Lakers Team Building Options Part I: The Slow Rebuild

Reed —  May 13, 2017

With a new front office entering their first offseason, and a collection of exciting but unproven young players, the Lakers’ future feels wide open. The team could literally go in dozens of different directions over the next few years, depending on the front office’s team-building philosophy, how the young core develops, and in response to countless variables (lottery luck, free agent decisions, trade opportunities). They could, for example, stick with a slow, patient rebuild, cash in their recent lottery picks for established stars in a push to quickly contend, or try something in between, and each path has its risks and benefits.

Team building is ultimately about being opportunistic and flexible, rather than having a rigid plan that you follow no matter what. Rob Pelinka has spoken several times of the need to be prepared for uncertainty by coming up with “Plans A-Z,” which account for various possible future events. In that spirit, Darius and I have thought about different ways the team can build towards a contending roster, based on how key events unfold (e.g., keeping/losing the 2017 lottery pick, using cap room on significant free agents at different points in time, trading for a star player, etc.), and have put together a series of posts that will explore different roster construction options.

One key in building a successful long term roster is having a clear vision of timing. Teams inevitably cycle in and out of contention based on the age/health of key players and various other factors. History shows that it is important to make moves based on a clear sense of when the team is trying to make the ultimate push to contend. Getting to the point of contention is very difficult in a league of 30 teams playing a zero sum game, and typically requires making sure your limited assets are all firing at the same time. In other words, contending teams don’t typically have the resources to combine developing, teenage lottery picks with an older, ready-to-contend core. And, conversely, rebuilding teams don’t typically have the ability to rebuild effectively if they have too many productive veterans taking prospect minutes, or driving too many wins… Getting stuck in the dreaded no man’s land can set a team back years (see, New York Knicks).

In thinking through the team’s future, Darius and I see three big picture paths forward, driven by the timing of when Magic/Pelinka push to contend:

  • Slow Rebuild: committing to a patient, slow rebuild, and trying to contend in 4-5 years, when the current core enters their primes.
  • Expedited Rebuild: pushing to acquire a foundation star as soon as possible to quicken the rebuild, with the goal of making the playoffs next year, and ultimately contending in 2-3 years.
  • Immediate Contention: cashing in the team’s young assets in a push to immediately become a legitimate contender.

The team could conceivably be successful under each path if they make smart decisions and things break their way, although the first two options appear more likely to succeed for obvious reasons. Darius and I will attempt to work through the pros and cons, and how the team might build towards contention under each path, considering the impact of the draft, free agency, and trades.

And, while having a clear and defined vision for the team’s timeline is critical, it is also important to recognize that team-building is inherently a fluid exercise, and sometimes your timing can become accelerated (or depressed) based on unforeseen events, which may result in a need to pivot towards a new timeline/objective. Sometimes you are Cleveland, mired in a messy rebuild, having drafted Anthony Bennett first overall, and Lebron decides to swoop into town and catapult you to instant contention… And sometimes you are Los Angeles, coming off two recent titles, and with a Kobe-Pau-Dwight-Nash core, and you suddenly find yourself in the depths of rebuilding… The best front offices always maintain some level of flexibility and understand when it is time to move from one timeline to another.

I will start this exercise by considering below how the team might approach option (1) – a slow, patient rebuild, with the hope of building a long-lasting contender when the current core enters their primes in 3-5 years. I am not necessarily advocating for this plan over others, but I do think it merits real consideration given the potential benefits.

The Case for the Slow Rebuild

Committing to a slow rebuild may be the best path to maximize assets and build the strongest possible roster if the team has the patience to go that route. Jeanie and corporate interests are not going to endure endless losing, and she may ultimately direct that the team begin winning sooner than a patient rebuild would entail, but building slow has several clear advantages.

First, watching this year’s playoffs closely has underscored how far the Lakers (and the rest of the league) are from actually getting to the finals or winning a title. Golden State is, conservatively, one of the 3-4 most talented rosters of all time. It has three legitimate all-nba level superstars (Curry, Durant, Green), a clear fourth all star (Klay), and a deep collection of supporting talent. There will be some turnover over the years, but the core appears committed to winning as many titles as possible together, and they are still young (Curry and Durant are 28, Green and Klay are 26). There is no set of reasonably possible moves that the Lakers could make the next few years that would generate a roster in remotely the same class as Golden State. Out East, Lebron is putting up perhaps his best playoffs ever at 32, appears a few years away from declining, and is now in the discussion for the best player of all time. Kyrie is 24, Love 28, and Thompson 25. Ring-chasing veterans will continue to flock there.

Beyond these superpowers, several other strong teams have all-nba-level superstars who are still young: San Antonio/Kawhi (25), OKC/Westbrook (28), Houston/Harden (27), Boston/Isaiah (27), Utah/Hayward/Gobert (26/24), Washington/Wall/Beal (26/23), Milwaukee/Giannis/Parker (22/22), and so on. There is also a new wave of potential young stars gathering on other teams (Towns/Wiggins, Embiid/Simmons, Jokic/Murray, Davis/Cousins, Lillard/McCollum/Nurkic).

This is not to say the Lakers could not build a roster that is better than many of these teams, but the point is that the league is VERY competitive right now, with two-historic superpowers, and a deep collection of talented teams driven by young stars. Before cashing in their chips to win now, the Lakers must seriously consider how far the resulting roster would likely take them. Note that Golden State’s 2015 team was the single youngest core ever to win the title. Early 20s prospects simply don’t beat grown men in the playoffs. The safer course may be to wait out Golden State and Cleveland and stock up for a run 3-4 years down the line. When Russell and Ingram hit their primes (perhaps 4 years?), Lebron will be 36 and surely declining (unless he truly is a machine), and Golden State’s core will all be over 30 (and hopefully sick of Draymond’s daily intensity…). At that point, the Lakers’ core would have 5-6 prime years ahead of them.

A second reason to build slowly is that this may ultimately be the best way to attract the kinds of blue chip star players the team wants. Consider that over the last 4 summers, 49 free agents changed teams with a starting salary over 10% of that year’s salary cap, and only 4 went to lottery teams. Over the last 6 summers, only ONE all star signed with a losing team (Lebron to Cleveland).

We have painfully learned over the last several years that the best players no longer come to the biggest markets; they go to the best teams (for the rare few who actually leave more money on the table by changing teams). Thus, to have a realistic chance at attracting the star level free agents that Magic and Pelinka often mention, the team will almost assuredly have to put a foundation in place that will attract those players, and that may take time given the current state of the team.

A third reason to be patient is that the team might actually have a core and coach worth believing in. Russell, Ingram, and Randle have all flashed all star level upside for meaningful stretches (even if it’s an open question whether any or all of them ultimately get there). Zubac put together an extremely promising age 19 season, with length, offensive skills, and game feel that suggest a bright future. Clarkson may have plateaued this year, but he still is far outperforming his draft position, and shows an intriguing combination of physical tools and nba skills, even if it’s yet to fully come together. And, of course, the team will have multiple picks in the coming draft, including potentially a coin’s flip chance at another high lottery prospect. Each player needs to develop in critical ways, but the team has absolutely collected a young core that could become something.

And focusing on what the Lakers have may be the key to building the next contender. When considering how to acquire star level talent, most fans typically look outside their current roster to consider potential free agent signings or blockbuster trades. This has certainly been the case entering this offseason, with the focus so predominantly on how to add Paul George (note that I intentionally waited 2 ½ pages to mention him…). And there are obviously reasons why adding George as a foundation piece would help, and we will speak to those in more detail when discussing the expedited rebuild option (attracting other stars, assisting the development of the remaining core, etc.).

But I think we often overlook the best way for a team like these Lakers to obtain star level players is to turn their current players into stars, rather than looking for outside help. Last year, 11 of the 15 all-nba players were not top 5 picks, and several were drafted outside the lottery. This year, SEVEN of Zach Lowe’s all-nba players were drafted outside the lottery (Kawhi, Isaiah, Butler, Giannis, Gobert, Green, Gasol). No one thought that many of these players were going to become stars a year or two into their careers.

My point in this is that great teams find a way to develop their own players into becoming stars, rather than always looking for ways to add from the outside. Golden State drafted Curry, Klay, and Green, all outside the top 5, and no one would have projected any of them would become this good years ago. The team felt pressure to trade all of them at various points (Klay AND Green were almost traded for Love). But the team patiently committed to them through the difficult early years, and they became great. San Antonio has followed the same model, consistently turning later draft picks into great players (Kawhi, Parker, Ginobili), and a deep supporting staff (Green, Mills, Simmons). The Jazz are another example. No one saw Hayward and Gobert as potential all stars when drafted, but the team has earned a reputation for intensely developing their own talent (they have to given market limitations), and Hayward and Gobert are now clear top 20 players entering their primes.

The Lakers sound ready to commit to this process at the highest level. Luke, Pelinka, and others consistently talk about maximizing the team’s player development resources, and the team is in the process of turning over and strengthening every aspect of its organization to make this happen. We will see if results follow, but the signs are positive.

Now, the responsibility for this developmental process does not just rest with the team. The players have to commit themselves. Kawhi and Curry are obsessive workers who chased excellence, and that work has paid off. Every year they show up a little stronger/faster, a little more efficient, a little more knowledge of the game’s nuances. The Lakers young core must likewise pay the price to be great, day in and day out, year after year. Not only working hard, but using the coaching staff and team resources to intelligently maximize every minute spent in the gym in a way that will translate to on court improvement. If Luke and the front office believe Russell, Ingram, etc. will commit to the process of excellence, then the best path forward may be to stay the course, focus on player development, and build around them.

Fourth, building slow would allow the team to build on top of the existing core, without exchanging them for other players, and thus potentially lead to the deepest collection of assets. Given the difficulty of beating out 29 other teams, it takes an exceptional roster to win a title. Winning is largely driven by having a Lebron-level superstar, but other pieces matter too. Indeed, depth has been a critical factor in distinguishing between the very best teams in recent playoff runs (e.g. Iggy winning finals MVP). Depth allows teams to matchup against different kinds of opponents/styles, insures against injury, and provides more assets to use when making critical roster-tuning moves.

If the team keeps the core together, then in three years it should have an extremely deep core, all with a few years of experience, and all on the same timeline. Russell, Ingram, Fultz/Ball (or whoever is taken in the 17 or 18 lottery), Randle, Zubac, Nance, Clarkson, the 28th pick from Houston – that would be at least 8 young, talented players. And the players are all different and should complement each other well, especially with a few years to learn how to play together..

In addition, having that many young players would provide a rich collection of assets, positioning the team to pounce when favorable trade opportunities arise, without having to worry about gutting the team to make these deals. If the core develops as hopes, how many teams in the league presently run 7-8 deep in talented young players, with several having all star potential?

Given how far the Lakers are from contending (in terms of time needed for further development and total current talent), it would be helpful to spend a few more years in asset acquisition mode, rather than beginning the process of exchanging the current core for better-fitting, more ready-to-win players. Then, when Russell, Ingram, and others are a few years further along, and the Lakers have gathered the most possible assets during this phase of team-building, the team can think about converting those assets into a balanced, contending roster.

Executing the Slow Rebuild Plan

If the team plans to commit to the slow rebuild, with an eye towards contending in 3-4 years, how would they go about executing that plan?

Step one would be to develop the core. As discussed above, maximizing the talent of Russell, Ingram, Randle, Zubac and (hopefully) the upcoming lottery pick would be the first priority and the single most important objective. If the team were to draft Fultz or Ball, Luke could develop 2-3 solid all stars from that core if given enough time and resources, and the remaining players should all be at least solid rotation players.

Step two would be to use resources over the next three years to further add assets that fit with the team’s timing objectives, accentuate the core, and maintain roster/cap flexibility. No shortcuts that burn long term assets for attempted short term gains. Find ways to use cap space and trades to acquire more draft picks and young prospects, rather than talking ourselves into high dollar non-star free agents. To that end, the team would aim to:

  • Acquire as many draft picks as possible, both as long term pieces and as trade capital, and devote every possible resource to nailing the picks possessed (which has been a strength the last few years). The draft is the single best place to find “value” when roster building. Furthermore, every significant “star” trade in recent years has included multiple draft picks, and the Lakers need to replenish their stock following the Howard/Nash debacles.
  • If young stars won’t sign in free agency (as expected), then rent cap room to add picks and young players. Look for deals along the lines of the Lin deal, which netted the pick which became Nance. There will always be good teams looking to create a little more cap room, or shave salary to get under the tax line, and the Lakers can take advantage.
  • Continue to be opportunistic in trading non-critical players for picks and prospects, along the lines of the Lou deal. If Clarkson, Nance, or others become expendable based on future moves, then proactively look for ways to convert them into long term assets.
  • Target secondary free agents that will help the young core develop, but push short term deals, even at above market salaries. For example, Miami signed Waiters and James Johnson last year (1 year deals at $2.9M and $4.0M), and Houston added Nene (1 year, $2.9M). These signings were not key long term pieces for these teams, but the players perfectly filled their roles, complemented the cores, and didn’t handicap either team’s long term cap picture.
  • Look for opportunities to pick off talented young players from teams that face cap limitations. For example, Utah cannot afford to keep its core together and will face tough choices on Hood, Favors, and Exum. Other midmarket teams will face similar pressures (Toronto, Milwaukee, Memphis, etc.). There may be openings to grab a solid young asset at value.
  • Use the CBA’s new provisions allowing more roster spots and use of the D-league to take chances on more high ceiling prospects. The Spurs have had success adding players like Danny Green and Jonathan Simmons using this resource.

After gathering as many assets as possible, and taking the time necessary to develop the core players, step three is to convert the team’s assets into a contending roster, with the goal of making that push around the 2020 offseason. At that point, the front office will have a clear understanding of what they have in each player, and the key players would be entering their prime years. Luke will have had plenty of time to see which players complement his system and each other. The team will be positioned to decide which players to commit to long term and which players to exchange for better-fitting pieces, always bearing in mind trade and free agent opportunities.

And, if managed with an eye towards the future, there should be enough cap flexibility to ADD key pieces to the existing core as they are entering their primes, even after their extensions kick in. The following chart summarizes the team’s cap picture for the next four years:

Player17-1818-1919-2020-21
Deng$17.2$18.0$18.8
Mozgov$15.3$16.0$16.7
Clarkson$11.6$12.5$13.4
Brewer$7.6
Black (TO)$6.7
Young (PO)$5.7
Russell$5.6$7.0$21.1

(Hold)

$30.0

(Ext)

Ingram$5.5$5.8$7.3$21.9

(Hold)

Randle$4.1$12.3

(Hold)

$20.0

(Ext)

$20.0

(Ext)

Nance$1.5$2.3$6.8

(Hold)

$9.0

(Ext)

Zubac$1.3$1.5$4.6

(Hold)

$12.0

(Ext)

Nwaba$0.8
17 #2$5.2$6.2$7.3$9.2
17 #28 (Hou)$1.2$1.4$1.6$2.9
19 #15$2.7$2.9
Salary Cap$101.0$103.0$109.0$120.0
*Min Salary$76.9$84.6$121.1$107.9
Cap Space$24.1$18.4-$12.1$12.1
 

Key Free Agents

Hayward

Blake

KCP

Porter

George

Westbrook

Cousins

Thomas

Jordan

Butler

Wall

Klay

Middleton

 

Davis

Kyrie

Harden

Drummond Porzgingis?

Note that this assumes the following:

  • The Lakers keep the 17 and 19 first round picks.
  • Black and Young leave.
  • Randle is signed to a $20M per year extension in the 18 offseason (with his hold amount showing that year).
  • Russell is signed to a max extension in the 19 offseason (hold amount showing that year).
  • Ingram’s 20 salary is his hold amount, which is lower than the extension amount he’d get (likely a max at 25% of the cap).
  • Nance and Zubac are signed to extensions at $9M and $12M per year, respectively, with their hold amounts showing in 19, and their extension amounts in 20.
  • Do not stretch Mozgov and Deng, to allow for maximum room when their deals expire.

As detailed in prior posts, the team has the ability to create significant cap room this year or any of the upcoming summers by making reasonably available moves. Mozgov and Deng can be stretched, creating approximately $10M per year each in savings (at the cost of their contracts being on the books for several extra years). Clarkson should be a movable contract. Nance, Zubac, the Houston pick, etc., could be attached to unwanted contracts to clear room. If the team wants to sign a star free agent that fits our timeline any of the next few offseasons it has the flexibility to make it happen.

Critically, the team can still create significant cap room during the 2020 offseason, when Mozgov, Deng, and Clarkson come off the books, even with the coming core extensions. As a result, the team should not be in a rush to stretch Mozgov and Deng and jeopardize our cap room for 2020-2022, when our core will be more ready to win and that room could be better used. The chart above projects $12M in cap room for the 2020 summer, but that assumes Zubac/Nance using over $20M. Moving them (and possibly Randle) out would create $30-50M in room (when Anthony Davis is 26 and likely considering his future…).

As an example, assume the Lakers land the #2 pick in the 2017 draft and take Lonzo, draft Bam with the #28 pick, stick out the MozDeng contracts, trade Clarkson and Nance during the 18 offseason for an expiring and 2020 late first, and don’t take on additional salary past the 2020 offseason. Entering the 2020 offseason, our roster would look like:

  • PG Ball (22)
  • SG Russell (24)
  • SF Ingram (22)
  • PF Randle (25)
  • C Zubac (22), Bam (22)
  • 2019 lottery pick
  • Two 2020 first rounders
  • Various 2nd round signings/picks
  • About $20M in cap room; much more if the team deals Randle and/or Zubac

At that point, the team would be flush with young players entering their primes and high quality assets. If someone like Davis, Kyrie, Harden, or Porzingis wanted to sign as a free agent, the team could easily create the cap room. If a young superstar was on the trade market, the team would have the assets to make it happen. If Russell/Ingram/Ball “pop” as a sufficiently talented core, then the team would be positioned to fine tune around them, with a rich collection of young players and picks.

To stay on track for that kind of future down the road, the team must stay disciplined with its 2017 summer moves, particularly with respect to free agency. While the team needs outside help, the reality is that free agency is often a place to overpay older players, which does not fit the current objectives. The team desperately needs defense (at all positions, but particularly on the wing), bigs who shoot to open the floor, a penetrating/playmaking backup point guard, and an upgrade at shooting guard (if the Lakers don’t draft Fultz or Lonzo and move Russell there). Improving in these areas will help the current core grow more quickly, strengthen Luke’s system, and lead to material progress in terms of wins and losses, and all this is important. But the team needs to clearly understand what lines it cannot cross to maintain the cap flexibility it wants for 2018 and beyond.

If committed to the slow rebuild, the team should focus this summer on secondary free agents like Mills, Clark, James Johnson, Waiters, Mirotic, Olynyk, Bojan, Hardaway, etc., looking for value and shorter contract terms. If needed, the team could offer above-market 1-2 year deals to avoid tying up long term cap room. A possible offseason could look like:

  • Draft Lonzo and Bam
  • Decline Black’s option
  • Trade Nance for Tyler Ulis
  • Sign Ian Clark for 2 years, $8M per, team option for 3rd year
  • Sign James Johnson for 1 year, $15M, team option for 3rd year
  • PG Ball, Ulis
  • SG Russell, Clarkson, Clark
  • SF Ingram, Johnson, Brewer
  • PF Randle, Deng
  • C Zubac, Mozgov, Bam

These moves would address the team’s basic needs without compromising its future cap flexibility. Ulis would provide a young sparkplug backup PG, and clearing Nance would allow Deng to play at PF. Clark would provide shooting and defense on the wing. Johnson would provide a versatile forward who defends, playmakes, and can play small ball center in Luke’s system. The team would only add $8M in free agent salary past this year (Clark), and that would be moveable. Between reasonable trades (Clarkson, Clark, Randle), and the stretch provision, the team would be able to easily make room for George or other max free agents in 2018 and beyond.

Final Thoughts

I am ultimately skeptical that Magic, Jeanie, and the powers that be have the patience to commit to a slow rebuild. There is just going to be so much pressure to start winning again sooner than this plan would allow. But, putting those pressures to the side, executing a smart, slow, asset-obsessed rebuild offers significant long term advantages, and may actually provide the quickest path to winning a title again.

By retaining and developing our core players, and adding to them once they enter their primes, the team would possess a dynamic group of young players who were all on the same developmental timeline. The team would also have the depth of assets necessary to attract available stars (whether via trade or free agency) once the foundation was ready. I hope the team avoids pursuing shortcuts and instead commits to a slow, steady rebuild, maintaining flexibility to pursue whatever golden opportunities arise along the way.

– Reed (@Reed_nba)


Reed

Posts

to Lakers Team Building Options Part I: The Slow Rebuild

  1. I like the 3-5 timeline, but must add the D League as something to consider. When a player comes out of college at 19-20 years old, there has to be a better solution than to continue learning? the game at the professional level for three years? To many players are going to fall by the wayside.

    With that, I don’t think the Lakers will be judged successful if they are not in the playoffs in two years. Next year, solve the contract issues of the past and develop a core group of players. Second year win enough games to get in the playoffs. Third year, continue to advance while other teams like the Warriors get so expensive they implode.

    2+

  2. Bryan Rosenberg May 13, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I like all of this except $8m per for your third string sg.

    0

  3. Posts like this are why I visit this site. Superb analysis. Thank you!

    5+

  4. Great piece.

    What I find so exciting is that so much of this rests on the play of our young guys next year. If DLo, Ingram, and Randle can take a step forward we get a lot closer to the playoffs without making a single change. It’ll make for a fun watch.

    Developmentally speaking, any year with Kobe was utterly wasted. There was no player development until this last year. I think it’s reasonable to guess these kids could get 8 wins better with the experience of this last year behind them. It doesn’t hurt that Coach Walton got a year under his belt as well.

    We need approximately 5-8 wins in year-on-year growth to get to the 8th seed in the ’18-19 season. That doesn’t sound like pie in the sky improvement. Selling low to jump start this process by a year or two just to get swept out of the playoffs for the next 3 years sounds horrible.

    Staples already has Team Purgatory. Following their lead sounds almost worse than ending up the 9th seed for an extra year.

    4+

  5. I wouldn’t want to trade Nance yet.

    9+

  6. I really really hope they go towards the slow/medium rebuild. I wouldn’t even mind if they went with just the young guys a full season, none of this everyone gets 25 minutes and 10 deep equally. Truly focus on the young guys.

    I just LOL at anyone who says they don’t see an all-star on this team. We don’t know. I doubt we saw George as an all-star at 19-21 years old. I doubt we thought steph curry would become a superstar like this. Ingram after all-star break put up great numbers for a 19 year old. DAR at 20 has put up better numbers than Wiggins or Westbrook at same age. Let’s not forget that DAR is better than Booker in PER, win shares, ORPM, DRPM. Zubac at 19 is better than Jokic at 19. Nobody predicted Greek Freak would become who he is. At 19 he was airballing shots. Leonard wasn’t expected to be the best 2way player outside Lebron.

    Let’s take it easy and see what we got. The old regime would go after Lowry and Millsap to max contracLeBron.

    4+

  7. Hi Reed,

    This is just what we need for some constructive thinking. Here’s my perspective. I look for models of excellence for us to consider and suggest San Antonio and the hated Celtics for different reasons.

    San Antonio has been able to accomplish and maintain excellence–year after year after year–with a program that achieves something like Jimmy used to brag: they don’t breakup and rebuild–they just reload. They’ve done it in a small market. I think they’ve done it with a team development concept that emphasizes stability with incremental change–implemented annually–but as part of a bigger long term approach.

    The Celtics, on the other hand, have been willing to break things up and start from scratch–much like you’ve structured for us here–except they’ve gone all the way–and accepted the consequences. They’re already back near the top in the East–with assets that could easily take them higher.

    I’d like to see the Lakers in their own version of the San Antonio approach–but with a different Laker style identity. I’d like to see the Lakers maintaining at least 9 players from the previous season each year for continuity as well as a mix of youth and veteran players. In my model, I’ve identified 9 core players that could embody that Laker identity, four that could be transitional, and two draft pick slots. Depending on circumstances, that could mean as many as 6 new players–or as few as the two draft picks.

    Such an approach would allow the Lakers to pursue an infinite variety of expedited rebuilds without getting out of control–or losing Laker identity. Under some circumstances, that expedited rebuild might go slow. It’s hard to see it going super fast, but that’s not the most important consideration for me. I would be happy as long as the process showed sufficient discipline in balancing risk/reward while restoring the idea that each Laker team member represents Laker ideals.

    3+

  8. As always, you put a lot of time and thought into your writing which I appreciate. Having watched the Seahawks get rebuilt from the bottom up by Carroll I disagree with this: “Team building is ultimately about being opportunistic and flexible, rather than having a rigid plan that you follow no matter what.” If you have a strong vision and know what you want, you should stick to that plan. The Seahawks became a Superbowl winning team way ahead of “schedule” with key young players because Pete knew what he wanted from his defense down to the measurements and skills of each player. He was willing to bypass the “best” picks to get the players he wanted to fit with his scheme. Phil Jackson was the same with the triangle and the Lakers. Yes he had great players but he also knew what he needed from all of the players and what roles they would take. The comparable Lakers vision for the past 4 years was play the veterans. That best describes who got the priority for minutes and the teams were run around their skill sets. This really did not change until Williams was traded last season. Then we finally got to see a team built around the skills of the younger players.

    Until the Lakers figure out what the new vision for the team will be, it is not going to matter that much who they draft or trade for. What they will have is several talented players trying to do what they do best as opposed to what might be best for the team; not unlike the Knicks only with more talent. A clear team vision would help them define who the best players are for the team as opposed to fishing for the most talented players who might be poor fits. The teams that best exemplified this would be the Jazz under Jerry Sloan, the Spurs, and the Bulls and Lakers under Jackson. If you played for any of those coaches, there was no doubt about why you were on the team and what you were supposed to do. Magic is a big picture kind of guy and I trust him to be able to set a vision for the team and then work toward that vision.

    2+

  9. A Horse With No Name May 13, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Great write-up, as usual. Thanks. Whether or not the team keeps the top three pick will inform the potential trade options worth considering that might speed up the rebuild. Personally, I favor an aggressive pursuit of a big-time player in their prime if the price is reasonable. For example, this year’s lotto pick and LNJ plus a future pick might net PG in a trade. Better yet, GH as a FA signing, who is pitched with the promise of a second star to join next season or sooner. (Yeah, fat chance, but let’s see what FAs are willing to talk to the lakers this off-season.) As we all know, stars want to play with other stars, and the lakes could present a nice roster of young talent to entice a couple of stars to join forces. The truth is, there is no guarantee that the young core can ever develop all-star talent that can make the team at least a contender. If the opportunity to seize a star is there, it would be foolish not to explore it.

    My fan timeline is this: I’ve been a laker fan since I was little kid. I’ve seen decades of fantastic basketball by the purple and gold, and more championships than any fan deserves. Right now I’m more interested in seeing good basketball with young talent developing than holding out for the Warriors run to end and our time to come again–there are so many variables that would have to align for that to even happen. A mix of young talent and an established star or two would likely yield a perennial play-off team that I can get behind now. With all of that said however, I appreciate and want a careful management of our young assets to ensure a bright future. Let’s see what happens next Tuesday.

    1+

  10. Love it! Great article can’t wait for part 2

    1+

  11. My understanding about the new CBA is that it is tilted to home growing your talent from the draft, so this may be, in part, what every team will end up doing to one extent to another.

    1+

  12. I’ve enjoyed the comments, which raise several important/interesting angles I had not considered. A few touch on the idea of developing a clearly defined culture/ideals/system, which I agree is critical. Drrayeye’s suggestion of maintaining a base of continuity from year to year, to maintain our ideals, makes sense. The Spurs/Heat and others have been successful at instituting a culture that players buy into, and which fosters winning work habits/ideals. Hopefully Luke and co can make that happen here.

    I think FredP’s comparison to the NFL/Seattle is interesting. There are certainly benefits to acquiring players that fit your system, as we saw during the triangle years. But there also seem to be interesting differences from the NFL in this respect, as coaches often need to adapt their system based on their underlying talent. Popovich has changed the Spurs’ offensive philosophy radically during different eras based on the skill sets of his core players. Interesting issue to think about. For now, I think Luke has the freedom to conform the players to his preferred system given their age/malleability. But he may need to adjust down the road based on who ultimately comes.

    Good thoughts from everyone – look forward to the discussion, and positive thoughts on Tuesday …

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  13. I too am a fan from the early sixties, and have great memories from way back. Most of those great lakers are still here in L A and will pop you if you bad mouth the lakers. They own this team for ever as do I. I am anxious to see who in this young laker core is going to not accept loosing any longer and start taking responsibility and calling themselves out.At the same time to the FO,Its hard to build a Family if the Members are so worried about being kicked out that they cant be at home and defend it.If these kids are Building Friendships with each other and enjoying Life here,That is the winning formula ,and it deserves patience.When magic hugged Kareem I knew he would be here forever so don’t be in such a hurry to win that you miss the chance to build a house that lasts.

    4+

  14. – What an amazing read. I’ve been against the slow rebuild for a while but this article almost made me change my position.

    – While there are good reasons for a slow rebuild, going this route because teams like Golden State and Cleveland are too talented to compete against in the next so many years is a bit silly. It’s a good thing that Dallas, with only one superstar, and the Spurs, who were supposedly old, didn’t share this attitude when the superteam in Miami got together. Anything can happen in basketball and if the opportunity to significantly improve your team is available, you have to take it. The talent on other teams should never be part of that equation.

    – As of now, this team has one player (Ingram) who I would consider a potential member of a big 3 on a championship team. You need two players in this category to seriously consider the slow rebuild route. In my opinion, Russell does not have the intangibles to be a core member of a championship team. The PG position is rapidly evolving before our very eyes. In the next five years, we are going to see an influx of talented PGs entering the league. Having a starting PG with bad defense and below below average PG skills is going to be a major liability. If the Lakers miss out on a top 3 pick (AKA our PG of the future), I think it would be wise to trade Russell for a top 3 pick.

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    • Couldn’t agree more, DAR is lacking the intangibles, well said. Just something missing. My dream is that the Lakers trade the number 2 or 3 pick and Russell to Phila for Ben Simmons. Like I said, it’s a dream.

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      • Intangibles is usually a made up word when you try to think of another term for narrative bias.

        So a guy that’s 20 is being graded as a finished product, and people only compare his flaws to other young guys potential (even though his numbers at his age compare favorably). Makes sense.

        Sounds like you want Lebron James and already made up your mind that you won’t be satisfied.

        Saying things like “he’s not a part of a championship core” doesn’t mean anything because none of us are psychics. I’m pretty sure many people said same thing about Curry when his ankles were always sprained, or kyrie, or Love etc. I’m sure you all predicted Kwhai Leanord though.

        5+

        • I won’t go into all the reasons I am not a fan of Russell, but none of the players you mentioned came into camp their rookie year out of shape. Level of commitment and character are two of the intangibles I am referring to.

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    • So you’re making a final assessment of a 21 year old PG…gotcha. What do you think about the defense of Curry, Harden, Lillard, Kyrie etc? What did you think of them when they were 20?

      1+

      • Doesn’t answer your questions but I loved Curry as a rookie while obviously having no clue he would be this good. Similarly, sky high on Lillard not least because he’s a fantastic leader. I don’t see DAR touching Lilard in the leadership department, ever. Would love to be proven wrong.

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  15. Reed, such solid research, insights, all put together into an interesting article !
    You amaze, constantly.

    I’m for the slow approach, though admit a bit of an itchy finger at times; and who can blame us that do suffer from this malady?
    It’s been a long hard road these past several years.

    Seems to me that the previous front office either lacked a clear vision of which path they wanted to take, or were trying to fork out in two directions at once, and ending up going in circles.

    I can only hope that the new office will see the big picture, which requires foresight. I don’t mind losing a young hopeful or two for a star player who has enough youth to grow with this team, but I would hate to see them gamble on a long shot at rushing things, and end up in yet another crater to crawl out of.

    3+

  16. Slow Rebuild: I think it is the only to “plan” the rebuild. You plan to rebuild in a slow methodical manner, but then if an opportunity to get a SuperStar presents itself – you strike and accelerate your plan.
    FA: The moves you do not make are almost as important as the moves you make. Imagine had we just not signed anyone last summer, how much better off we would be.
    Rebuild in General: I do find it amusing that we are talking about “starting” the rebuild in 2017. Dwight Howard left in 2013 and Pau left in 2014 – in both cases we received nothing, which were both signs of deep trouble and the need for a rebuild. So here we are 3 years later.
    Playoffs: We need to root against the Celtics and the Spurs. I hate the Spurs.
    FBG: It seems just about everyone has now come around to the opinion that we do not have a team full of young SuperStars in the making. I am still hopeful on Ingram, but never had such hope on the others. We need the slow rebuild and then to sign SuperStars.
    Ownership: We will need to see how Jeanie, Magic, and Rob perform, but one good thing for sure, the sibling rivalry appears to be over !!!!

    1+

    • I don’t think any team has a team full of young SuperStars in the making. We do, however, have a number of promising young players – as GSW did with Stef & Klay – and we simply do not know how they, or Randle, Nance, & Zubac will develop. IMO, we have a better nucleus of players than does almost anyone. Minny has a budding superstar in Towne, but I don’t think their other players a any better than ours. I do understand you are a ‘glass half empty’ type of fan, but our glass is a bit over halfway full.

      1+

      • As I have said, Curry is an extreme historical outlier, and if you take a look at the history of #7 picks, you will see very quickly that he is almost certainly the greatest 7th pick in league history, and even as a rookie, he was historically good from the arc, hitting .437. So implied comparisons involving him do not move the discussion in a productive direction.

        As to Towns, he gives Minnesota an advantage over the Lakers in and of himself, regardless of how the other players stack up. The issue with Towns, though, is that he does not appear to be an elite defensive cornerstone, which may keep him below the Robinson/Olajuwon level. Nonetheless, Minnesota would certainly not trade him for any two of the Lakers’ lottery guys and maybe not for all three of them.

        I don’t agree with some of the stuff that Reed said here, but I certainly appreciate his articulateness and thoroughness.

        2+

      • Craig: Given the recent performance of the team, I have not been a glass half empty type fan. Rather, during the Jim Buss era, I was a glass fully empty type fan : ) However, while the source of the problem has been eliminated, the problem remains and will take a while to clean up – hence the rebuild.

        1+

      • Craig: Did you intentionally omit Andrew Wiggins? He’s pretty good as a 2nd or 3rd option. 20+ point scorer two years running.

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  17. Given where the team is, I think the slow approach is the only realist ic option at the moment.

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  18. The words “Russell” and “max extension” should never be heard together…

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  19. Excellent post as always, Reed. I do love Zubic’s on court awareness and hope it portends a special career for him.

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  20. I believe current circumstances force the Lakers to embrace the slow rebuild. Trades for elite players won’t move the win needle if you have to move two or three kids to do so. I think that is a recipe to tread water.

    The team has some nice young talent but is it ready and able to break out? We have room for one max FA. Would, a Gordon Hayward, for example, see enough talent on board to help him win? I’ve pointed out the irony of the Lakers situation. For years the team had cap space to attract multiple max FA’s but couldn’t close the deal — partly because we had little talent in place. Now the Lakers are set up for two young max FA’s to come on board to rocket this thing forward and we don’t have the cap space to sign them outright.

    Much of the future becomes clearer after the draft lottery tomorrow evening. We still have to pay for the bar tab from Jim’s party days. Will we have to pay full price with the ’17 and ’19 picks or do we get a discount with the ’18 pick and a couple of 2nd rounders?

    4+

    • Rick in Seattle May 15, 2017 at 8:53 am

      Well stated! With that analogy, its not difficult to see why the Deng & Mozgov contracts are so limiting. If the Lakers had continued their earlier practice of bringing in short-term contracts to maintain potential cap space, they would actually be in an envious position. But, with the cap-clogging contracts of Deng & Mozgov, the Lakers are almost forced to go the slow-rebuild route (unless/until these contracts can be disposed of)!

      Following the loses of Howard & Gasol in 2013 ad 2014, I can understand the former Front Office’s efforts to quickly reload with good free agents. But as the team slid downhill, those efforts only worsened. And, the coaching turbulence did not help.
      Losing quality players with nothing in return hurt us. Just having cap space does not always help a bad team. A good current example might be Brooklyn.

      Final thought: Why are so many of you folks focused in on the slow rebuild option when Reed has not even explained the other two options yet? In my world, you thoroughly outline all your options, THEN make an informed intelligent decision. In this case, it appears that so many of you have chosen the slow option, before the other options have even been laid out by Reed. Curious!

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  21. The Lakers have about 1 more year before facing a similar situation to Utah that you mentioned. They will have to decide who to pay and face other teams poaching their young players. All while still straddled with Dengov. This is almost assured failure.

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  22. Great article on The Ringer by Kevin O’Connor. One section where he talks about PG development that is worth reading:
    “all point guards should come with a Patience Required label. There are 12 active point guards in the league who have been named to an All-NBA team, and on average, it took five seasons for them to get there for the first time. The average age was 24; only Paul, Irving, Westbrook, and Derrick Rose made it at a younger age. Kyle Lowry made his All-NBA debut in his 10th season, at 29; John Wall will likely be named to his first All-NBA team this June, at age 26, seven years into his career. Point guards are often in utero for years. It isn’t a process that can be rushed, because point guard isn’t an easy position to master”
    Let’s have patience and gives these guys some time to grow. Especially when it comes to DAR. When the Warriors chose Steph over Monta there were a lot of fans and writers who hated that choice. Look how that turned out!

    1+

    • Rick in Seattle May 17, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Great observation, Steve. Another example might be when OKC decided that Westbrook and Harden could not exist together. Though neither fits the definition of a traditional PG, i’d bet money that OKC would NOT make that trade today.

      Orlando also made some questionable trades lately, which got them old GM fired! . .

      With Ball & DAR, their (lack of) defense could be an issue, But other than defense, I don’t see why the combination of Ball and DAR cannot work, With the right coaching, both may become better defenders

      But, trading DAR for a player like Butler or George, would still be a really tough call.

      Perhaps Harden & Westbrook were too similar, but it would be interesting to see whether they could have become a Warriors-type backcourt in OKC.

      I’d hate to say the same thing about DAR in five years, when he is leading Indiana or Chicago to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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  23. This has to be one of the best sports articles I’ve read in a long time. And by the way, I’m in favor of the slow rebuild. The Warriors, Spurs and Jazz aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Paul George and another superstar (unless Anthony Davis), provide you no certainty. So why not create obtainable goals, like reaching the playoffs while identifying your core.

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