It’s hard to be too upset after the Lakers Opening Night loss – at least it is for myself. I spent the night at Staples Center in the 300 level, taking in a night of hoops, a wealth of youth, and an energy I hadn’t felt in the arena in over two years.

The lack of electricity is understandable. The team racked up 48 wins over the last two years – a total that the Lakers reached or exceeded 36 times in single seasons in the franchise history. An apparent lack of solidarity in the front office, a lack of consistency at head coach, and a general lack of health among the players led to the two worst seasons in Lakers history. And while all of the problems weren’t resolved heading into this season, there are clear signs that the Lakers are starting to move out of their funk and into a more promising era of Lakers hoops – and it was definitely felt in the 45 minutes leading up to tip-off.

Staples was near capacity before the start of the game, and the fanbase was eager to see these new-look Lakers. “I’m just happy Kobe is healthy, man,” said David, a 19-year old fan who sat in my section. “I’m excited to see the rookies, too. But I’m here to see Kobe’s return.

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Any critique leveled against any team on the second day of the season has many caveats attached to it. For the Lakers, this is especially true. Not only is the “it’s only been one game!” caveat important, so are the ones tied to the team’s youth, the high amount of roster turnover, and the resulting lack of familiarity and continuity which comes with it.

Simply put, any real criticisms should be held off on for now. We really are too early in the season to come to any lasting conclusions. Let’s see what things look like after 15-20 games to get an idea if what we are seeing are actual trends or not.

However, some of the issues we saw in Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves aren’t new. This is especially true on offense where the Lakers looked very much like the team they were last season in many ways. And not good ways, either.

In reviewing the game, one play stood out to me that captured many of the team’s issues and encapsulated why they can sometimes struggle in the half-court.

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Talk about a punch to the gut. On a night where the Lakers played a pretty good first half and had a 16 point lead in the 2nd half, they gave it all away over the last 15-plus minutes to lose their season opener to the Timberwolves 112-111.

While the story of the night was the collapse, the devil, as always, is in the details. The game started with a lack of flow for both teams. Coming off an emotional start to the game with an extended moment of silence for the recently passed, former T’Wolves coach and GM Flip Saunders, both teams were somewhat skittish. Shots weren’t falling, the ball wasn’t moving very freely, and guys seemed like they just couldn’t find a great rhythm.

As the minutes passed, though, both sides found their stride and an actual NBA game broke out. Fueling the Lakers was their 2nd unit. After D’Angelo Russell picked up his 2nd foul with 6 minutes left in the 1st quarter, he and Kobe went to the bench in favor of Lou Williams and Nick Young. Soon after that, Marcelo Huertas replaced Clarkson with Bass and Kelly subbing for Randle and Hibbert.

It was this bench crew that opened up the game, giving the Lakers a sorely needed boost. The ball whipped around the floor, but, more importantly, the wings were hitting shots.

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The Lakers open their season against one the few teams who have been as bad as they have recently. While the Lakers have won 48 games over the last two seasons, the ‘Wolves have been nearly as bad with 56 wins over that same period. Though, to be fair, 40 of those wins did come in the 2013-14 season which saw Kevin Love put up video game numbers.

Of course, Love is now a Cavalier. And Andrew Wiggins, the fruits of the Love trade, is a T’Wolf. He joins #1 overall pick from this June’s draft, Karl Anthony-Towns, to form what Minnesota fans hope is the inside/outside tandem that will dominate the league for years to come. The Wolves also sport lottery picks Zach LaVine and Shabbaz Muhammad as well as Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio (questionable), and Nikola Pekovic (doubtful) as core players.

With this group of elite youth and young veterans, the Wolves are a team on the rise. Add in veterans Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller and this is the type of roster construction Lakers’ fans should be quite familiar with. In fact, in a way, tonight’s game offers a bit of a look in the mirror for two organizations who hope to take some major strides forward this year. Sort of fitting considering the Lakers hail from where the ‘Wolves now call home.

The similarities in roster construction make for an interesting set of match-ups and story-lines.

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Up through Tuesday’s practice, Byron Scott was noncommittal on D’Angelo Russell starting in the Lakers’ season opener. He didn’t give reasons, but expressed he’d yet to make up his mind on the matter. I, for one, didn’t really believe that with it the day before the game, having seen Russell for an entire summer league and training camp, and knowing how the rest of the roster fit together.

But that was Byron’s story and he was sticking to it. Fine, no problem. We would get final word today, the day of the game, and that would be that. Well, guess what? D’Angelo Russell is starting.

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My longform thoughts on what I believe the Lakers can and will be this year are pretty clear. If you don’t know them, click the link!

While that’s how I think things will go, though, that’s not why I watch. Whether my predictions or analysis holds up as the final word of truth isn’t why I run this site or why I make time for the Lakers. I love the game and I want to see the team I root for play it.

Underneath it all, too, I actually am optimistic about this team and where they are going. I believe the young players — especially Randle, Russell, and Clarkson — are going to be very good. I like the veterans brought in over the summer. And I still really enjoy watching Kobe Bryant. I like this team.

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When I think about the 2015-16 Lakers, the word which keeps coming back to me is balance. And, more specifically, how do they manage the competing agendas based on the team assembled.

On a roster with a mix of young prospects who need development and capable veterans who play the same positions, how do they balance playing time? When trying to win as many games as possible, but also needing for young players to be able to play through mistakes to learn — sometimes at the expense of wins — how do they balance the different priorties? On a team with at least seven rotation players who do their best work with the ball in their hands, how do they balance touches?

This plays out with a team that is undoubtedly more talented than the 21-win outfit from last season or the 27-win one from two seasons ago. The gambles on former lottery picks who hadn’t lived up to their potential with other organizations have stopped. The roster filling veterans who didn’t quite fit what the coach at the time needed are no more. There are issues to sort through — especially on the defensive side of the ball — but, overall, it’s difficult to not see upgrades all over the roster.

Of course, talent is only one piece to the puzzle. The man tasked with shepherding these players forward and molding them into cohesive units must walk a fine line. Whatever you think of his X’s and O’s acumen or his ability as a leader, how Byron Scott handles the balancing acts mentioned above will be his biggest challenge. Can he keep the veterans happy, develop the young players, and win games all at the same time? Could any coach?

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We have known for some time the Lakers’ final cut would come down to Metta World Peace or Jabari Brown. I discussed who I thought the final cut would be, but that was only speculation. Today is the deadline to make the actual move and, per Shams Charania, the decision has been made.

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