Since the exit of the former management team of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the Los Angeles Lakers have made confident and gradual strides in the right direction.
Coming out of the doldrums, majority controlling owner Jeanie Buss made the big move to hire Hall of Fame basketball legend and business mogul, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson to be President of Basketball Operations in an attempt to revive the Lakers dynasty.
Three lottery picks in three seasons. Multiple trades and signings. Three seasons into the hire of coach Luke Walton, the Lakers emerged looking better than it was the past five years. Of course, the Lakers are not the Championship favorites yet. However, it is hard to deny that the Lakers are heading in the right direction towards being a legitimate contender to the trophy. Here are a number of strong reasons why the Lakers are going to surprise many people in the coming season:
1. Pedigree Management
If there is any team that knows winning, it has to be the Lakers. One of the winningest franchises in the NBA, the management includes personnel who have Championship experiences. Majority controlling owner, Jeanie Buss, is the daughter of the late Doctor Jerry Buss, who assembled the Championship teams that brought Lakers their numerous Larry O'Brien trophies.
Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, is synonymous with fame, amazing basketball talent, All-Star celebrity status and his heroics both on the court winning five Championships as well as his billionaire businessman career. Rob Pelinka, the general manager, was the agent of the Laker legend, Kobe Bryant and is all too familiar with what it takes for Championship hard work. He himself was an NCAA Champion with the Michigan Wolverines. With such a pedigree in the front office, one can only expect nothing but the best for the Lakers future.
2. Underrated Team
Inexperience, lack of playoff experience and unpolished talents were some common observations made by naysayers. The betting companies gave slightly higher odds for the Lakers making the playoffs but most of them planted the Lakers win-loss count at 45-37. Some analyst proclaims that the Lakers will have a hard time dealing with the erratic temperamental new players and that Luke will be fired after a season of dismay. Even NBA 2K gave less than ideal ratings for the Lakers players in their game ranking.
From Lance Stephenson to Rajon Rondo to Kyle Kuzma or even Michael Beasley, the type of players on the Lakers roster are not the exact type of players that you want to throw doubts and trash talk at, for that definitely do not sit well with them and you can expect a return of favour on the court showing their true potential. It awaits to be seen how the mesh-work of players can collectively put that fire into good use on the court.
3. Young and Dangerous
Lonzo Ball is a transcendent talent who gave Lakers the spark last season. If you look beyond the LaVar Ball circus, Lonzo's court awareness, ball distribution, playmaking and defensive prowess gave the Lakers a chance last season to stay competitive. The Lakers win ratio was a notch higher with him on the floor. The main Achilles' heel for him will be his poor shooting that has to change in order for him to command more attention and draw defenses. Josh Hart brings the defensive intensity of a tough-headed bulldog that locks down assignment and switch with ferocity, providing additional firepower and distribution as we saw in the last stretch of the season and during the Vegas Summer League. Kyle Kuzma has the makings of a star in his rookie year, producing high levels of offense and often the proud recipient of many of Lonzo's laser dishes. He is a rare rookie talent who brought back the proprietary Lakers baby hook, running hook and jump hook shots through hard work practice.
With the new addition of rookies this season, our number 25th pick, Moritz Wagner, and 47th pick, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, showed their range and defensive ability in Summer League. The hustle intensity and loud communication style of Moritz can provide some help under the basket helping to keep guards from being blind sighted on defense. Sviatoslav showed flashes of a quick shooter who can be inserted from time to time to give starters some rest, yet provide some buckets. If they are not used as trading pieces, they would be stable bench players whom the Lakers can develop and grow further.
4. Fast Break Leader
Last season, the Lakers consistently rank top few in pace and transition points. Thanks to the vast court vision, pinpoint accuracy in passing and super fast lops from Lonzo Ball, the Lakers were able to move fluidly without the ball and faster than opponents can call on the defense. With a veteran point guard like Rajon Rondo mentoring Lonzo Ball this season, the ceiling is definitely unlimited for Lonzo to be even better in pushing the pace.
Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have been meticulous and deliberate in picking veterans who have a great shape and fitness. This is crucial as the young stars are fast and the Lakers want to play ShowTime 2.0 basketball, which means the faster pace and speedier offense. With the physically fit roster and everyone capable to running coast to coast, fast break is a free-play of any permutation possible. Even the bigs like JaVale McGee and LeBron James can run the floor as fast as anybody. One can only wonder how exciting Lakers ShowTime 2.0 can be to watch.
5. Close Games and Game Closers
The Lakers record was 35-47 in regular season. Ever since the hire of Luke Walton and a series of player movement, the Lakers have been on an upward trajectory. Of the lost games, a good ten to 15 games were well within reach of single-digit differentials. Some games slipped away because of overtime sloppy plays while others diminished due to a lack of closers or buzzer-beating shot-takers. There was no definitive alpha dog in the roster then. But now, with the King in the house, the Lakers can have more certainty of who can take the shot or who will be assigned by the King to take the open shot. With such adjustments, the win column can easily edge up by ten games.
6. Winning in the DNA
Little is mentioned by the media but the Lakers rosters contains more winning DNA that pundits give them credit for.
For a start, three veterans are Champions, namely: LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. So for sure there are multiple players who can share with the young guns what it means to be a winner and how to respond and conduct yourself during critical moments. Crunch time psychology and stability in performance can greatly benefit with not one, not two but three wise mentors around in the locker room.
Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are respective Vegas Summer League Most Valuable Players for 2017 and 2018. Brandon Ingram was part of the highly coveted Duke program under legendary winning college coach Mike Krzyzewski. As elite a player he is, Brandon was also the High School Championship Most Valuable Player. Kyle Kuzma impressed everyone coming from a late 27th pick in 2017 to win the Summer League Finals Most Valuable Player. He credits his winning ways to Mamba Mentality, how pure a Laker can he get? LeBron deserves honorary mention, being the league's Most Valuable Player for four times and three-time Finals Most Valuable Player.
All these means that the roster is full of positive, world-class work ethic and attitudes. The atmosphere in the Lakers is one that is transformational and awaiting to erupt in greatness once the pieces and system get well oiled.
7. Even Role Players Are Slogging Their Offseason
If you are a frequent follower of NBA on social media, you will find many footages of Lakers players working out, polishing their skills and displaying their offseason hard work. Lance Stephenson is perhaps one of the most prominent, taking to Twitter to announce his daily exploits at a local gymnasium, court or weight room. Young guns like Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are also not shy to let the world know of their workouts. Most recently, LeBron James flashed his ripped body in weight training as well as his first shooting session with his young teammates wearing a Lakers uniform. Rajon Rondo was quick to hit the film room to request for past Lakers tapes to start breaking down tendencies and analyzing for ways to integrate plays. As you can tell, every Laker down to the last bench is trying to get set for the season, be it openly or privately. If this is any indication, next season is going to be lit.
8. LeBron James
Need we say more? The name speaks for himself. Arguably the best player in the world right now, the package that LeBron brings to the table gives any NBA team an instant playoff ticket.
Mentally, LeBron is a savant on the court, fortifying the team's mental strength. The Championship mindset and knowledge that LeBron carries is a valuable asset that can help everyone in a team get better. His amazing basketball IQ and court awareness will provide everyone with a better flow during the game, with additional production and efficiency. Just his leadership presence in the locker room, during huddles or in the heat of a battle, is sufficient to bring everyone to the same level as a team. LeBron's ability to read opponent plays will push the assist department a notch higher, with many players netting higher percentage shots.
Physically, LeBron's athleticism and conditioning, armed with his freakish bulk and power, will easily create mismatches that can favor Luke's offensive and defensive strategies. Opponents will have to think twice before double or triple teaming anyone on the court with such a formidable player who can guard one through five positions efficiently.
Emotionally, LeBron's stoic persona with appropriate camaraderie dosages can help to gel all the exotic personalities of this new Lakers roster. Proven through his past three teams, LeBron will squeeze the most out of all his players and synergize as much as the team can produce. Like an anchor for a speedboat, LeBron can hold the fort and stabilize this league-leading fast-paced ShowTime 2.0 Lakers team.