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.
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:
The sample size is pretty negligible (five games), but Russell averaged 5.2 turnovers against 3.2 assists while converting 37.7% of his field goals and only two of his 17 three-point attempts (11.8%). Ultimately, he’s young, inexperienced and it’s not often wise to put too much stock in Summer League showings (good or bad). However, it may be an early sign that Russell shouldn’t be thrown into the NBA crucible as the Day 1 starter. Luckily, the Lakers have another option in-house who has already proven to be quite effective.
Former second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, who already has a year of professional experience under his belt, put on a show in April. During the last month of his rookie campaign (eight games played), Clarkson averaged 19.4 points, 6.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field and 34.5% from three-point territory. There’s a similar issue with playing time. Additionally, Clarkson didn’t exactly light the world on fire during Summer League—though he was more efficient than Russell—but there aren’t as many question marks swirling around the incumbent floor general.
Prior to this year’s draft, NBA skills trainer Drew Hanlen (who has worked with Clarkson) told me he believed the All-Rookie First Team member would “take a big leap forward” in his second year as a pro. The addition of Russell could throw a monkey wrench in that outlook, but the two can certainly play simultaneously (pushing Clarkson to shooting guard).
One of the team’s Leibowitz mentions in the above piece is the Phoenix Suns. While Leibowitz’s article is centered around a positional battle between their two wings, it is no secret that the Suns front court plans have become a bit of a mess over the last two weeks, as their presumed starter, Markieff Morris, recently demanded a trade from the team.
With Morris being a young, productive player on a team-friendly deal it has of course been brought into question whether the Lakers would explore such an avenue. And while there have been no reports associating the two parties to date, Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen and Roll, ultimately deemed acquiring Morris isn’t a deal worth doing for the Lakers:
If the Suns are forced into trading him, the 6’10, 245 lb Morris primarily plays power forward. The Lakers already have a logjam at that position, with Ryan Kelly, Brandon Bass, incoming first-round pick Larry Nance, Jr, and most of all, 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle, all best utilized at that spot. The main issue here is Randle, who needs to play the vast majority of the minutes the Lakers can offer at the four, both so that he can develop and so the organization can see what they have in him after he missed his rookie season with a broken leg. With four years of NBA experience under his belt, Morris might currently be a better player than Randle, but acquiring him to play over the sophomore would potentially stunt Randle’s development by torpedoing his confidence, as well as not giving him the floor time he needs to grow.
There are still legitimate arguments to be made for acquiring affordable talent and figuring out fit later, but what position he plays is just one of the reasons the Lakers should probably steer clear of Morris. There is also the reason for his reported disgruntlement: the trade of his twin brother Marcus to the Detroit Pistons while Phoenix was attempting to clear cap space to get in on the LaMarcus Aldridge free agency derby. I triple checked the Lakers’ roster and can report back that Marcus is not on the team, begging the question of why Markieff would be any happier in Los Angeles. Maybe he just feels as though he was “slapped in the face” by the Suns organization after they moved his twin brother, feelings vocalized by Marcus after being traded, and would be happier in another organization that showed the belief in him to give up assets to obtain him.
Faigen goes on to cite attitude concerns as well in the piece and whether you are in agreement or not, he makes some very justifiable arguments against a deal that most Lakers fans would probably be open to. Our own Anthony Irwin recently touched on why a deal for Morris is at least worth a look for the team. Again, though, this is entirely hypothetical and it is unlikely a deal gets done between the two divisional opponents, but the potential of a trade here does deserve some thought.
Lastly, Morris or not, one of the newly acquired Lakers who will be competing for a spot in the frontcourt is rookie forward Jonathan Holmes. In Tuesday’s post we provided a 5-month old scouting report on Holmes to offer some insight as to what he offers as a player. However, Chris Walton of Hoops Habit recently deemed the move for Holmes a “smart signing” in a piece focusing on what the Summer League standout can offer the Lakers:
Holmes brings the Lakers a much-needed forward that could fill in depth at the three and spend some time as a stretch four. Standing at 6’9 with nearly a seven-foot wingspan, Holmes is the epitome of today’s NBA versatility.
During his run with the Boston Celtics this summer, Holmes averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game on 48.1 percent shooting (46.4% from three-point range). With his ability to step outside and shoot while comfortably playing on the block, he gives you the kind of presence similar to Draymond Green. Like Green, Holmes can rotate all over the floor on defense. This may be the most valuable asset that could win him a spot on the team.
Adding Holmes to the Lakers is the ultimate low risk, high reward. His athleticism and flexibility could turn into a formidable weapon alongside their other dynamic playmakers. With a willing passer like D’Angelo Russell and an aggressive guard like Jordan Clarkson, Holmes can get plenty of opportunities on the floor. These opportunities could come in transition or from crashing the boards on both ends. According to DraftExpress.com, Holmes grabbed grab 3.5 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, second among small forwards in our top 100 and 6.1 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted.
There is plenty to unpack in the above quote, but what I find most notable is the reference to Warriors forward Draymond Green. If you had the opportunity to read the pre-draft article I referenced this Tuesday (here it is again), the author also compares Holmes to Green while referring to him as the potential “steal” of the draft.
While the Lakers front court is a bit packed this year, sending Holmes down to the D-League for a season before ultimately including him in the rotation during year two could be the best for both his development and the Lakers youth movement going forward.