Archives For Laker Analysis

After Thursday’s NBA draft, Lakers’ General Manager Rob Pelinka spoke to the press about the selections the team made and what his plans for the future would be. At one point, when speaking about the D’Angelo Russell trade, Pelinka pivoted to wanting to maintain cap flexibility in order to sign two max level free agents in the future.

This prompted ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne to ask the following question:

The ability to add two max salaried guys, that’s thinking big; that’s swinging big. And they did that here once, what makes you think you can actually get those guys?

Rather than transcribe Pelinka’s answer, which was quite long, I think I can summarize it thusly: with Magic now at the head of basketball ops, there’s a new energy in the building that inspires a sense of confidence. Pelinka noted that this feeling isn’t just limited to the team, its staff, etc, but could be felt during the pre-draft workout process via prospects giving off a vibe of wanting to play for the Lakers; to wanting to be a part of where this organization is going. Pelinka also gets the sense this is true of players around the league and, via conversations and anecdotally, he believes the new energy and believing positively in what they’re doing is going to work out for them.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it should.

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With an officially unofficial trade of D’Angelo Russell hanging in the wind, the Lakers entered Thursday’s NBA draft with three draft picks — their own at #2, the Nets (via Boston) at #27, and the Rockets’ at #28. By the end of the night, they’d end up with four picks, swapping #28 for the Jazz’s selections at #30 and #42. (They’d also finalize the Russell deal, which, for the life of me I still don’t understand the delay in announcement. Oh well.)

With those four picks the Lakers made some smart selections, focusing on players who not only possess good character and work ethic, but who project to be able to fill specific roster needs via emerging (or already established) skills. A brief recap:

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The Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell. And while I’ve tried to make sense of it, both in long form and with our buddy Pete Zayas in our latest podcast, the fact is that there’s actually little to try to actually analyze here.

The Lakers traded a highly talented young player who, for reasons that will likely leak over the next several weeks and months, the team no longer believed in to be a long term piece for the franchise. We can debate those reasons all we want or, more precisely, debate how much those reasons should matter considering the return value netted, but I’ll save you that for now. My cliff-notes opinion is pretty straight forward: I think the Lakers sold low and if this was the best you could do in a trade right now the Lakers would have been better off not dealing him even if the ultimate goal was to actually deal him.

What’s done is done, though. Oh, I’ll surely wring my hands over how the team managed this situation and Russell as a player — not to mention his own faults which impacted the approach they took — but to worry about that now is somewhat secondary.

The more pressing question is what do the Lakers actually do now?

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In our final podcast before the NBA Draft, Pete and I take one last look at some of the prospects, answer a bunch of listener questions, touch on the most recent LeBron/Lakers rumor, and have a spirited discussion about Jerry West’s leaving the Warriors for…the Los Angeles Clippers? Yep, that actually happened.

Click through to listen to the entire episode.

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Whether it’s smokescreen season or not (and it is), there is still information to be gleaned through the actions of the Lakers and all the other teams who are gearing up for the NBA draft. We are now in the home stretch and this is the last chance to get prospects in for workouts and interviews before selections are made.

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“With the #2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select…Josh Jackson, University of Kansas.”

There is a real possibility that exact sentence is uttered by Adam Silver at next Thursday’s NBA Draft. Jackson, the do-it-all F out of Kansas, reportedly has his supporters in the organization, with Chad Ford noting that the organization might actually be “split” between drafting the presumptive #2 Lonzo Ball or selecting Jackson:

I also think it reflects a genuine split within the organization about whom the best long-term candidate is. Ball was a clear favorite of the prior administration run by Mitch Kupchak and still has his fans within the organization. But the Lakers also took note on how Fox outplayed Ball in their head-to-head matchup in March. And Jackson has always been another favorite in the organization.

While the feeling is that Ball is a good fit with the Lakers offensively, Fox and Jackson are gritty defenders and vocal leaders on the court, something the Lakers feel the team is lacking. Jackson in particular seems to have some strong supporters in the organization who think defense should be the priority.

I still think they lean toward Ball, but I’d put the odds somewhere like this: Ball 40 percent, Jackson 35 percent, Fox 25 percent.

I’ve covered Ball’s game and fit already, so I won’t get into that too much now. My simple summary, though: Ball’s offensive game and, specifically, his approach to playing the game (fast, fun, making the right play consistently) offer an almost perfect alignment with how Luke Walton wants his team to play. Combine that with Ball’s considerable ceiling and I think he’s the prime candidate for the #2 pick (assuming Markelle Fultz is drafted #1).

Saying all that about Ball, however, shouldn’t diminish the qualities Jackson brings to the table. Nor should they overshadow that Jackson, with his potential as a two-way difference maker, is also a very good fit for the Lakers in both the short and long term.

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From even before the time the Lakers secured the #2 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, the Lonzo to the Lakers train was steamrolling down the tracks. Whether it was Lonzo’s father, Lavar, trying to “speak it into existence” or Lonzo himself stating outright his desire to play for the Lakers (and be mentored by Magic Johnson) while staying close to home in Los Angeles, the UCLA star becoming a Lakers’ one seemed like destiny.

Now that the Lakers actually have the pick, this all seems even more preordained. Even reports about Lonzo not being a lock are at least partially prefaced with him still being the favorite to land with the Lakers. Yes, other prospects are worth selecting #2 and the Lakers will do their due diligence. They reportedly really like Josh Jackson and De’Aaron Fox and will work both out in the coming weeks. But Lonzo is the name we keep coming back to; he is the default name.

There is good reason for this. Lost in some of the bluster about his father or other “distractions” we should always remebmer that Lonzo Ball is an excellent basketball player and, in my opinion, one of the more intriguing prospects to come into the league in some time. Note, I’m not saying he is the best one — after all, he’s not even the top player in this class. But his profile is a unique blend of basketball IQ, size, skill, and a strict adherence to playing to his strengths that doesn’t often come in any prospect, much less one who can play point guard and/or initiate your offense.

When you add it all up, it combines to make Ball the prospect who seems to almost perfectly align with how the Lakers want to play under Luke Walton and one who should not be defined by any of the noise that surrounds him or his game.

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In part III (and the last) of our Lakers’ team building series, we will look at the option I like to call the middle road. If the first option is the slow rebuild and the second option is to try to contend right away, the next logical step is to find something which satisfies both while not going too far in either direction.

The Lakers are uniquely positioned to take this path, too. Now that they have secured the #2 overall pick in the upcoming draft — to go along with the #28 pick they got from Houston — while still possessing 6 players they’ve drafted over the past 3 years in contributing roles, the team has a blend of assets and enough cap space to be players in either the FA or trade market. What we’ll do below, then, is explore what this option might look like and how the front office may go about executing such a plan.

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