2015-16 features a brand new core, a departing hero and a coach potentially on his last chance. Sure, there are no realistic championship aspirations, but here’s a crazy thought: The upcoming campaign might be the most interesting Lakers season before actual games are played in almost a decade.

We all remember that crazy summer of 2007, which featured trade demands from Kobe Bryant, his general disdain towards Andrew Bynum and whether or not ownership would cave to such demands. Could you imagine if we had Twitter back then? #Pluto would be trending worldwide for reasons beyond whether or not it’s a planet. Considering how the season turned out, it’ll absolutely go down as one of the most memorable in Lakers’ history. The franchise somehow went from utter chaos to title contention in a matter of months.

Had they managed to win the title after all that, Disney would’ve made a movie about it.

Yes, fans have enjoyed a couple titles and a potential super-team since then, but this roster offers more intrigue heading into the season, and here’s why.

Championships are obviously fun. They are, after all, the entire point of athletic competition. That said, the narrative in such seasons is fairly straightforward, and can easily grow tiring. Each loss hurts more than wins feel good. Those Lakers rosters, identified early on as title favorites, rarely led to “fun” regular seasons as we parsed effort and execution and whether the lack of either might doom the team’s chances. It was all an overcooked appetizer to the most stressful meal one can try to enjoy – the actual NBA playoffs.

I can’t try to numerate how many fans have said something along the lines of “I just can’t endure another season like the last two” or “please, just don’t let the team suck.” If this is indeed the baseline by which success will be defined, fan expectations should be fairly easily appeased. Knowing that before the season takes place should be a healthy source of excitement in and of itself.

The Lakers’ personnel lends itself to interest here as much as general expectations.

Any conversation about intrigue in the makeup of this team probably has to start with the fact this will probably be Kobe’s final season. Every minor moment we get to enjoy will be bittersweet. Might this be his final home opener? Any game-winning shot might be our last throwback to one of the greatest clutch players in league history. Road trips will undoubtedly feature heartfelt moments between him, the crowd and his opponents. And that final game? Don’t even get me started. Such a season is incredibly rare, and what all this might bring about will generate a wealth of legitimately great moments.

The flipside to those great moments is… Well, you know. And I dare not even mention it.

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The Lakers have been active on the undrafted free agent market in recent days, signing Jonathan Holmes to a 2-year contract on Thursday and agreeing to a 2-year contract with Michael Frazier on Sunday. With this activity, a persisting question is when the Lakers would follow through on signing Robert Upshaw to the contract they reportedly agreed to after the team’s first summer league game.

Well, it looks like we have an answer and it’s not exactly the one I’m guessing a lot of fans were hoping for:

As Pincus notes, Upshaw remains a possibility and I wouldn’t be surprised if he still gets an invite to camp on a “make good” contract. Whether that contract would have any guarantees — even small ones like those which appeared in Holmes’ and Frazier’s contracts — is unknown.

Especially since, I’d imagine, the team is greatly balancing his history of off-court issues with the promise he exhibits on the floor. Unlike other UDFA’s the team might deal with this summer, Upshaw has both a higher probability of becoming a sunk cost just as he has a higher ceiling and potential to become a long term piece.

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We recently touched on where the Lakers’ roster stands with a little over a month left until training camp opens, but it seems like we could have waited an additional day since the Lakers have made another addition:

Reports are that Frazier has not yet signed his deal, but per the above report, the deal has been agreed to. My guess is that Frazier will sign a similar deal to the one Jonathan Holmes just inked — a two year deal with a small guarantee — with the intention of seeing if he can make the team by flashing some skill in training camp. (UpdateEric Pincus is reporting Frazier’s deal is a two-year contract with $50K guaranteed.)

As for Frazier’s measurables and game, he’s a 6’4″ shooting guard who went undrafted after leaving the University of Florida after his Junior season. He averaged 12.4 and 12.1 points per game his last two years in college with some very good shooting splits. Kevin O’Connor of SB Nation has a very good scouting report on Frazier that is worth your time, but here is a key passage:

At 6’4, Frazier has the passing skills of a combo guard, but shooting will always be his career ticket. He shot more than 43 percent from downtown in his three-year tenure with the Gators. Mechanically, Frazier features a compact release and can either hop or step into his shot attempts depending on the situation. In addition to having strong mechanics, Frazier possesses excellent instincts. He was one of the best in the class of 2015 at moving without the ball to find soft spots in the defense.

In summer league, Frazier did not have his best showing, shooting only 26.3% from the field while missing all of his three point field goal attempts (0-11). His lack of elite size for a shooting guard and his struggles from the field in Vegas likely contributed to a team not yet inking him to a contract, but considering the small sample and his body of work at UF, the Lakers are likely betting that his potential as a shooter and ability to develop his playmaking skills further warrants a better look.

Considering the Lakers’ lack of shooting and the need to always mine and hoard that skillset in the pros, this is a gamble worth taking if you’re the Lakers. If he doesn’t pan out, all the team is out is a small sum of guaranteed cash. If he can challenge Jabari Brown, though, and show enough as a floor spacing shooter who looks like he’s able to be another combo-type of guard who can handle the ball some while also playing off other playmakers who create good looks for him, this small investment could pay off.

Time will tell if Frazier ends up being camp fodder or something bigger. But the Lakers continue to add to their roster, looking for more pieces they can potentially develop.

With about another month to go before the Lakers open training camp, now is as good a time as any to take a quick review of where the team’s roster currently stands. With the recent signing of Jonathan Holmes, the Lakers have 15 players under contract:

Guards and Wings

  • D’Angelo Russell
  • Jordan Clarkson
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Lou Williams
  • Nick Young
  • Jabari Brown
  • Anthony Brown

Power Forwards

  • Julius Randle
  • Brandon Bass
  • Ryan Kelly
  • Larry Nance Jr.
  • Jonathan Holmes

Centers

  • Roy Hibbert
  • Tarik Black
  • Robert Sacre

Of the 15 players above, Tarik Black and Jabari Brown have non-guaranteed contracts for next year while Jonathan Holmes’ deal is only partially guaranteed. Per Eric Pincus, that partial amount is $100K on his two year minimum contract*.

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The best American born players gathered in the desert as Team USA held it’s annual summer mini-camp this week in Las Vegas. From LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Steph Curry, the game’s elite showed out to practice and throw their names in the hat as potential participants in next summer’s Olympics being held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

One player who was not present, but still getting ink, was Kobe Bryant. Though Kobe has previously gone on record saying the 2012 games in London would be his last, Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo left the door open for Kobe to compete in 2016. This led to a flurry of reports openly wondering if Kobe could, in fact, find his way onto the team.

Well, those reports will only intensify now that Colangelo has gone even further with comments detailing conversations with the Lakers’ star. From ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:

“I was quoted on Kobe,” Colangelo said after USA Basketball’s intrasquad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center. “In response to a question about him, I said it would be a great story if he did [play in Rio].

“And so, he also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But, I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.'”

If Kobe cannot go out on a winning Lakers’ team, the next best thing would be for him to represent his country one last time, playing alongside the game’s elite players, and earning a gold medal in the Olympics. Kobe already has two golds (from 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London), but joining his teammates on that medal stand one more time as the national anthem played would still be an amazing accomplishment.

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What was reported last week has now become official: the Lakers have signed undrafted free agent Jonathan Holmes to a multi year deal. From the Lakers press release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed forward Jonathan Holmes to a multi-year contract, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

In five games for the Celtics’ entry in the 2015 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Holmes averaged 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.0 steals in 21.8 minutes per game, while shooting 55.6% from the field. The 6’9’’ Holmes also appeared in three games for Boston in the 2015 Utah Jazz Summer League, and in his eight games (seven starts) between the two competitions, shot a perfect 15-15 from the free throw line, and 13-28 (46.4%) from beyond-the-arc.

As we covered in our initial write up, Holmes is more of a tweener forward who would likely do his best work as a “stretch four” in the NBA. He has good size (6’9″) and decent length (6’11” wingspan) with a solid build. While at the University of Texas, he spent most of his junior year banging down low as a more traditional big man and then, as a senior, moved the perimeter by playing a lot of small forward.

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Yesterday, the Lakers, along with 31 other teams, were granted a mapped-out schedule of their next 82 games. Aside from predicting win/loss totals and counting up the number of national TV appearances, the biggest takeaway for fans is that these could very well be the final 82 games of Kobe Bryant’s storied career. In what will be the first of many thinkpieces regarding Kobe’s legacy this season, Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll focused on the significance of the fact that Kobe’s potential “finish line” has officially been marked:

Maybe it’s wrong to already start thinking about Kobe’s book as having a final page earmarked to end his legacy. It’s hard not to, though, considering the expiration date on his contract is the only thing concrete in his future. He’ll ultimately make a decision when he’s ready, but for now, it’s more than fair to start bracing for impact. This ship might be preparing to sail through the murky 82-game journey one last time.

And there will be plenty of full-circle talk the whole way through it. The Lakers are preparing to embrace a movement led by a new hyper-talented guard who must find his way to becoming the kind of floor general Los Angeles has come to expect. Kobe will be moving toward ending his career as one of the few athletes in sports history to spend and enjoy such an illustrious career with a single franchise. Coincidentally, his first NBA minutes during his rookie season came against the Minnesota Timberwolves, against whom the Lakers will open the ’15-16 season, and ended in the playoffs against the Jazz, against whom the Lakers will end the regular season.

[…]

The season will have ups, downs and unexpected turns along the way, but it all leads to what could be a final ride with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. A living legend may run his final steps through a purple and gold finish line on April 13th.

 

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Aside from the intrigue of the Russell-Towns and Kobe-Garnett matchup that will take place in the opener (which Darius Soriano touched on here), the Lakers-Wolves game presents two teams dealing with positional battles at their guard spots. The Wolves have a couple of seasoned vets (Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin) who could potentially lose minutes to a young Zach Lavine, while the Lakers will likely look to find who will take control of the backcourt will be between Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell.

In a piece analyzing a few of the more notable positional battles throughout the league, Ben Leibowitz of Sports Illustrated took a look at how the Lakers young backcourt could play out during the season:

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The NBA schedule was released on Wednesday and now every team knows the route they will travel on their marathon campaign. 82 games of ups and downs, wins and losses, and countless storylines will captivate us fans and players alike. We’ve already started this discussion with some of the games we are most/least looking forward to as well as some other general observations.

But, frankly, there is even more on our minds. With that, here are 10 more thoughts on the Lakers’ 2015-16 schedule…

1. I love that the Lakers open with the Timberwolves. It is by no means a glamorous match up pitting traditional rivals against each other, but there are a lot of match ups and intriguing stories worth discussing. On one end of the spectrum you have the #1 and #2 overall picks in Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell facing off in their first regular season games. And, on the other end, you have Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant facing off on the opening night of their 21st and 20th seasons respectively. The rooks are the most recent high profile one-and-done prospects to grace the league while the veterans are the two players who ushered in the prep-to-pros era which graced us with some of the best players of a generation. Add in last year’s rookie of the year in Andrew Wiggins and the return of Julius Randle and there is no shortage of reasons why I’ll be excited about this game.

2. I love that the Lakers’ annual Grammy Road Trip is only going to be four games, but with it being so short they have to make up some of those road games somewhere. Enter a brutal December where only four of the team’s 17 games will be at Staples Center. Welp.

3. A few dates to circle on the calendar: February 19th, February 21st, March 10th, and April 3rd. In order, those may be the last times Kobe suits up in a game against Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, LeBron James, and the Boston Celtics. There are other match ups worth mentioning, but I’d say those four opponents will carry extra weight.

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