Photo via Tannen Maury, EPA
The LA Lakers have had a tumultuous last few years. Ever since the Chris Paul and Dwight Howard debacle, which was very controversial and Lakers fan like me should be upset about how the league handled the Chris Paul trade, the Lakers have been a joke of a franchise. Watching the end of Kobe’s career was one of the hardest things to do. The talent around him was sub-par and anyone could tell that Kobe’s body was deteriorating nightly. It only makes sense going into a 20th season when he had achilles surgery only a few years before. It wouldn’t be possible for anyone to play at the level that they had in the past, leaving me and many other laker fans, with what ifs. What if the achilles injury never happened? What if they had let Chris Paul come to the Lakers (there would have had to have been another Laker championship to celebrate)? However, none of this happened and Kobe’s demise was slow and dreadful for 3 years. Where they posted some of the Lakers worst seasons in back to back years. Kobe couldn’t move on and the organization could not either. I would not have been a proponent of letting Kobe go because that is something that is just not an option when you have one of the all-time greats, but Kobe being there with his rapidly deteriorating health made the Lakers an atrocious team. In addition, no one wanted to play alongside the late Kobe Bryant because of his attitude or knowing he had nothing left to give in terms of a playoff run. Nevertheless, the past has given the Lakers low draft picks and those few years of ineptitude are finally worth it with the draft picks coming to fruition.
The consistently bad years after Dwight Howard left have brought the Lakers Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson. Those four players should get Laker Nation ecstatic. Furthermore, the Lakers finally have a coach they can be proud of since Phil Jackson. Luke Walton at the very least will be a solid coach in the NBA. Yes, he doesn’t have the talent he did in Golden State, but everyone saw what he was able to do with that great talent, win the first 24 games. The Lakers’ talent compared to the Warriors’ in the past few years makes the Lakers look like the Harlem Globetrotters, but this Laker team is really rounding into form. If anyone watched their first game of the year they could see the potential in this team. Albeit, it was against Mike D’antoni’s Houston Rockets who will probably be giving up at least 110 points per game, but the Lakers got the win and that is what matters. In addition, this team looked so much better. They had good scoring distribution with Russell having 20, Clarkson with 15 and Randle having 18. Ingram was not very impactful, which is fine because Ingram is only going to get better and will only make the Lakers better as time goes on. Anyways, the game plan of Luke Walton looked solid. They used Randle in almost a Draymond Green type role with him often bringing the ball up, and it showed. Randle had 7 rebounds and 6 assists to go with his 18 points. It is absolutely crucial for the Lakers to have an all-round player that can play defense, rebound, assist and score. Also, Russell did not bring the ball up for the majority of the game like Walton did with Steph Curry. This lets Russell rest by not having to worry about setting up the offense (that role is delegated to Randle, like with Draymond) and let Russell only worry about scoring, which is what he is best at. Furthermore, the ball movement was superb and that can be shown with the first quarter run the Lakers had when they got threes from Young, Russell, and Deng. There was never one player having to shoulder the load, until Clarkson went off in the 4th, making it hard for defenses to stop the Lakers because their scoring could come from anywhere. Lastly, Mosgov provides them a solid inside presence. It isn’t going to be worrisome for top tier teams because he is only a solid piece, but having a solid 7 footer gives you an advantage over most teams. Therefore, against poor and average teams they have a chance to really dominate inside. Even if Mozgov can’t dominate he will be an efficient player who can give about 10 points and 10 boards a night. Ultimately, the Lakers are solid at every position. They have young athletic guards with Russell and Clarkson, an inside presence, an all around player with Randle, a promising young coach in Walton and potentially a superstar in Ingram. The Lakers have the pieces, they just need good coaching to help the four talented players mentioned earlier and hope at least 2 or 3 of them can become superstars in the league. (Most likely Ingram and Russell)
I am by no means saying that this Lakers team is a title contender or a top-tier playoff team, but they should be very competitive. I see them being right around 500 that near the end of the year could push for an 8 spot in the west, hopefully. That would have to be a best case scenario for the Lakers this season, but no one should be surprised if it does happen. This team isn’t going to be great this year, but don’t be surprised if a few years down the road this team is again competing for a title. If D’Angelo and Ingram become stars this could be a formidable team in the west for years to come with the supporting cast of young talent already in place.