After two consecutive seasons of being one of the worst teams in the NBA, those who cheer for the Lakers are ready for a change. An escape from wondering about lottery odds would be nice. Meaningful games in April and May would be nice. Anything but the awfulness of the last two campaigns would be nice. Forget a return to prominence, a return to competitiveness is what drives fans to seek out optimal solutions to the team’s many problems.
I am of the opinion the Lakers made real strides towards becoming just that again with their drafting of D’Angelo Russell with the #2 overall selection on Thursday. I think Russell is worth the #2 pick, believe his skill set is is diverse enough to be a highly successful player, and see his physical tools as being enough of a foundation to be at least a neutral defender (and potentially better) as he matures and learns the league. Add it all up and he’s a guy I’m very happy with.
The players the Lakers took with their other picks — Larry Nance Jr. at #27 and Anthony Brown at #34 — are not nearly as highly touted, but have useful skill-sets and physical attributes to be successful pros. Whether they can channel those traits and use them to turn potential into actual production remains to be seen. There is a reason many refer to the draft as a “crapshoot” – there are just too many unknowns to speak on most all prospects with absolute certainty and, for many, with only some certainty at all.
But positive steps forward have been made. This is worth feeling good about. It is also natural, I think, to want to see the team advance even further in their improvement this off-season. The Lakers, as a brand, could use not only a bounce back to being respectable, but to a team competing for the playoffs and, ultimately, even more. Jim Buss does have a timeline he’s being held to, after all.
I would caution about thinking too far ahead, however. The Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league last season. A large portion of that was related to injuries, but even if the roster constructed last season was completely healthy, they likely max out at a win total in the low forties. This would not have been good enough for a playoff berth in the brutal west. To think the team they field next year will jump from one of the league’s worst to one challenging for the 45 to 50 wins it likely takes to make the playoffs is a stretch.
Of course I want the Lakers to pursue high level free agents this summer. Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and DeAndre Jordan are impact players who could all help the Lakers a great deal. Gasol and Jordan especially since they have the type of size and defensive presence (though one could make stats based arguments against Jordan’s real value here) which is sorely needed by the Lakers at the center position. A dynamic wing player who could plays both ends of the floor very well is also a major need. While he is a restricted free agent and almost surely unattainable, Jimmy Butler is a player who fits this mold perfectly. If the team could land any one of these guys, it would be another big step forward.
Just don’t count on that happening. And, if it doesn’t, it should not be seen as a major failure. A much better team is the goal, but getting there in one off-season isn’t realistic. The team has too many holes and is lacking too much in the form of proven talent — not to mention experienced talent — to really make a huge leap this summer. I can understand the excitement of drafting a top talent and the prospect of having a boatload of cap space can make the eyes get big, but this will take time.
No one is saying to be happy with another season of missing the playoffs. Making strides towards the ultimate goal, however, is still progress. And while it may not be a full on fix, it will likely need to be enough.