Coming into this off-season, the Lakers are in an interesting place as a franchise. Without making a single move, they’re still contenders to win the title, possessing top shelf talent at multiple positions and all with championship experience. That said, their dismissal from the playoffs has led to questions about the viability of this roster and the critique that improvements need to be made for them to not only compete next year, but for years to come.
Improvement of this kind can normally happen three ways. The Lakers could either make a trade for (or sign in free agency) younger players that still possess a high enough talent level that the roster is still competitive or they can hope that some of the younger players on their roster take a step forward in their development to go from non-contributors to viable rotation players. With the lockout in full effect, option one is off the table. There will be no trades or free agent signing period without a collective bargaining agreement in place and, furthermore, once a deal is in place who knows how restrictive the rules will be for the Lakers to actually improve their roster through these avenues.
That leaves us with option two and the improvement of young players on the roster. Currently, the Lakers have 4 players – all of them 2nd round picks – that we’re all hopeful could become contributors down the line. Both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were on the roster last season and showed varying degrees of effectiveness in the limited minutes they earned. Both obviously have strides to make as players, but both also flashed enough skill to prove that they belong in the league. And then, of course, there are the two 2nd round picks from this past draft. While I’m not looking for them to earn many minutes next season, both Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are intriguing prospects that bring specific skill sets that are needed additions on the current roster.
For these 4 players, the summer is normally the time that we get to see, first hand, how their development is coming. And with that, get our first hints at whether or not they are improving at a rate that equates to them potentially contributing next season.
Only, with the lockout, that chance is now gone. Over at Land O’ Lakers, the Kamentzky brothers spoke with Andrew Goudelock and he explained how the lockout affects him:
It’s tough for me because I don’t get to be in a summer league, and be able to show myself, and showcase my talents during the summer session. But it’s my job to stay in shape, keep playing, and get ready for when it’s over.
For Ebanks and Caracter this lack of summer showcasing could hurt them even more. They both already have a season under their belt and both have been tasked with coming into this next season with improved games. In exit interviews, Ebanks was asked to work on his ball handling and jump shot in order to potentially earn minutes at shooting guard. Meanwhile, Caracter must prove that the commitments he made to improving his body are sustained and that he can continue to grow as a defender and rebounder at this level. Neither player has a guaranteed contract for next season and now neither has the ability to show the Lakers that they’ve taken the steps forward that they’ve been asked to take.
The fact is, all of these players have holes in their games but don’t have an opportunity to show the Lakers that those weaknesses are getting smaller. And that means that the Lakers have no clue if the young players they have in their pipeline are potential contributors or even worth a roster spot. And or an aging team that could use an influx of youth, that’s a problem.
Granted, the Lakers can still win with their veteran laden roster doing most of the heavy lifting. But, a touch of youth and athleticism wouldn’t hurt. And with the lockout taking away these players’ chances to show that they could be a part of that solution, both the players and the organization suffers.
So, while we sit back and evaluate the lockout from the perspective of the union and the owners, the terms of the new CBA, and if there will be an agreement before the season starts, it’s also good to remember that the time we’re losing now is also important. This time of the year is when young players prove themselves, but this year, the question of whether or not they’re improving will remain unanswered.