Lakers Looking at a Year of Transition

Darius Soriano —  September 1, 2017

There is a general excitement about the Lakers that I, personally, have not felt in years. You may need to go back to the off-season of the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard acquisitions to find this amount of optimism about the direction of the team. Of course, that squad had championship aspirations while this team has an over/under win total of 33.5 by Vegas bookmakers. So, let’s be clear about what we’re actually discussing.

That said, people are eager to watch this team play. Including NBA TV games, the Lakers have the 5th most games on national television this year, trailing only the Warriors, Rockets, Cavs, and Thunder. Some of that is about the Lakers being a west coast team and the need to optimize viewing through having teams in the Pacific Time zone fill that 7:30pm – 10:00pm slot. This automatically means the Lakers will get some extra push. It also matters that they’re the Lakers and have a huge following regardless of how good they are.

But, I think it’s also reflective of the buzz which currently exists around this specific group. Call it the Lonzo effect, a desire to see Brandon Ingram develop, or just that they project to be a young and fun team — the interest is real.

And while this interest does reflect the Lakers looking like an up and coming team, I actually view this season as one of transition. The Lakers, at least for this year, occupy a peculiar space where they’re not projected to be that good, have few expectations to be anything besides a plucky team that plays fast, and are looking at a roster that has the chance to turnover by a fair amount within the next 12 months.

Let’s tackle those first two points together. I don’t think there’s a sweeter spot to be in for a team that will rely on so many young players than “fun” and “not expected to win a lot of games”. Players like Ball, Ingram, and Randle (the 3 remaining lottery picks from the last 4 drafts) will surely face individual pressures to play well, but from a team standpoint there is an understanding that winning in this league is hard and that young players have only so much impact in this area.

Further, there’s a difference between impact on style and an impact on results. I do believe the infusion of Lonzo Ball, growth in Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, and some of the other additions to the team (namely Lopez and KCP) will have an impact stylistically from a game to game basis. This team will play faster. They will space the floor more. They will probably shoot more 3’s (which is saying something considering the team no longer has Nick Young, Lou Williams, and D’Angelo Russell). Their should be more ball movement overall and quicker decision making within the flow of the offense.

These things matter. They are related to culture and the brand of basketball the team will play. They just may not lead to a ton of wins in the big picture. Again, look at that Vegas over/under. If the Lakers approach that number, it would be a 7-8 game jump from the season before. That’s progress and should be appreciated. But it’s also not the type of anticipated improvement that adds a ton of pressure; it’s more organic and a natural progression that can just as easily be related to the development arc of young players and Luke Walton being in his 2nd season as the coach.

But I see this as a transition year for another reason too: the likelihood that the Lakers run back this same roster a year from now are slim to none. Brook Lopez is in the last year of his contract. KCP just signed a one year deal. Julius Randle is approaching restricted free agency. Jordan Clarkson’s name has already been floated as a player the team could trade. That’s four of the team’s top 7-8 players who could all be gone next year.

Plus, and even more important, the Lakers front office continues to pitch the idea of chasing star players in the summer of 2018. No matter how far-fetched it sounds in September of 2017, if the Lakers add a LeBron James or Paul George or Russell Westbrook or DeMarcus Cousins — or two of them! — next year, this team is entirely different even if all of the current players returned (which isn’t possible financially, I know). The chase will be on for these guys next summer and that turns this year into…what, exactly?

A dress rehearsal? A one year holding pattern? A year on a treadmill?

None of those descriptors are fair, really. They do, however, capture a certain essence of what this year can and, I think, will be. A bridge. A transition. The Lakers clearly have prioritized certain players (Ball, Ingram) and, I believe, have a certain amount invested in Kuzma and Hart too. Those latter two are part of the first draft of this new front office and that always comes with a certain want to see them succeed.

Everyone else on the roster (save for, maybe, Larry Nance Jr. who I think has a skill set which translates to being a role player on any good team) is standing on a bit of unstable footing with a lot to prove over the next 10 months. A year from now could I envision a Lakers roster that is turned over by half or even 75%? I can, yes. This isn’t a reflection of how I view these guys as players or talents (I really like most of the guys on this team — especially the guys 25 or younger).

But, change is on the horizon. This front office has said as much. How that translates to what happens on the floor this season remains to be seen, but it is something to keep in mind as it all unfolds.


Darius Soriano

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to Lakers Looking at a Year of Transition

  1. Very excited about this season and the general direction of the franchise. “Change is good!”

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  2. All very true. Players (and fans) will just have to take this ride one season at a time right now and commit to making this season work. The Lakers are set up for maximum flexibility. If the two max guys come through, we will see a very different team next year. But if they don’t, or if Randle or KCP, say, make a huge leap this year and they over perform as a team, they also have the flexibility to add one max guy to a better-than-expected core. Or, if free agency flops entirely, to continue to grow organically.

    They have done a GREAT job of building both a solid, interesting roster this year, well suited to the style they want to play, and at the same time creating flexibility for the future. The mistake was Peilinka going all in, publicly, for two max guys. Dumber than the George mistake. They have created flexibility and all kinds of options going forward, then he goes and makes next summer a failure if they don’t sign both James and George. And makes a lot of guys feel like this is just a one year stop, which makes team building harder. Unnecessary.

    7+

  3. The description of this year is definitely “Audition”. All the rumors of coming free agents won’t matter unless they make good on showing progress and a change from the previous losing seasons (seems like that’s a lock but you never know).

    3+

    • Agree Matthias.

      This will be a year of showcasing, not only what we have to offer super stars, but what we can trade.

      2+

  4. Good analysis and I agree with the level of expectations being set. If anything, all of the players need to show they belong. If LeBron does come, he will get to choose who comes with him and that will also impact who stays. Luke needs to show he belongs as a prime time NBA coach and not someone who got lucky coaching a collection of some of the games best players for part of a season. At the end, the need is not just for 2 or 3 superstars, but to be able to fill out the next 6-7 roster spots with at least near all-stars. The latter is where the FO will earn their salaries.

    As far as all the hype the Lakers are getting, give LaVar some of the credit. The Lakers are not projected to win any more games than if they had kept Russell and drafted someone other than Ball. Boston and Philadelphia both passed on Ball suggesting that other franchises do not see him as a sure thing. Yet, is there an NBA fan in the country who does not know Lonzo and the passing skills he brings to a team?

    1+

    • Regarding Lonzo, and who ‘did not’ see his talents. Because they all see it now.

      Speaking of giving credit, we need give some to Magic & Pelinka, for a masterful game of chess – as they were feeding false negative information to the media about Lonzo prior to the draft, in attempts to keep others from snatching him away.

      From what I understand, they always wanted him, and likewise shouted false information about how impressed they were with Fultz, to keep interest in him higher than in Lonzo.

      Even Phil Jackson recognized Lonzo’s transcendent talent, as he was trying to trade up the #1 slot in the draft, by offering Porzingis to Boston, at which point, he wanted to snag Lonzo for New York. Not Fultz.

      Some say that if Jackson had succeeded, then he would still have his job there.

      Lonzo is The One !

      I can see it, and I’m far from the only one.

      4+

  5. Last year, there was this constant downer hanging over the team, ” are we losing games as fast as the Sun’s?” This year, we go out and play the best five players, learn, make tweeks to the lineup and improve all season long with the aspirations of making the playoffs until we are mathmatically out of it. Call it transition, or whatever, but I look at it as very optimistic. Perhaps a player gets moved at the trade date, but everything is making the team better. Next year, it’s looking like there may be about five of the current players in the lineup, based on the team making no secrets about adding one or more players that will be impact players, in free agency. Go Lakers, play hard, play to win, hope for an injury free season, let’s go.play like we belong, quit saying how tough the West is, just go play and surprise people. I think the team, if injury free, might win 38 games, but then, I’m optimistic and that’s a wonderful feeling. ?

    5+

  6. I think this season will be about wether or not Lonzo and Ingram can prove themselves to be building blocks that you can add superstars to and form a team with championship aspirations. I want to see if Zubac can solidify his spot in the rotation, can Nance take jumpers with confidence, and otherwise see improvement. I think wether the season is a success or not though depends on how Lonzo and Ingram play this year.

    1+

  7. Am I the only one hoping LBJ chooses somewhere else. Get PG13 and Boogie. I see LBJ and his posse ( yes I said it) as a annoying distraction, plus Magic is a Pat Riley guy he won’t let LBJ run the organization, which I believe LBJ will want a say in roster etc. Plus factor in age and mileage….. didn’t we just go through this with an aging Kobe. PG at 28 Boogie at 27 make more sense as long term investments. Thought?

    7+

    • No your not the only one who hopes LBJ takes his talents elsewhere.
      Not to worry though – he’s going to the Clippers.

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  8. Baskerball Insiders (Steve Kyler) is strongly suggesting that the Lakers will make a move before the February 8 trade deadline to either:
    1) trade for one of their 2018 F/A objectives (and thereby improving cap space by moving Deng, Clarkson, etc), as well as acquiring the players Bird rights, or
    2) trade for another expiring contract (Monroe, etc).

    If the Lakers FO is remaining firm on their desire to acquire TWO max free agents in 2018, they must clear more space.,

    They have been so vocal about that, it would seem a bit surprising if other teams step forward o help them.

    PG will probably remain with OKC thru the playoffs, along with Westbrook. But I could see Cousins and LBJ being more “available” for trade.

    if Westbrook & James want to join forces, they would be a better fit on the Clippers.

    George & Cousins remain my favorites for the Lakers. Both are a young 27, and would be excellent veteran components for the young core to build around.

    3+

    • One of those possible expiring contracts referred to earlier could include Wade in Chicago. If the Bulls were willing to reacquire Deng, I’m sure that some kind of trade arrangement could be worked out. Not sure whether Clarkson and/or Randle interest them, but moving Deng’s contract would be a certain starter.

      The two expiring contracts specifically mentioned by Kyler were Milwaukee’s Monroe and San Antonio’s Tony Parker. Both are playoff teams, so It’s hard for me to imagine either being interested in Deng.

      The more logical spot for Deng would appear to be a non-playoff team who (like Brooklyn) has multiple needs and can absorb Deng’s remaining contract combined with a couple of the Lakers younger players.

      It took awhile, but Chicago finally realized they needed to rebuild, and that is why they dont need Wade clogging up their roster. And that is why I think he is a possible expiring contract that the Lakers might be interested in.
      And of course, it has no relationship to LBJ, wink, wink!

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      • To further validate the possibility of a Wade-Lakers trade proposal, compare the following 2017-18 salaries:

        Wade: $23.6 mil (from memory)

        Deng: $17.5 mil (again from memory)
        + Randle: $5.6 mil (” )

        If these 3 salary totals (from memory) are correct, a Deng+Randle package would be within a half mil of Wade, making this an exceptable trade package without anything additional being added. But the Lakers happen to also own a future Chicago 2nd round pick, which was obtained in the Calderon trade, which could be given back as a sweetener.

        Guess I’m in agreement with Kyler. Lakers appear to have a number of options at their disposal (Wade being only one) in order to make a trade for another expiring contract, in order to improve their cap space for next summer–assuming their goal remains TWO max free agents.

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  9. I think LBJ could help us though. Let’s suppose Randle and Clarkson play well out of the gate. Cleveland’s backcourt is likely to struggle with a frail Rose and an injured IT. Could Lebron lobby his management to trade the Cavs #1 pick ( the unprotected one from the Nets) to the Lakers for Randle/clarkson? That trade makes the Cavs the deepest team in the League outside of the Warriors and the owner may green light the move in an effort to get Lebron to stay.

    The Lakers clear cap space for PG and Cousins and get to draft the next Anthony Davis in Marvin Bagley. The 2018/19 Lakers:
    C: Cousins
    SF: Ingram
    PF: Bagley
    SG: George
    PG: Ball

    That is a sick starting five.

    4+

  10. It is going to be a blast watching this team! Ingram was showing a more aggressive and polished offensive game in SL. I think LonZo was a perfect combination of need, timing, position, luck and opportunity. A win for LA and a win for the young man. Clarkson wants to try to win 6th man. I’m on that bandwagon! Very interested to see how Lopez and KCP mesh into the team. I have a feeling it will be positive. I want to see Beast Juice more often this year. I’m talking Drew League and last years Memphis game. Id like to see nance go to small ball 5 with Deng as the back up 4 and see if those guys can create some High IQ deadly bench duo. Ennis, brewer, decent low-ceiling rotation guys. Zubac, depth 7-footer for when small ball doesn’t work. Kuzma/Hart, spot minutes at 1-4. Find their true position, get a feel for the NBA game, earn minutes as they press veterans with production, practice quality and making winning plays when it counts.
    I wanna see Luke grow. Last year (with losses strangely valuable) it was hard to judge some of the late-game “clutch” coaching as I think the tendency was to let-it-ride a bit more loosely. Less X’s O’s end of game, too many times when a player was killing us and no lineup/defensive adjustments were made. No timeout to advance the ball and run a set. Etc. etc.

    Foreshadow; no matter what happens, stay tuned next offseason!

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  11. This sounds silly to say about two guys with MVP awards, but I don’t see LeBron and Westbrook jointly helping the Lakers. They’re both too ball dominant to work well together as a combo, and if Lonzo truly is the future of the franchise there would need to be concessions made so that he’s got the ball in his hands to maximize his talents and playmaking. LeBron can morph enough to do anything; Westbrook, I just don’t see the fit.

    As to the upcoming Lakers season, it’s been said many times the hope is for a transition season that shows signs of a breakout to come, a la the 1994-95 “Lake Show” team. Van Exel, Ceballos, Peeler, and Eddie Jones provided a youthful influx to pair with veterans like Threatt and Vlade, though he was still quite young himself. That team was good enough to win a playoff series and I don’t foresee that happening with this season’s Lakers, but if you can establish a foundation that will attract one or more free agents, then pair them with some of that youthful talent… good things will follow.

    Keep in mind none of those young Lakers were around for the Shaq-Kobe championships. But they did create enough talent in the cupboard to attract Shaq and Fox, and were valued enough to be used as trade pieces to land guys like Horry and Kobe and Rice. You simply must have stockpiled some ability to lure more abilities, and I believe we’re seeing that happen again now, whether or not Julius or Clarkson ever see the playoffs while wearing the purple and gold. So here’s to progress in 2017-18.

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