Archive for March, 2018

Summer of Decision… Who’s In, Who’s Out and the Lakers’ Bright Future

March 28, 2018

The Lakers are winding their 2017-2018 campaign down and have been eliminated from playoff contention. With teams like San Antonio, Utah and Portland playing out of their minds leading into the post-season, it’s became more and more far-fetched for any team to drop 7 or 8 in a row as the Lakers win 7 or 8 in a row to pull off such a feat. The loss to the Pistons was the nail in the proverbial coffin. Opportunities to beat playoff contenders such as Pelicans, Nuggets and Blazers in the last few weeks also didn’t help their chances. With that being said, the Lakers brass have some decisions to make heading in the off-season. The biggest questions are what kind of team they should be looking to bring back next season? Is this team as constructed a lock of playoff seeding next year? If not, who will complete the puzzle? Who can Lakers bring in that will not stunt the growth of the youth? Let’s take a moment to look at the great and the ugly for each Lakers player.

Lonzo Ball:

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The Great – Lonzo Ball is the epitome of “all eyes on me” as his success in college, the hype surrounding his being the 2nd pick in the draft, his outspoken father and pretty much famous family has thrust him into the limelight. Lonzo has actually surprised in a different way. As most rookies come in struggling to do the other things such as defend and rebound, Lonzo has taken top rankings among point guards in rebounds, steals, blocks and assists. He has pretty much been an all around player who has been making winning plays all season long. The Lakers sputtered to a playoff chance killing 9 game losing streak in his absence. He’s had triple doubles and clutch performances, set records and has garnered the praise of stars players and NBA coaches. He definitely does make his team better and is the key reason the Lakers can play the pace and space game they desire to run.

The Ugly – Nothing summarizes Lonzo’s main issue more than the night that Pelicans players simply backed away from Zo to let him shoot. His shot is wildly inconsistent and it is surprising that this doesn’t affect his ability to have so many assists per game. Some say it’s his form. Others say it will come in time. The coaching staff fully believes that he will develop that shooting touch. Regardless of how you look at it, one can safely say that IF Lonzo is able to start knocking down 30-40% of his threes, 75-80% of his free throws and 40-45% of his field goals, you’re looking at exactly what everyone touted him to be — a transcendent player. One can’t help but be extremely excited about the 2018-2019 season for this big baller.

 

Thomas Bryant:

The Great – Thomas Bryant sits in the shoes of an Andrew Bynum, where he is one of the Lakers’ projects. A stretch big that has proven in the G-league that he can finish at the rim, rebound and provide energy on both ends, we have yet to see Bryant in extensive minutes with the Lakers team. The great for TB is the amount of potential that he possesses.

The Ugly – Not much to say here. The ugly is that, amid all the injuries and call-ups from the G-league, he has yet to log any meaningful minutes so that we can really see what he can do. Time will tell.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope:

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The Great – KCP came in and immediately was a defensive presence for the Lakers, but was very streaky with his shot. His legal battles affected his focus and therefore his numbers. However, late in the season, he has really hit his stride. He’s literally been on fire from the 3-point line and continues to be a pest on the defensive end. He has proven that he can be that Micheal Cooper 3 and D guy. When the Lakers are at full strength, he becomes one more problem that you cannot leave open and an additional passing target for Zo.

The Ugly – One can only hope that he can pick up where he left off this season and we don’t have to wait another 4 or 5 months before he shoots and plays like this next season. Furthermore, with KCP already finishing out a 1-year deal, you have to figure that he’s going to want something more long-term. It won’t be hard to KCP to find that with another team gunning for a championship or seeking to be a contender. Lakers will do well to keep him, but the concern is whether or not he can be patient with the Lakers’ off-season star chase. Not necessarily ugly, but more along the lines of questionable.

 

Alex Caruso:

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The Great – AC Fresh possesses the height and basketball IQ to develop into a very effective backup point guard. When given the green light, he can be a great passer, adept scorer and a decent defender. As a young player, Lakers can still keep him cheaply and maintain a good level of depth at that position. You can probably keep him with the South Bay Lakers another season as he continues to develop.

The Ugly – Not much to report on that end. Obviously if the Lakers get some big name free agents and as the players they do have remain healthy, he may not see many minutes. He’s made some noise and the coaching staff is on notice, but it’s really his to mess up. Let’s see how he works out in the off-season.

 

Luol Deng:

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The Great – Luol’s best asset this season was his attitude. It is reported that he has tried to maintain shape and still be somewhat of a leader to the young guys. He deserves tons of credit for not rocking the boat or affecting the team in spite of a position that any competitor who has once competed at such a high level would dread. In his defense, for some reason his skill set just didn’t mesh with Luke and staff’s pace and space strategy. This doesn’t mean he can’t find his footing in a backup role with a team competing for a championship. We don’t know what kind of player he is at this point as he’s only played 13 minutes this season; however, one can hope the Lakers can reach a buyout to give him an opportunity with a team that can use a serviceable backup small forward.

The Ugly – I only can dream of making thousands of dollars to work 13 minutes. Obviously the ugly here is that he is on this team’s books. That being said, it’s safe to say that the Lakers will be either stretching his salary, trying to trade him (good luck) or trying to reach a buyout. I don’t see any team finding worth in absorbing such a contract, but anything is possible with a little Magic.

 

Tyler Ennis:

The Great – All social media hate aside, Tyler does have some great attributes. His ability to get to the rim and finish is often overlooked. He has shown the potential to go on a run where he’s scoring and drawing fouls. He still does a great job of taking care of the ball.

The Ugly – Ennis does not move the needle when he’s on the court. He remains a defensive liability and doesn’t really facilitate ball movement nor pace. His 3-point shooting is non-threatening. Many times fans like myself have questioned his minutes over players such as Caruso and even Gary Payton II. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t waived, making room for the aforementioned players to see more minutes on the court.

 

Channing Frye:

The Great – Channing Frye hasn’t had a real opportunity with the Lakers as of yet, sitting after an appendectomy and only playing one game prior and a few minutes. What I’ve come to know of Frye is his ability to shoot and be a stretch big. He can go a run scoring at times and is a big defensive body that could be of benefit, provided he is some resemblance of himself at his peak. He has a championship with the Cavs and provides that experience as well.

The Ugly – It’s clear that Cavs unloaded him (not because of the poor shooting game prior to the trade) to get younger. The Lakers also intend to stay young and quick and they have to decide if his shooting and experience is worth keeping him around. Lakers would have to consider a veterans minimum. Because we haven’t seen him in Luke’s system, it’s hard to tell whether or not he can stay in purple and gold.

 

Josh Hart:

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The Great – Josh Hart, after being given the minutes, proved to be a very integral part of this young team. Prior to his hand fracture, he was hitting the three-point shot with regularity, getting the basket and finishing at the rim, pulling down double-digit rebounds and being ferocious on defense. Josh Hart started to create whispers of being a 3 and D guy. He is no doubt going to be a key component of this teams ascent to playoff contention next season. Josh Hart has become vital to the Lakers perimeter defense and could be called on, like KCP, to defend the opposing team’s best player. Lakers fans are salivating at his return along with Brandon Ingram within the next few games to spur a strong season-ending run.

The Ugly – Josh Hart’s early opportunities were hampered with and injury prior to Summer League and as he finally saw those opportunities, he fractured his hand. We have to hope that, like many of these Lakers players, that he’s not fragile and injury prone. When he’s on the court, he is a difference maker. Let’s hope he can stay healthy once he returns.

 

Brandon Ingram:

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The Great – Brandon Ingram followed a slow start shooting and morphed into a player that has at times been unstoppable. With his length, he has great finishing ability. He’s added a very reliable mid-range shot and now the 3-point shot. On top of that, he is one of their defensive leaders. B.I. prior to his injury became the team’s closer. The fact of the matter is the only that stopped him was a groin injury in the blowout against the Miami Heat. He seems poised to take the reigns of this team and lead it back to NBA relevance as he is easily the most complete player on this Lakers team. How can one not be excited about the 2018-2019 campaign for the Humble Beast?

The Ugly – Much like Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, we have to hope that B.I. can stay healthy. The team has seen rare moments altogether and are very dangerous when they are. It’s clear that Brandon Ingram has a very high ceiling and we just want him to be healthy enough to reach it.

 

Kyle Kuzma:

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The Great – Even if he wasn’t (and neither was Magic and Rob for that matter when they drafted him), the NBA world was stunned by the kind of player that Kuz proved to be. Kyle Kuzma possesses a killer instinct and a natural talent that looks seamless. His efforts earned him a dinner with the Black Mamba himself. After shocking the world through Summer League, Pre-season the first part of the season, his shooting took a nosedive. Kuzma still yet continues to have games where he just takes over. Kuzma has a deadly 3-point shot, but also possesses a vast array of moves to the basket. He appears at times to get his own shot anytime he wants. At the request of Luke Walton, he began to develop his defensive ability. It’s clear that, barring a sophomore slump, he is destined to skyrocket into basketball stardom.

The Ugly – Kyle Kuzma is young and will always need some grooming around the edges, but there is hardly anything ugly about Kuzma’s game. He will need to work on deciding when to settle for the open three, when to facilitate and when to get to the basket. This will come with time.

 

Brook Lopez:

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The Great –  Brook Lopez started the season shooting threes… and missing threes. His interior defense was spotty and he appeared to get outplayed by every other big in the league. Somebody finally woke up and remembered that The Wookie made his money down low late this season. Since then he’s become a deadly scorer and works effectively with Randle, creating problems in the post due to his ability to hit the jumper when necessary. His defense and rebounding has picked up and he’s beginning to look more like the All-Star center the Lakers hoped he would be. The Lakers would be hard pressed to find a big that can actually score the ball down low, hit from the perimeter and be an effective big body in the paint. Say what you want about Lopez, but he is one of the most complete centers in the league and Lakers brass would do well to hold on to him.

The Ugly – Brook is also on a 1-year rental. His end of the year resurgence will no doubt make him a hot commodity and I can see a team like the Golden State Warriors requesting his services among many. The Lakers have to consider whether he is the answer to their big man needs or do they look elsewhere. When Brook is on his game and utilized correctly, he is just what they need. Will he wait while the Lakers go star-chasing?  If they are able to bring him back, will this fire remain or will we get back to inconsistency from earlier this season?

 

Gary Payton II

GPII hasn’t really cracked the rotation to show us much about his potential. As another point guard fighting for minutes, I can’t say that I expect him to do anything aside from logging more time the G-league next season if they keep him.

 

Julius Randle

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The Great – PAY THE MAN! Julius Randle had all the fuel and motivation to prove himself this season. It’s a contract year, he was demoted to the bench, his contract wasn’t extended and he was in trade talks all the way up the deadline. All the while Randle continued to score, play defense and make winning plays. Over the last several games, Randle has averaged about a double-double including about 20 points a game. He basically has been able to score on anybody and has everyone wondering if the next perennial Lakers star was right under their nose. Don’t be fooled by the layups as Randle has even hit a few fadeaway shots in the process. He has been a monster on the defensive end and even as he hasn’t quite needed it yet, he is still a mid-range jumpshot away from utter dominance. This off-season, the Lakers have to know that he is going to be a hot commodity. It would be to their benefit to make it a priority to bring him back immediately even as they go star-chasing. There isn’t a superstar free agent out there that wouldn’t want to play alongside such a beast.

The Ugly – Randle still has to work on his jumpshot. However, teams do not have the ability to expose it, because of his great ability to pass out of double teams. That being said, he will need to add that jumpshot just in case he has to use it. Within the current team, players like Brook Lopez can stretch the floor and leave the paint open for him. He also has shooters like Kuz, KCP and Ingram surrounding him. Randle seems to fit in as a part of this Lakers puzzle. Okay, not so ugly, but the most ugliest thing is the fact that the Lakers will have to decide how much they want to put towards The Punisher to keep other teams from swiping him from under their nose.

 

Isaiah Thomas:

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The Great – You gotta love a guy who overcomes adversity time and time again. His ascent to stardom in Boston can never be overlooked. That said, Isaiah Thomas is somewhat of an enigma. Since the trade, he’s had the ability to set up Randle and create a great 1,2 punch. He’s had a few games where he’s heated up and scored at will. We know he put up All-Star numbers two seasons in Boston. He has been dubbed Mr. 4th Quarter because of his ability to light it up in crunch time. He has the drive and motivation needed to compete in L.A. and lead a team. Moreover, he actually WANTS to be a Laker. Finally, on paper, the Lakers have traded for an All-Star and should stop at nothing to keep him in L.A.

The Ugly – Isaiah is… short. Luke and staff wishes to work with position-less players in order to switch on defense. It’s hard to tell whether or not he’s going to return to his peak form as he has struggled to hit shots and even turned the ball over excessively during his time in L.A. Although he’s mentioned that he’s willing to come off the bench, how much is he going to ask for? Are the Lakers willing to forgo an another star in the off-season to take a chance with IT? As he sits out with hip soreness, he has a few more games to convince the Lakers brass to maybe try a 1-year rental and see if the IT experiment works. IT represents a potential high risk high reward situation.

 

Travis Wear:

The Great – Who knew!? Travis Wear at 6’10 can stretch the floor and play pretty good defense. After a stint in the G-league, Travis was called up and played his way into a contract. His deadeye 3-point shooting at his height fits in with the Lakers goal to have position-less players. It may be a small sample size, but Wear can easily squirm his way into another year with the Lakers coming off the bench and into the rotation. Let’s be honest. If you’re tall enough, can shoot and play defense — you got this!

The Ugly – Obviously this is only a few games, but nothing really ugly to report here. The Lakers will have to decide if he has turned a corner and can continue to provide that scoring punch off the bench. I didn’t care for him during Summer League and Pre-season, but let’s see what he can do the close out this season. We may have yet another hidden treasure.

 

Ivica Zubac:

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The Great – Ivica Zubac is still a huge ball of potential. We saw flashes towards the end of last season. He can block shots and finish at the rim pretty effectively.

The Ugly – Nobody to this day knows what happened to Zu after the end of the season. He had a lackluster Summer League and Pre-season. He then proceeded to remain on the bench during the season. Perhaps Luke’s system has him odd man out. Perhaps he’s too slow. Perhaps he’s in his own head. Either way, he failed to capitalize on what appeared to be a promising start. Do you keep him or do you make space and move on to Thomas Bryant? He’s still very young. The Lakers have a team option on Zu… and it doesn’t look good.

 

The Lakers will have some decisions to make. Do you bring back all the key players and try to make a run next season? Do you sign one max player…. or two max players? Do you go for LeBron or do you get PG? Do you resign IT, KCP and Brook? How much do you pay? Who’s willing to take a pay cut? Is this team a playoff contender next season as is?

In my opinion I can safely say that this team fully healthy is a lock for the 2nd round next season. The Lakers boast guys who can create their own shot in Kuz, B.I., Randle and KCP. They boast stretch bigs like Kuz, Lopez and B.I. They boast paint dwellers like Randle, B.I. when he gets to the basket and Kuz. They boast 3-point shooters Kuz, Lopez, B.I., KCP, Wear and Hart. They also boast defenders such as KCP, Randle, B.I., Zo and Hart. They boast an amazing point guard in Zo who can set up all of these shooters. The Lakers faithful have a reason to be very excited about the future for this team.

Let’s see what Magic and Rob do this summer!