While the Lakers wait on their new head coach to finish his playoff run with his current team, there are many questions which still need answering. Will they keep their lottery pick? If they do, who will they draft? Will they even keep that player? What about the 32nd pick in the draft? What about free agency? And on and on we go. These questions are the symptoms of hope, something fans haven’t had much of while dealing with the dread of a 17 win season.
While the actions which come over the next few months will determine whether that hope is well founded, it’s the decision makers whose final calls on all the above which matter most. With that, it becomes quite important (and beneficial) to have insight into their thought process on where this team is, where it’s going, and how they plan to get it there. As it just so happens, then, we have lucked out. Jim Buss recently spoke with Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders and gave thoughts on the team’s young players, hiring Luke Walton, and more.
While Buss’ comments on Walton are worth reading, I think the bigger implications are his view on the roster and, specifically, who he thinks can be a part of the team’s future:
Instead, the Lakers have developing prospects D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson will be a restricted free agent in July, but the team expects him to re-sign.
Buss also listed forward Larry Nance Jr. and veteran guard Lou Williams as building blocks for the future.
“There’s five to me – solid, core players we can work with and build on,” said Buss.
Some might question Lou Williams’ inclusion with that group, but I think it reflects a couple of things. One, Lou has two more years on his contract. Two, and maybe more importantly, we know Lou is a productive NBA level player. This past season was not his best, but I think it’s also clear his skills as a scorer weren’t especially maximized in the system the team was running.
Williams did not get a lot of spot up chances and did a lot of shot creating off dribble handoffs and high P&R’s without a viable roll man as a partner. Lou isn’t bashful in taking shots in these situations, but I believe he would be much more effective in an offense with more ball movement and where shots were created for him via drive and kicks or ball rotations out of the P&R. We’ll see if that ends up being the case, but I’m not as down on Lou for his offense as would be expected after the season he had. His defense…well, yeah, that’s another story.
As for the other players on the roster, Buss offered praise (even if it was feint) for several other players. Again, more from Pincus:
“I like Marcelo [Huertas], I think in the right system he might be a good fit.”
Huertas, who just finished his rookie NBA season as a 32-year-old after playing most of his career overseas, can also be a restricted free agent this summer.
Buss was also happy with veteran big man Brandon Bass, who may opt out of $3.1 million owed for the 2016-17 season to explore free agency.
“And Tarik Black, I like him. He could be a rotational player,” said Buss of the second-year forward, yet another potential restricted free agent.
Whether it’s an oversight or not, I find it interesting that Anthony Brown’s name did not come up. Brown did not have a good statistical year and ended his season on the injured list. Before he got hurt, Byron Scott lamented Brown’s lack of production on offense and fans, in general, would have liked to see him hit the open shots he was afforded. Still, though, Brown was only a rookie (albeit a 22 year old one) and is under contract for 2 more seasons.
As for Huertas and Black, if both were back I would be surprised. Huertas was a bright spot late in the year with his passing and ocassional scoring, but his limited athleticism, lack of size, and limited upside hurt him. Black, meanwhile, got limited opportunities and it’s hard to know how much he’s truly progressed from his rookie season to his second. He’s undersized which can hurt him as a paint protector and on the glass. But his motor revs high and his ability to threaten the rim as a dive man looks to be real. Byron Scott’s underutilization of him was a real shame of this past season just because as another young player it would be nice to have better idea of how he fits with the core group mentioned above.
The quote which turned the most heads, however, wasn’t any of the ones above, but, rather, Buss’ comment that “right now, I think our young guys are the perfect number and we will add solid veterans.” This can be taken a number of ways, but mostly feeds into the idea that the Lakers look to be open to trading their draft pick(s) — even their lottery selection should they retain it. As I’ve written, I have long thought this was an option for the Lakers; they want to take real strides forward this year (I think this would be true even if Jim Buss weren’t on a timeline) and that doesn’t necessarily happen with another young player playing a key role. (It doesn’t *not* happen either, but that’s a post for another day.)
Ultimately, the big takeaway for me isn’t that Buss is high on the young players or that he even likes some of the fringe roster players who could be tendered offers and become restricted free agents. It’s not even that trades or a splash in free agency are on the horizon. It’s more that there is a firm belief that the worst is behind this team. The aftermath of the Kobe retirement, the failed Byron Scott hire has turned into into Luke Walton, some young talent, and potentially $60 million in cap space.
As much lip service as Buss paid to the team “turning the corner” last preseason, he seems to truly believe it now. We’ll see how that informs the decisions made this summer and how things look come October. Maybe he’s right. I know there’s a bunch of people who hope he is.
I agree with you Darius there is hope in the air but im not surprised Buss didn’t mention Brown, he really didn’t brought a lot to the table and he got his fair chances. Lou did his job all things considered and he cam be a valuable asset to a better coached and better Lakers team. Let’s just hope we get things going our way for the firt time in 5 years. I know this is going to turn into a Jimbo hatefest so have at thee boys…
Michael h says
I’m not sure Brown got a fair chance. He would get 3 or 4 DNP’s in a row and then a start if Kobe couldn’t go. I could see how it would be tough going from not playing and probably not getting much practice Time with the starting unit to starting would be hard to find a rythem. And the pressure would be greater too if you are not playing then starting. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t playing with 2nd unit so we would have a better idea of what he can bring.. I don’t think that was fair not letting him play more off the bench. He did show promise as a defender. So if he can find his shot he could turn into a rotation guy.
Clay Bertrand says
People may hold him to that 17 win being the lowest point line, but other than that, Jim appears to be learning from Mitch and not saying a whole lot. At least, he’s not PREDICTING anything which is a smart move finally. His foot stayed outta his mouth.
I think the Brown omission was an oversight and I think any particular interpretation of the “perfect number of young guys” is purely speculative albeit certainly interesting for us here to contemplate. He could just be priming people for us to lose the pick and preemptively playing down reliance on that pick in the plan going forward.
I honestly think we shouldn’t read too much into what he said as far as indications of who is and isn’t returning either. This summer is going to be action packed in the league so if there is a chance to do something major, all bets on this roster will be off. I’m hoping Mitch has a good plan.
OT : I doubt Brian Shaw is the hire in Indy. I think Bird has been wanting to morph/evolve that team into a modern offense and roster for a few years now. Shaw is TRIANGULAR and I think they have much better options for Bird’s vision.
TOTALLY AGREE WITH DARIUS though on making a run at Vogel as an assistant here in LA although I’m sure it’d be a longshot at this point. Wonder if there would be any interest from Luke?
From what I’ve seen from Black IMO he’s serviceable but definitely not a top talent (and didn’t always make the most of the time that he got). I can understand why giving him as many minutes as possible was not a priority for Byron.
Renato Afonso says
While the number of young players seems just about right, it may not mean that they will trade the pick (if they keep it). Maybe they can retain the pick and trade a younger player. I really don’t know enough about the CBA to know if and when Clarkson can be traded but I’d rather trade him and take a flyer on the pick (if retained and top 2). We need at least one two-way player in our backcourt and the inclusion of Lou Williams in the “keepers” means that our backourt of Russell, Clarkson and Williams combined can’t guard one NBA player. Maybe a Luke can disguise their defensive shortcomings but IF the Lakers are trading then breaking up this trio is a must.
The good part of the interview is that he seems to know who they want to keep and seem to have a plan to build a winning roster. There is hope…
Renato Afonso says
True. We need to see him more to know if he’s useful or not.
-“Right amount of young players?” Maybe I’m in the minority, but I have no idea what to expect from this young core. In my eyes, this past season was basically a waste. Last season’s goal was to keep the top 3 protected draft pick, which translates to “lose as much as possible”. I viewed the player stats of 2015 – 2016 season basically the same way many view player stats during 4th quarter garbage time when your team is down by 40 with 5 mins to go.
– 2016 – 2017 not only brings hope, but expectations. Such as player development, a winning culture and…winning games. Yes I said it, WINNING GAMES. How many wins will this team need next season to be considered “successful” will probably vary widely. However I believe NO ONE will consider a season with a win total anywhere near this past season a success.
– No clue if the team adds more youth (Jim may be working on his poker face), trades the pick, or signs one or two top free agents.
– Regardless of what they do, for the record, I’ll be disappointed if the bottom line turns out to be less than 30 wins. The Lakers have only “accomplished” that feat five times in their history, three times in the last three seasons.
– I don’t want to see that record extended to four seasons.
Renato, I’m pretty sure Clarkson is a free agent.
so Jim means it now? how are we supposed to know when he means it and when he does not?
Renato Afonso says
He is a RFA and I’m assuming the Lakers make him an offer that he will accept.
BCS: Agreed — last year was a waste because the team went into tank mode by December. Player development fell down the priority list and managing for losses became the driving factor. That’s over now. The hiring of a Luke means that this year is all about real progress and trying to win.
As much as I dislike Jim for cratering the organization, he has only recently began getting criticized in the national media for the issues surrounding the last three years. The Lakers mystique and Kobe’s retirement did in fact dull the senses of the masses
However, I think its universally accepted that there are no more free passes. There are no excuses from here on out, there is no place to hide. The FO will now be judged like all FOs are: on wins and losses.
If the Lakers keep the pick and can’t upgrade via trade or free agency then next year’s team will have a 30 win ceiling. If they can add a free agent or two then the ceiling in much higher. However, I can’t imagine a makeover that gets them above 40 wins.
I didn’t think Brown had a bad season really. His numbers didn’t exactly pop out at you but when he was on the court the team played better defense and he always seemed to be a net positive on his +/- stat. I think more consistency will come with more consistent time. I also really liked Nance this year for playing defense. Guys like Randle and Russell might be more talented but Nance played 2way ball which does matter. I also expect Nance to be more athletic next year after being healthy for a year recovering from injury.
There are several important take-aways from the Jim Buss interview with Eric Pincus.
1) There is a definite, indentifiable core of at least 5 players — Clarkson, Russell, Randle, Nance, Jr., and Lou Williams — whom the Lakers will retain and, for the foreseeable future, build on. This is not a bad thing. Four of those 5 players are quite young. And retaining them provides a degree of certainty and hope for the future which FAs will want to see. (Compare having a core to the previous years when they had none.)
2) I sense that, based on the above comments, Tarik Black may be a keeper, at least for now. Marcelo, however may be a bit on the bubble. Notice the double qualifications in Jim Buss’s comments on Marcelo. “I think in the right system he might be a good fit.” The good news about Marcelo is that he is the team’s best player at running an offense. The bad news is his age (he turns 33 on May 25) and his defensive liabilities. Perhaps a better option as a back-up PG might be someone like T.J. McConnell of the Philadelphia 76ers who just turned 24, is very intense defensively, played as an undrafted rookie out of Arizona last year, and averaged 6.1 ppg, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game in 19:41 over 81 games. In any event, if Black is indeed retained, then the “core” will be at least 6 players going forward. Black is one of the young guys. He’ll turn 25 on November 22.
3) I agree that not mentioning Anthony Brown may simply have been an oversight. He’s the only young player that the Lakers have right now at the 3 position. The other two — Nick Young and Metta World Peace — may not even be with the Lakers next year. I think the jury is still out on Brown. This last year, his defense was excellent. But his shooting was atrocious (although it was decent in college). If he can start making his shots, he could be part of the rotation. Other
wise, he’ll be easily expendable.
4) The Lakers probably don’t want to keep too many young guys. (Mitch has gone on record before that having too many young players is not ideal.) They have a new head coach in Luke Walton and they’re going to want to maximize his chances for success. Also, they may simply be sick and tired of losing. So, do they keep their forthcoming draft pick(s) or not? It’s obviously too early to tell. But it seems reasonable to assume that they’ll gladly entertain any phone calls for possible trades. I do not, however, expect them to be trading any of their core players, especially the young guys (Clarkson, Russell, Randle, and Nance, Jr.). They’ll probably want to see how they develop. At their ages, exponential growth could happen over the summer. The Lakers, I believe, will want to see if their investments pan out or not.
Imo the part about the draft and the pick and the right amount of young players should not be over analyzed. They are two different thought process moving forward this summer. One: without the top 3 (our current situation) a second with the top 3 pick. If Jim said well the top pick is an important part of what we will do this summer and the lakers don’t Land it then it’s à disaster. Saying we have enough (not we dont need anymore youth) he puts less pressure on the lottery.
Barath Sundar says
An interesting point regarding ezeli and Barnes : Jim and Mitch are supposed to have shared free agent targets with Luke when he interviewed
It might have been super awkward and close to tampering if they had shared either name.
So perhaps they aren’t the first targets shared, or Mitch might target them without briefing Luke .
It’s also possible they only shared the kind of player targeted, but that wasn’t the impression I got ..
Edit : I think this went to the wrong thread, was reading a different one where folks were talking ezeli, Barnes.. No idea how to change the post a comment is made to..
Is this moderate able ?