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.