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.
The Lakers also employ of coach few in the fan base actually believe in fully. Many view Byron Scott as a mere placeholder to keep Kobe happy until the latter retires. Once Bryant is gone, Scott’s value to the organization might be diminished enough for almost immediate replacement, unless the Lakers enjoy some miraculous run to the playoffs. While a change there would be wholeheartedly welcomed by many, the organizational reputation of a coaching carousel isn’t one easily shed. A lot might be riding on Byron’s at least relative success.
Roster turnover arguably drives as much intrigue from year to year as any aspect of sports fandom. Fantasy sports and video games have made us believe we are all experts in the line of personnel management. The positive is arguably the most educated generation of sports fan ever, the negative being the desire for change for the sake of change alone.
In 2012, the Lakers were already easily a playoff team. The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard piqued interest to astronomical levels. I would argue, however, the narrative was still similar to that of any title-contending team. Any plotline centered around how Howard and Bryant got along didn’t actually gain steam until the games took place. There seemed to be no question as to whether the Lakers would contend for titles not only that season but for several years after. Boy, were we wrong.
In this case, the change has come from more avenues than trades or free agency. The franchise has rebuilt around youth and flexibility. In 2012, the front office swung for the fences and struck out disastrously. In recent years, they’ve been content to form the roster more conservatively. While most fans won’t reasonably expect multiple titles as they might have in 2012, it’s logical to expect a noticeable step forward.
Such an upswing can’t take place unless the final (and probably most) intriguing storyline takes place: The development of Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. When fans of different teams talk to me about the Lakers, the conversation tends to start with either Kobe or the kids. This element of intrigue separates the summer of 2015 apart from previous offseasons not including and involving Kobe’s desire to play on another planet.
As we pointed out here before, the amount of pressure on the Lakers’ young core is immense. Basically, their success is all the front office can use to entice Kevin Durant in this offseason or anyone else in summers afterward. That, combined with a potential Jeter-esque farewell tour and a near fan-base-wide desire for a coaching change make this season undeniably interesting. Fans can complain about plenty with Lakers as a franchise lately, but this season, boredom will not be one such grievance.
Nothing here about the fact that the Lakers are the only team in North American pro sports with a seemingly feuding brother/sister combo running the show and the head decision-maker operating under a weird self-imposed deadline…but multiple references to getting rid of Byron. The Lakers FO situation is arguably much more “interesting” than speculation about a losing team firing a coach–a very common occurrence.
The fan experience is mostly subjective, but the way I look at the 2016 Lakers is that Russell/Randle/Clarkson and, if he can stay on the floor, Kobe, mean that there are reasons to watch this team, even though it may not break 30 wins. There really weren’t great reasons to watch the last two teams.
J C says
I think the season opener will be fascinating.
And the team will either become imminently entertaining or essentially unwatchable by the first 20-25 games or so. They get a honeymoon phase until then.
After that point either the roster will begin to show signs of real promise – or begin taking on water (sinking ship analogy) and if that happens, it will be every man for himself.
Thomas Rickard says
Let the season begin, I’m ready
I watched about 70 games last season and night in and night out the team competed for 3.5 quarters before being overcome by better defensive execution and talent. lakers upgraded their talent from last year and added a top 4 rim protecter to help win when the game slows down in the 4th. Injuries permitting, this team will be at least 10 games better imo.
Rob Westbrook says
The young guys might do well next year, though I expect some growing pains. I would be shocked if we did much in the postseason, but one can always hope.
We need to find a better coach. I think if we succeed this season it’ll be in spite of Byron not because of anything he does. It’s just as likely we’ll have another awful season which seems to be Byron’s trademark: don’t understand the situation, don’t make adjustments. How else does your team lose 26 games IN A ROW and have seasons of 26-56, 18-64, 19-63, 21-45, 24-58, and 21-61. Once or twice might be bad luck, but SIX times his winning percentage has been under 32%. His good seasons were all thanks to Kidd and CP3, in my opinion. We don’t have a HoF PG; we have a rookie named Russell. And CP3’s first two years in the league, Byron was still sub-500 even though Paul was RotY…
When you completely gut your roster and start over there are a wide array of possibilities. I’m somewhat optimistic as for the most part I like what has been assembled this year. I think a lot of people are forecasting based on incremental improvements. The team was this bad this year we can only expect so much improvement. Now lets say the team had been gutted and replaced with known All-Stars up and down the roster. Would we still say well they were this bad last year we can only expect so much improvement? Of curse not. We have a great many rookies this year who have “potential” and so the outcome is very undetermined. This does make things exciting. Forecasting for this year though I don’t see much in the way of an incremental progression but rather how much confidence you have in the F.O. discerning talent in young players and fitting in veterans.
Baylor Fan says
Sadly, +10 games from last year puts them at 31 for this season.
Nothing here about the fact that the Lakers are the only team in North American pro sports with a seemingly feuding brother/sister combo running the show and the head decision-maker operating under a weird self-imposed deadline…
I think this has the potential to be a major distraction especially if the Lakers make the more reasonable incremental progress and not the huge improvement Jim’s promise would require. It will be brought up by the media and will need to be dealt with. Jeanie will either need to publically let Jim off the hook or hold his feet to the fire. Either way there is potential for the Lakers FO to be as entertaining as the team on the floor.
Adding fuel to the fire: As much as Mitch prefaced his comments about the Playoffs he still created a sound bite that has elevated expectations unfairly. Our youngsters are very young and our vets are average. It would be a leap of epic proportions to envision that a team with this much roster turnover coming in with no existing continuity/chemistry would be able to improve the 20 plus games needed to compete for the 8th seed in the West.
The road back is a long one and we are essentially taking our first steps.
Per ESPN Western Conference Projections:
14. Los Angeles Lakers – Proj. record: 26-56 Last season: 21-61
Well some people thought ESPN would project us at 25-57 so I guess that is a small victory. A 5 game improvement is on the small side of the spectrum. I think we’ll finish at 30-52 for a 10 game improvement.
Craig W. says
I think any talk about Kevin Durant is simply whistling past the graveyard and – in view of this blog’s fanbase – almost creates a guarantee of failure. Sure we are going to try to sign him, but to think we have more than a miracle chance is silly. His team is OKC and his home is Washington – both have more developed components than the Lakers. How much money he can get is predetermined. Exactly how would we be able to entice him to play here???
Also, all this ‘hate’ for Byron Scott is really unwarranted. Would you have preferred George Karl? Byron does have a history of helping develop guards in the NBA and that is two of our three youngsters. He is not a bad choice for this team, at this time. Perhaps he will earn a chance to finish his contract – I think we all need to hope he does this.
My concern is that Mark Madsen succeed with our bigs like Luke Walton has in Golden State. We need some help there – with Randle and other youngsters we need to see if they can play. That is the area of most coaching uncertainty.
Craig W. says
Anyone using ESPN as a guideline to quality forecasting better look at their record – a 3rd grader could have done better. They are there primarily for ‘hits’ or breaking stories and not for accuracy.
Jeanie to her executive assistant: “Get Jim on the phone!”
I agree with Craig about Durant, as I and others have said. I expect that Durant will not even meet with the Lakers.
As to the ESPN projections, any outfit that makes a lot of predictions will get some wrong. But the bottom line is that ESPN–and most outlets–said that the Lakers would be really bad each of the last two years and they were. The Lakers’ roster is not hopeless, but it is very hard to see who in the West is likely to be worse than they are. A few teams could be–but you wouldn’t bet on it.
Good post. I am not sure that it will be a distraction per se, but it will be, along with Kobe retirement and Russell stories, the main MSM angles on this team. Byron will continue to get a lot of flack from the internet intelligentsia sabermetric types/their followers in the Lakers blogosphere and some of those groups in general, but he will probably not be the main focus for the MSM.
The shot at the “blog’s fanbase” is inaccurate. Most regulars have been saying that the Lakers should forget about Durant and many have been decrying the FO’s strategy of waiting for a big FA score as unrealistic. FO supporters are generally the ones who have been talking about Durant coming here over the last year or so. If you are now saying that the Lakers should not be focused on elite FAs until the talent base is stronger, then that actually puts you at odds with what the FO has been doing and on the same side as FO critics, like the KBros.
Craig, Quin Snyder was available, but the Lakers didn’t want him. Instead they decided to interview Byron Scott three times and in that time, Quin Snyder was taken by the Jazz. Lakers could have had a young, up-and-coming coach instead of a retread.
Darius Soriano says
RE ESPN’s predictions, I should clarify — since I get asked to participate — that what they do is poll a lot of people who watch a ton of basketball (guys who write for team blogs, ESPN analysts/reporters, etc), get all those answers, and then summarize them for one general number. This is based on the idea called “wisdom of crowds” which, in general, performs much better than any one individual’s projection. This system ESPN uses has out performed Vegas in projecting team win predictions multiples times over the last several years.
Of course there will be times teams outperform their projection — a recent example was the Suns two years ago where they were predicted by ESPN’s “experts” to win in the high 20’s or low 30’s, but instead challenged for a playoff spot and won over 40 games. Overall, however, these predictions do hold up pretty well.
What this means for the Lakers remains to be seen. I would imagine the panel of ESPN voters looked at the Lakers, see a bunch of young players, a Kobe who has been injured a lot lately (and who didn’t play that well last year), and a coach they don’t really think that highly of. This, then, leads to them not having confidence the team will win a lot of games. I did not vote this year, but I have in the past.
I should add that ESPN uses an equation which accounts for their only being so many wins available. For example, if their are two teams in a league and each play a 82 game schedule, there are only 82 wins possible. If you say team A wins 50 games, then, by default, team B can only win 32 games. So, part of the Lakers’ projection is likely based on each analyst figuring out other team’s totals and then, probably, adjusting the Lakers’ total downward. When I have voted, this was a technique I used. The teams I thought highly of often had their wins doled out first (say, 60 wins for the Warriors and 58 for the Cavs, 55 for the Rockets, etc, etc) and by the time I got to teams I thought would be bad (the Sixers, etc) I might say “Oh, I have them at 22 wins, but only have the Spurs at 54 wins. In reality, I think the Spurs will win 57, so let me take 2 wins away from the Sixers and one win away from the T-Wolves so I can increase the Spurs’ wins by 3.” I would imagine, others use this type of process too and the Lakers, as a team they probably do not think highly of, suffer some for it.
Craig W. says
Thank You! At least I can now have confidence that people like A. Smith aren’t the guiding light for ESPN knowledge. I did appreciate your explanation of the more detailed analysis required of team projections.
My only criticism of this method is that we frequently reward teams we think highly of too much and penalize teams we don’t like also too much. Not sure I can get around this all too human failing. What we do know is that one or two of the top teams is going to be waylaid by injury – last year it was OKC – and one or two of the lower teams are going to surprise with their talent and avoid injury.
No way Jim meets his self imposed deadline. But how does Jeanie spare Jim and the organization the embarrassment of dealing with the realities of the situation? She can’t absolve Jim now because that would essentially tell season ticket holders, partners and sponsors that the Lakers will have a poor record. And the same would hold true for any absolution made before next season as well.
Her public statements on ESPN indicate that she’s serious about holding Jim to the promise. She can’t go back on her word without losing face. Leave it to the Buss kids to paint themselves into a corner over Jim’s stupid comments.
Remember the Buss kids have to sell hope not reality. No my friends, Jim is going to hang himself and Jeanie is going to provide the rope. What a mess.
Darius Soriano says
I agree, but this is where the “crowd” comes in handy. If I like the Lakers chances more, my thoughts go towards balancing against those who might think of them very poorly. Thus, we get a more accurate representation of where the team might actually end up. Fwiw, this is the same type of approach ESPN has used in their NBA Rank project.
Craig W. says
I’m not sure we can say what the front office is planning. Our assumptions come from Jeanie comments – not really relevant – or Jim’s single statement about free agents. In all good conscience I don’t believe Mitch could say anything but that we had a chance to make the playoffs – you can’t really imply anything else. By the same token, neither Jim or Mitch can say they won’t pursue top tier free agents – this makes it hard to try for any free agents and puts a real damper on your fanbase. This doesn’t mean the front office is planning on signing Kevin Durant, however.
Todd/Ano: With regard to comment about the Jim Buss promise: I agree – it is highly unlikely we reach the goal of contending in the next 2 years. I also agree that this will be a major distraction. If it were a game of chess – the path would be clear- resign. He will not do that however. He will corner himself in his castle. Only the Queen will be able to push him off the board. Many pawns will be lost in the nepotistic struggle.
All you have to do is look at the types of guys that the Lakers have signed, the lengths of the contracts, and the FAs they have met with to see what the plan has been. It is not complicated, and that is before you get to the fact that Mitch has used the terms “payroll/financial flexibility” in public about ten times that I know of.
As to the predictions, I was presuming that you actually knew how the ESPN prediction system worked and were criticizing it from a position of having a knowledge base. Given the apparent reality, you might want to re-think your “talking heads” rant. Certainly the media have flaws and biases, but there are many knowledgeable people writing at the big sites.
Baylor Fan says
The problem is that running an NBA franchise is a game of chess and the Lakers FO is playing checkers.
No my friends, Jim is going to hang himself and Jeanie is going to provide the rope. What a mess.
If we do indeed suffer a 26-56 record this season there won’t be many FO supporters left to protest the final act.
Robert Webb says
If Byron Scott can get everyone one to play defense they can win a few more games they also need someone to help with the offense hire a offense coach.
IG: jwoodz313 says
Kobe plays a solid and productive 62 games, sitting out 20 games due to back to backs and general rest. Avg 32 mpg, 21 ppg, 45% FG, 5 rbg, 7 apg.
Clarkson continues to get better and produce. Russell has a solid season with 2 rookie of the months awards. Randle will surprise people as well
Hibbert takes the defense from being a 29th rank team to a middling, 18th with his paint presence
The team stays relatively healthy and sniffs the playoffs as the 8th seed, which in the West is not very bad and anything can happen
Final record, 49-33
Thats contigent on some good fortune for the Lakers after a stretch of bad luck over the past 2.5 years. Other teams will get banged up and clash due to poor chemistry or new environments. Its possible