About Last year: 17-65
Last year was Kobe's farewell tour, and though it ended in a truly incredible fashion, overall it was miserable. Kobe was literally one of the worst players in the NBA, and his play combined with some questionable coaching decisions from Tank Commander Byron Scott made it seem as though some of the younger guys were being held back a bit. The team lost a lot of games, but looking through all of the brick laying, stupid Byron quotes, and cell phone drama, you will see there is some nice stuff to glean.
D'Angelo Russell may not have had the awesome sort of rookie season some of his counterparts had, but almost all rookie point guards struggle and they don't have to deal with a lot the same stuff he did. He showed flashes of brilliance when he was allowed to, and I personally am as high on him as any other rookie from last year.
Jordan Clarkson had another nice season, Larry Nance Jr. actually looks like a nice piece now, and Julius Randle looked raw but has some real tools to work with. I'm not going to rail on Kobe too much, but I can't help but wonder how much more hype there would be around these young players if that circus was not going on last year.
The Lakers had an interesting offseason, to say the least. Drafting Brandon Ingram is mostly a dream come true for the organization as he is as much of a blue chip prospect as you will get. They re-signed Jordan Clarkson to a really great deal, as well as Tarik Black.
HOWEVA, they also signed Timofey Mozgov to a 4 year $64 million deal, and Luol Deng to a 4 year $72 million deal. Those deals are not as puzzling as a lot of people made them out to be, but they certainly don't seem to be the most ideal things, with the biggest question being why they are so long. (Paying Luol Deng $18 million at age 34 doesn't seem ideal).
They then finished off the odd offseason by signing Yi Jianlian, which I actually love and am rooting like hell for him.
Quite possibly the best move the Lakers made was firing Byron Scott, they could have replaced him with a potato and it would be a good move, and Luke Walton actually appears as though he should be good, but time will tell there. The biggest change to the team, of course, is that Kobe will not be there anymore, and as weird as that will be, that is probably for the best of the team at this point.
Thing to watch
D'Angelo Russell had some struggles in his first year, and also showed some very real flashes of brilliance. I said earlier that I am all in on him and I mean it, most point guards struggle in their rookie season, and I see the team really being his this year.
Russell will probably still have turnover issues because he is so young, but people are very likely to suddenly realize that he is as good as any other young guy in the league.
Brandon Ingram vs. the hype
High draft picks always have a lot of hype, but playing in LA and being compared to Kevin Durant more than anyone else adds some extra pressure. I have no clue how he will do, because it is hard to say with such young players, especially one that is skinny as Ingram.
But it will certainly be of great interest, if he looks like a potential superstar the Lakers could officially end the rebuild if he struggles then there will be some serious worry in LA.
Many of the players have already made it clear how much they like Walton and his staff, which isn't saying much considering that Byron Scott was the previous coach. But he is a rookie coach, and one who hasn't coached all that long either, as such, there are all sorts of questions about how he will do.
The general narrative around Walton is that he is a very good basketball mind, and as a former player who seems like a super chill guy I think he will do well. But there are always questions around a new coach, and watching to see how he deals with a young team will be interesting.
Is Mozgov healthy?
One of the reasons that everyone has made fun of the Mozgov deal is because he was largely a bench warmer for the Cavs last year. To all of those people, I would like to remind them that after the previous season people were saying he was going to get maxed out. He had surgery in the offseason and it clearly hurt his game in a big way. If he comes out this year and looks like the same guy he did last year, then that contract could legitimately be a disaster.
HOWEVA, if he instead suddenly is the rim protector that was dubbed the savior of the Cavs season and gave the Warriors trouble in the Finals, that deal will look just fine. This is the biggest question for the upcoming season to me, because there is a wide spectrum where he could end up.
Julius Randle polishing up
Julius Randle looked, at times, like a young Blake Griffin last year. Bullying his way into the paint and dominating fools once he got there. The problem is that he also regularly looked totally lost on defense, and was so left handed dependent it was almost comical.
I don't actually see Blake Griffin as his end goal, but rather I see Thad Young as the ending point for Randle (possibly a better version of Young, but still, that type of player) as a lefty PF who excels in the paint and scores at a high percentage. The thing that needs to happen is that Randle needs to actually score at a high percentage first.
As stated earlier, I'm rooting like hell for him. I spent 2 months in Bejing this past summer, and played a lot of hoops while there, if Jianlian could even be just alright it would be huge for Chinese basketball and that would be great. Also, it is just a fascinating storyline even without my personal connection to it. A draft bust who goes and finds success overseas makes a comeback, its just fun.
Best case scenario for the Lakers?
D'Angelo Russell takes over the team and when he takes over games he is not pulled from the game. Brandon Ingram scores 20ppg even if he is tiny, Julius Randle is more efficient, Timofey Mozgov looks awesome again and there are tons of stories about the great veteran leadership of Deng and Mozgov.
Luke Walton has brilliant management of his young players on and off the court, and is great at tinkering with lineups to make the most of his fairly unique young team, the Lakers only win 29 games, but they look good winning them and they vault over top of the Wolves and Bucks and anyone else in terms of young teams with hype.
Worst case scenario?
All of the young guys that struggled last year didn't struggle because Byron Scott is a moron or Kobe is a ball hog, it's actually because they are not that good. Brandon Ingram is so skinny that he is hurt all the time and not much good when he does see the floor, Jordan Clarkson stares longingly to opposing benches every night thinking of what could have been, and Mozgov is actually hurt forever and is legitimately the worst contract in basketball.
Luke Walton is suspended for selling weed and Nick Young shanks D'Angelo in the locker room at some point, while the Lakers limp to a 15 win season with an impatient fan base.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
- D'Angelo Russell is getting called “Ice Man”
- Timofey Mozgov is among the lead leaders in blocks and general rim protection.
- Nick Young is traded for anything.
- The Lakers lead the NBA in smiles per game, and are the most chill team in the NBA.
- Everyone is like “oh, Luol Deng is actually really good that's right.”
Run for the hills if:
- D'Angelo is the “Ice Man” due to his cold shooting.
- There are multiple locker room altercations.
- Luke Walton is so depressed by the team that he openly smokes weed on the bench.
- Luol Deng and Mozgov are in official “Keep getting them checks” mode.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
- Mozgov is at least pretty good and his deal looks fine by the end of the year.
- D'Angelo Russell has an awesome year.
- Brandon Ingram shoots really well, but struggles to do much else.
- Luke Walton is actually a really good coach and a perfect fit for this team.
- The Lakers come close to winning 30 games.
What do you think? Do you believe in D'Angelo Russell? Let me know! We all get smarter!