins the tiebreaker as they defeated LA twice in three meetings this year.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what LeBron has to say next if the Lakers can’t get into the top six.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference