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One of the NBA’s most storied franchises, the Los Angeles Lakers, has fallen into an era of darkness plagued by uncharacteristic losing.
The Lakers began a move to the future on April 12, 2013, a day in which the entire sports world would witness the conclusion of retired legendary guard Kobe Bryant’s dominance.
Bryant tore his Achilles’ tendon at the age of 34 making a return to his former self impossible. The Lakers would also lose recently acquired, star center Dwight Howard in free agency following the 2012-2013 season.
The Lakers were forced to start anew in 2014 as it appeared eminently, that without their beloved superstar guard, the team would not compete for a playoff spot. They began the year with nine losses in their first 10 outings.
The purple and gold would ultimately finish the 2014 season with a record of 27-55, miles out of the eight seed in the Western Conference. This would force the Lakers to turn their attention to the 2014 NBA Draft, in which they were slotted to select no. 7 overall. This pick would become Julius Randle, the freshman power forward from Kentucky who had turned heads with his physically imposing style of play.
Lakers fans felt rejoiced and believed Randle had the talent to become a worthy predecessor to Kobe. However, this enthusiasm was short-lived, as seven minutes into his NBA debut, Randle would suffer a broken leg that would sideline him for the entirety of his rookie campaign.
Soon after, Kobe was once again placed on the inactive list for the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff. With a mediocre roster to begin with, Los Angeles lost their two integral pieces and were headed to the lottery for the second straight season.
The Lakers saw the ping-pong balls bounce their way, as they jumped two spots and wound up with the no. 2 overall pick. The 2015 NBA Draft featured two big men, Duke star Jahlil Okafor, and Kentucky standout Karl-Anthony Towns, who were touted as the gems of the draft. Los Angeles would venture in another direction and decide to draft Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell, who was considered to have immense star-potential in today’s pace-and-space NBA.
At an all-time-high state of delusion, the Lakers truly believed that with the offseason additions of D’Angelo Russell, an 18-year-old who had yet to learn the nuances of playing in the NBA, Roy Hibbert, a 7-foot-2, 280 pound disappointment, and Lou Williams, a high-volume scoring guard who can’t spell defense, they would punch a ticket to the 2016 playoffs.
Yet again, Laker Nation’s optimism would be stomped on by reality in flamboyant fashion. With Kobe’s Farewell Tour supplanting D’Angelo’s development as the main focus of the season, and former coach, Byron Scott, implementing no offensive philosophy and going out of his away to berate the Lakers’ future building blocks in Russell and Randle, the Lakers stunk it up on their way to a franchise-low 17-win season.
Los Angeles would receive the no. 2 overall pick once more, and with Bryant having lived out his NBA career and calling it quits, they felt they needed a star wing with the tools necessary to thrive in Bryant’s old role.
Enter former Duke Blue Devil Brandon Ingram. He was a prospect who seemed to have it all; he had the length (7-foot-3 wingspan), size (6-foot-9), a jump-shot (41 percent from three-point range in college), and a gym-rat work ethic.
However, it was clear from his first moments in the NBA Summer League, that Ingram was still a kid who had not grown into his body. At 190 pounds, Ingram became a long-term project, who was clearly not physically strong enough to compete with supreme talent or support the load of a struggling franchise.
In the 2016-2017 season, the Lakers encountered success for the first time in years. They hired a coach who fits perfectly with the young core, in Luke Walton, and they fired the ever-failing President, Jim Buss. They brought in new management in the form of showtime icon Magic Johnson and saw steady improvement from both of their two young stars, as well as the other pieces of their rebuild. While they finished with the third-worst record in the league, the Lakers’ future seems bright.
Ingram struggled early but began to acclimate himself to the NBA game evidenced in his major improvements in scoring and efficiency after the all-star break (pre-all-star: 8.0ppg on 36.4FG%, post-all-star: 13.2ppg on 47.5FG%).
Russell who was dealing with an ailing knee after a promising start to his sophomore tilt looked rejuvenated following the all-star break; he averaged an impressive 18.5 points per game along with five assists per game.
The rest of the “Baby Lakers”, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr., also took considerable steps forward.
Along with the noticeable development in their already solid young core, Los Angeles has almost a 50 percent chance of adding another top 3 prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft. Whether the lottery ball Gods smile upon prized franchise of Tinsel Town will determine what the Lakers offseason will hold.