Welcome to a new series for FB&G for the 2016 off-season. This series will focus on team building and various paths the Lakers have open to them for the upcoming off-season. We will try to cover a variety of scenarios the Lakers could feasibly take and what moves might be involved with that specific approach. This installment will focus on trying to become a contender as quickly as possible.

The past few seasons have seen the Lakers deal with a variety of structural roster issues which have hindered their potential to compete. Whether it was the large amount of money committed to Kobe Bryant, their lack of young players who were ready to contribute to a highly competitive team, or their lack of secure draft picks, the team simply did not have the type of resources available to them to foster a winning team.

The Lakers were also intent on trying to chase big fish in free agency, but with limited capital to sign more than one “max” level player, they eventually struck out on every star they chased. Rather than panic spend on players a tier below, the team tried to roll over their cap space for future seasons while also taking chances on short term veterans who might help bolster the win column. Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Roy Hibbert, etc all took turns as key rotation pieces.

These acquisitions did not hamper future spending potential nor did they lead to many wins. The result, then, was a bunch of losses which helped the Lakers keep their lottery picks and a boatload of cap space heading into a summer where the cap will go up by roughly $25 million.

As it stands the Lakers now have a roster with three first round picks (Russell, Randle, Nance), a 2nd round pick who has outperformed his draft slot (Clarkson), an incoming lottery pick (#2 overall), and upwards of $60 million in cap space to spend on free agents. In other words, the Lakers now have some tools to try and construct a roster which can make the suffering of the past three seasons a distant memory.

The question, of course, is how to best go about that. We have already discussed a slow and steady approach, but an alternative to that method is to go all-in on the idea of building a contender as quickly as possible. How would they go about executing such a plan?

I’m glad you asked…

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Welcome to a new series for FB&G for the 2016 off-season. This series will focus on team building and various paths the Lakers have open to them for the upcoming off-season. We will try to cover a variety of scenarios the Lakers could feasibly take and what moves might be involved with that specific approach. Our first installment will focuses on taking a slow and steady approach. 

It’s funny how the perception of a team’s potential trajectory can be impacted in such a short amount of time. A month ago, on April 23rd, Byron Scott was still the Lakers’ head coach, Luke Walton was probably stressing out about Steph Curry’s knee injury and thinking about the Dubs losing game 3 to the Rockets, and the Lakers (and their fans) were still sweating about whether the team would keep their top-3 protected lottery pick.

Of course, a month later, things are entirely different and the general perception around the team is that they are a team on a major upswing. They now have a charismatic and young new head coach, they have the 2nd pick in June’s draft and the ability to draft one of two players considered to be in the upper tier of prospects, and still have all that cap space staring at them in the face waiting to be spent on July 1st.

It’s good to be a Lakers fan right now.

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After Luke Walton was named Lakers’ head coach, the first name to surface as a candidate to join his staff as lead assistant was Brian Shaw. Since then, it has been reported that Walton wanted Shaw to serve as his proxy in draft workouts, but that Shaw was considering other options, including waiting to see if an opening with the Warriors in Shaw’s hometown of Oakland would become a possibility.

It seems Shaw’s now close to making a decision and that the Lakers look to be his choice. From Broderick Turner of the LA Times:

Brian Shaw and the Lakers are close to an agreement on a deal for him to become Luke Walton’s lead assistant coach, the Los Angeles Times learned Saturday.

Shaw’s experience as a head coach, an assistant coach and as a championship player were the primary reasons why Walton wanted him on his staff, according to several NBA officials who are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

As I’ve written, I would fully support Shaw’s hiring should he, as is being reported, agree to a deal.

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I’m here to eat some crow. Yes, one of the Lakers’ toughest critics is here to admit it that I might have been too hard on the organization. This isn’t to say they never made mistakes, but for the most part, the Lakers’ offseason thus far is off to quite literally the best possible start.

The lesson: While it’s easy to see each mistake and show immediate concern in the moment, the bigger picture must remain in focus.

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With all the excitement about looking forward to the upcoming summer and season — with a new draft pick and head coach to help usher forward a new era — it’s easy to forget about last season. Some of that, of course, is wanting to forget a 17 win season. But there are some redeemable things from last year.

One of which was announced on Thursday when D’Angelo Russell was named to the NBA All-Rookie 2nd Team. From the Lakers’ press release:

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has been named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team, it was announced today. Russell is the second consecutive Laker to be honored with an All-Rookie team selection, joining Jordan Clarkson who was selected to the First Team last season, and is the fourth Laker in team history (Kobe Bryant and Travis Knight in 1996-97 and Nick Van Exel in 1993-94) to be awarded Second Team honors.

The second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft played in 80 games (48 starts) in 2015-16, averaging 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.16 steals in 28.2 minutes per game. He finished the year ranked 4th among rookies in assists and steals, and 5th in points and three-point field goal percentage, and was one of 10 American rookie and sophomore players selected by the league’s assistant coaches to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star 2016.

The Lakers went on to name other highlights of Russell’s season, mostly tying back to accomplishments he achieved contrasted against his age. Russell spent over half the season as a 19 year old, so his ability to contribute at a reasonably high level and reach some of the benchmarks he did is worth reflecting positively on. I, for one, congratulate Russell on this achievement.

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While I fully support and endorse the Lakers hiring Luke Walton, hiring him, specifically, doesn’t come without potential logistical hiccups. Walton, after all, is still employed, fulfilling his responsibilities as the Warriors’ lead assistant as they look to defend their title. As Walton helps Steve Kerr and the Warriors, then, he’s not able to yet move into his role as head man for the Lakers — at least as long as the Dubs are still in the playoffs.

With the Lakers getting a taste of lady luck by holding onto their draft pick on Tuesday night, they will soon start to hold pre-draft workouts of top prospects (they have already been working out prospects for their 2nd round pick). Only with Walton still working for the Warriors, he’s not likely to be around for many — if any — of them. TNT and NBA.com’s David Aldridge has the report:

So Walton may have to miss a number of Predraft workouts the Lakers schedule with some of the top Draft prospects. The Lakers are taping every workout for him to view when he can. Walton and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak text each other every day and talk on the phone when possible, but the Lakers are being very respectful of Walton’s remaining days at Golden State.

In the meantime, Walton is continuing to try and convince Brian Shaw to join his Lakers coaching staff. But Shaw is also being wooed by new Pacers head coach Nate McMillan for a similar position, according to sources. Ideally, Shaw would serve as Walton’s proxy in L.A. during the Predraft workouts.

This isn’t the most ideal situation for the Lakers. In a perfect world Walton would be present, offering his thoughts and providing his opinion on players the Lakers may end up selecting. His insight on how a guy might fit into what he plans to run on offense and defense, his perspective on their skill set, and him generally getting a better feel for who these guys are as people by being in the room has real value. Some things might translate over tape or via communications with staff who are present, but in the end I’m sure even Luke would say nothing can fully replace being present.

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The angst of whether the Lakers would keep this year’s draft pick has turned to joy. The Lakers will not only keep their top-3 protected selection, but they stood pat at #2 overall. While retaining the pick at all is a major boost, landing in the 2nd slot gives the Lakers a chance at one of the two players who is viewed, at least at this point the process, to be above the rest of the field.

Yes, the table is set for the Lakers to walk away with one of either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Both dynamic players in their own way, both tantalizing prospects who could be plugged into a roster and help immediately. The Lakers, then, can only smile at what is coming their way.

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Earlier today I wasn’t necessarily pessimistic, but I was not encouraged by the math nor the history surrounding the Lakers’ chances of keeping their top-3 protected pick. Those concerns turned out to be misplaced as the Lakers retained their pick and held their draft slot in Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery. They will select at #2 overall in June’s draft and have their pick of a top player who can bolster their young core of talent.

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