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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!

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Following the Trade Deadline, the Lakers are Right on Schedule

February 11, 2018
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Isaiah Thomas chomping at the bit to get in and play with his new team. He scored 22 points and dished out 6 assists in his debut.

Since the headline-grabbing Lakers regime change midway through last season, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have not made too many head-scratching decisions if any. It seems that everything they’ve done has inched the Lakers closer to relevance. The Lakers under the coaching staff lead by Luke Walton stayed the course amid media and fan criticisms and now find their team in a position where LOSING is not the norm. Since early January, the Lakers have gone 12-5 which includes three 4-game winning streaks. The team is clearly a better defensive unit and are buying into ball movement, resulting in victories and an increasing confidence in this still young Lakers team.

Not to be outdone, Magic and Rob managed to pull off a blockbuster trade (eat your heart out Jerry West) by sending Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a 1st round draft pick. With all love to JC and Nance, this was a brilliant move. The Lakers freed up almost 44 million in cap space, which was one of their clear goals this season. They got a draft pick which was something they had all but given for nothing years ago in the Steve Nash trade. They picked up an All-Star point guard who helped lead the Celtics to the top of the East just a season ago. They also added shooters who are both on expiring contracts, leaving them with financial flexibility. Let’s not forget that in all this the Lakers are still competitive, have not surrendered their young core AND might have even gotten BETTER.

Did the Lakers get better? In IT’s debut against the Mavericks, he literally picked up where he left off last season scoring 22 points after barely averaging 15 in Cleveland. Luke’s offense? Possibly. The Lakers as a unit just all but gave that game away through lackluster defense and not giving a young and hungry Dallas team led by an All-Star veteran in Dirk Nowitski the respect they deserve. Loss notwithstanding, they showed flashes of what a knockdown shooter and elite playmaker like IT does for this team. The question is whether the Lakers can adjust to IT’s defensive shortcomings. Will they still continue to switch on defense which has worked so well for them up to this point? Dallas wisely exposed that last night. That is a moderate issue when you again consider the sample size in Boston who finished the season 53-29. Sounds like defense was not an issue.

Let’s be completely honest, Luke Walton and staff will have this team on the same page and they will have this much improved Lakers team competing at an even higher level and preparing for the return of Lonzo Ball. There is no denying that the Lakers got a major upgrade offensively. Lonzo Ball will also even the scales defensively upon his return.

There will obviously be a minor adjustment period for rotations and such, but it appears that Isaiah will eventually have to start alongside Lonzo Ball. Brandon Ingram and Juilus Randle are a lock to start as well as Brook Lopez. Is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming off the bench? That sounds like the best move. Look for Alex Caruso and Corey Brewer to scale back on minutes as KCP assumes the Jordan Clarkson role as 1st off the bench. The Lakers will have plenty of flexibility to go big should teams become successful exposing IT on defense. The Lakers brass has put this team in perfect position to fight for that 8th seed while preparing to make some noise in the off-season with their newfound cap space.

It’s a very exciting time in Tinseltown as the Lakers continue to get on the fast-track back to championship glory. Stay tuned, Lakers fans.

Lakers Optimist out!

 

Are the Kids Alright…or Being Shipped out? Trade Talks and the Trade Deadline in Lakertown

January 29, 2018
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Lakers are reportedly shopping Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson as the trade deadline is one week away.

The Lakers are 19-30 after 49 games. And although that seems extremely shabby, the Lakers have gone 8-3 in their last 11 games, to include two 4-game winning streaks. The latter of 4 game winning streaks came with Lonzo Ball out with MCL sprain. The Lakers are somewhat turning a corner. They are learning to play defense and to move the ball. More importantly — they are WINNING GAMES at an efficient rate and winning makes everything better…right?

Even as the Lakers begin to fulfill Kyle Kuzma’s promise to “figure it out”, the trade deadline is a week away. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. are all on the trading block as the Lakers look to clear up cap space to sign as many max players as possible. Recently, Detroit was rumored to have discussed sending Avery Bradley to Tinseltown in exchange for our very own JC. Amid all this, Julius Randle has flourished in his starting role, returning to the double-double machine he was expected to be and more! He has proven to be a threat on the block and very formidable in the paint on defense. At times, it seems nobody can stop Randle. Jordan Clarkson has become instant offense and has even willed the Lakers to victories during this impressive 11 game stretch. Larry Nance Jr. has been defensively locked in and still has kept his stellar 50-plus shooting percentage while creating whispers of competing in this year’s Slam Dunk contest. These guys have been with the Lakers during the dark times, and even with the Ingram-Kuz-Ball big three, still figure to be a key component of a future championship Lakers team.

Questions are raised from this current situation:

1. How much is a non-guaranteed max player signing worth? Let’s face it. With all the hoopla about Lebron James having much of his life in Los Angeles (which doesn’t rule out the Clippers), Paul George wanting to be Laker come hell or high water (comments about Westbook changing his mind notwithstanding) and plans to go after Demarcus Cousins (Get well soon, Boogie), nothing is guaranteed. The Lakers have players that have proven to have a key role in this team returning to greatness and providing a strong supporting cast to a developing big 3 in Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. It’s clear that losing Clarkson and or Randle will no doubt diminish this teams’ ability to win games, and they do not have any draft pick to hang their hat on. So, assuming PG stays in OKC, Bron-Bron wants to retire in Cleveland or elsewhere and any other highly coveted star does not come to the Lakers and they strike out, they want to have a quality team to build upon. Is trading Clarkson, Randle or Nance worth the risk of coming away with nothing, and being a worse team?

2. Is this team worth standing pat at the trade deadline and seeing how well they can actually play when Zo returns? The last question assumes that this Lakers team as is can truly become a playoff contender next season with another year under their belt. This team features the aforementioned big 3 and supporting cast. This team as it stands has two weaknesses, 3-point shooters and a dominant center. With that being said, when this team returns to full health, they have proven that they can compete with anyone when they are playing defense and moving the ball. They are a better defensive and rebounding team when Lonzo is on the court. Being that they’ve learned how to dominate without Ball suggests that they (minor adjustment to the rotation time included) will be even better once he returns. Being that the Lakers want to attract free agents, gutting your team for cap space and sputtering into the end of the season won’t attract anyone. So, keeping this team as is and showing improvement to the tune of 30-40 wins can create some curiosity among max free agents. Let’s be honest, the Lakers possess players that at one point or another can take over a game in Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. Wisely enough, the Lakers had Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on 1 year deals and will potentially have space in the off-season to sign a center that can deliver on defense and athleticism and a true 3 and D guy. So the Lakers brass have to decide if it’s simply better to just (as much as Lakers fans hate this) wait and see…

Pushing my attachment to players aside and in the most unbiased way possible, I really think the Lakers need to wait. Coach Luke Walton has this team playing the right way. Furthermore, there are no players (that a team is willing to offer) that can dramatically upgrade this Lakers team in exchange for 3 loyal Lakers players who are playing very well. With the exception of Nance (who no team will take without an additional player anyway), trading any of these players would suggest waving a white flag on the season, thus gutting the roster and really putting pressure on Magic and Rob to hit the lotto in the off-season. The Lakers have a clear path and formula. They are literally 2 pieces away. In no way am I suggesting that the Lakers are fine the way they are. I am suggesting that they will be in a better position to pick up that max player with JC, Randle and Nance than they would be without.

In the next week we will find out if cap space is worth the risk of the class of 2014 and our future dunk champion (I speak it into existence). Stay tuned Lakers fans!

Lakers Optimist out.

 

It’s Come to This? Trades, Noise and Luke.

January 12, 2018

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Okay, Lakers fans, welcome to another episode in the drama that is the Los Angeles Lakers. As the Lakers breathed a 2 second sigh of relief upon snapping a 9 game losing streak against the hapless Atlanta Hawks and then followed it up with a sound beating of the Sacramento Kings, headlines and rumors are at an all time high. Players are rumored to be on the trading block, fans are panicking and Luke Walton has gone from savior to scapegoat only 40 games into the season.

At 13-27, it’s not unreasonable for the Lakers brass to be looking at what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not unreasonable for Lakers fans to wonder if there is something that could have been done better up to this point. It’s not unreasonable for players to question their job security. It’s not unreasonable for media to dismiss this as another lost season for a young team trying to find its way.  Lastly, it’s not unreasonable for the rumor mill and the “white noise” as Lakers players call it, to ensue.

With all this going on, it’s important to sort through the real, the noise and what remains to be seen. This is what we will take a look at briefly.

The Lakers are currently expected to be big players in the trade market. Why? The biggest reason is because of the desire to maintain as much salary as possible to pick up top-tier free agents. With that being said, anybody who is not a game-changer and is tying up this money is a trade target. Unfortunately, Jordan Clarkson is at the top of the list. Knowing that he alone would not be as appetizing, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. have also been placed on the trading block as well. I am notorious for getting attached to players that started their career with the Lakers and have endured the rough times (I still shed a tear when I think about Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Elden Campbell). Having said that, in order to get over the hump, the Lakers may have to make these tough decisions which involve sending some of our favorites off. Clarkson has proven to be a potential spark off the bench. Perhaps given a real opportunity, he could start at the 2 on another team. He would have owned that spot if not for the signing of KCP. Julius Randle has made a strong case for keeping him as a part of the Lakers future plans by his play over the last few games as a starter. By virtue of Brook Lopez’s ability to stretch the floor, big men have to stay out of the paint, leaving Julius a flimsy 4 to try to stop him. Larry Nance Jr. still stays in the glue guy roll and is very talented at rebounding and defense, but offensively still has not given much in the way of consistency outside of finishing ally-oops and putback dunks.

Magic and Rob would love to get better right away; however, cap space takes precedence at this point. With that in mind, I still don’t expect them to tamper with the team too much or even give up any of these guys without getting something beneficial in return. This is all speculation. The Lakers know they need shooting. That is the one thing that would open it up for them. I personally feel they still have a need at center until I see Brook Lopez do what he’s done over the last two games consistently. Brook should be an easy 18-20 points and 2-3 blocks per game or we look elsewhere.

What are we going to do with all the noise? LaVar, the media and the impatient Lakers fans are all yelling at fever pitch and this young team has to deal with this on a regular basis. Lonzo comes with all the Ball-isms, his father is very outspoken and the media loves it. The media plays up every single good or bad move that Lonzo makes. The team had a team meeting and that was taken out of proportion. Fans and pundits are going for Luke Walton’s head on a stick as the Lakers struggle to get wins. Fortunately for this Lakers team, they are stable. Jeanie is confident in Magic and Rob. Jeanie, Magic and Rob are confident in Luke. Luke is confident in his management and his team. Therefore his team is confident. The unanimous team message is to ignore all the white noise. For a moment, at least, the Lakers have done that and soundly beat two lowly teams and seem poised to plug along.

Luke Walton is a coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. Many have tried and many have failed to handle the lights, glamour and the pressure of the “win-now” atmosphere of Tinseltown. Here lies the graves of Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni (no love for Mikes, huh?) and Byron Scott who became L.A.’s most hated after trying to Phil some big shoes. Luke Walton is easily one of the most liked Lakers and people you’ve ever met. With the honeymoon period over, Lakers fans have now become extremely picky to a fault. As the Lakers are in the midst of a losing season, everything Luke’s done has come into question. I’ve seen tweets that will nitpick each and every player rotation. I’ve seen “Fire Luke” tweets on several occasions. But are these statements fair?

I’ve always said that a coach can be measured by their ability to get the most out of a team lacking talent and to get a talented team over the hump. We’ve seen Luke take a talented team to 24-0 (and NO that’s not something that ANYBODY could do with a team like Golden State). Does Luke have a talented team? Yes and no. They are talented, but young. Luke is coaching a team that are actually carrying out what he is teaching, but are still learning how to do it for 48 minutes. Many of the issues this team has are very normal for a young team. As Kyle Kuzma has said, Luke isn’t the one missing free throws (which is the largest reason they’ve lost quite a few games this season). Luke isn’t turning the ball over and many of these are just bonehead plays. Luke also isn’t giving up offensive rebounds. So for that, Luke cannot and should not be blamed. This young team will start to fix those issues and start to turn those losses into wins.

Luke’s issue up to now has been the inability to settle on a rotation. Is this a reason to fire Luke? Of course not! If you’re losing games, you can either stick with this unit until they get better or scrap it until you find a group that actually wins games. As of today, Luke has stuck with a rotation that has won 2 straight. I have no doubt that if they win or compete well tonight, he will stick with this rotation. Also, at full strength, it now becomes easier to finalize a rotation. Furthermore, let’s be honest here, Luke is also a 2nd year coach. Many people with credibility from Steve Kerr to Greg Poppovich to Kobe Bryant have stated that he can and will become a great NBA coach. You have to believe that as his young team grows, this young coach will also grow and this team will be dangerous.

So in true Lakers Optimist fashion, I remind LakersNation to look at this season, team and organization a little differently — with patience. This year is very different. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram will be your next big 3. Luke Walton will be your next great coach and parades and banners are really closer than you think.

Lakers Optimist out.

 

Lakers: What’s Right, What’s Wrong and What’s Questionable.

December 29, 2017

We are now 33 games into the season and the Los Angeles Lakers are 11-22. They have sustained a rough stretch in which they’ve gone 6-17 since their 5-5 start. What’s more, they’ve faced a 6th man that not many teams can beat- injuries. Nance sat out games with an injury before returning, Lopez sustained a severe ankle sprain that has him sidelined for a few weeks. Lonzo has a shoulder sprain that is to be reevaluated next week. Ingram sat out two games with a quad injury and Kuz is a game time decision with a injury. The Lakers are in a pivotal stretch that can either result in yet another flat season or become a moment where Lakers show resiliency and end up vying for the 8th spot. 

Let’s take a moment to examine what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s questionable in Tinsel town.

What’s Right: The kids are getting it. Lonzo Ball started off doing everything but scoring. He has been pulling down about 8 boards a game, dishing out 8 assists and swatting and stealing 1 a piece. His point production and shooting percentage was dismal early. Lately he’s been hitting, especially from three at about a 40% clip. His game has proven necessary as he is the calming force and the driving force that pushes the fast pace that Luke wants. Kyle Kuzma has simply seemed unstoppable, posting 30 point outings twice in the past week and even dropped a career high 38 in a recent game. His ability to create and out right score has caught the attention of media, coaches and the Black Mamba himself. Brandon Ingram is taking, and making, clutch shots and at 16 a game is becoming the player Magic and company believes he could be. His insane ability to get into the paint and draw fouls has CJ McCollum saying he’s gonna be a problem. Led by these guys, the Lakers have a bright future and a definite big 3 in the making. Supporting cast, Clarkson and Randle have made huge bench contributions. Kentavious Caldwell Pope continues to anchor the defense and can help when hot from 3. Nance has consistently proven to be a glue guy, defender, rebounder and highlight reel. 

The Lakers at one point was a top 10 defense and continues to push the pace in transition. They have gone toe to toe with elite teams and recently spanked the Houston Rockets. In spite of their 11-22 record, the coaching staff have enough confidence to change their focus from simply learning how to play right to actually winning games. The mentality is of a team that expects to win and for good reason.

What’s Wrong: The Lakers still have issues that are standard with young teams. They make horrible mistakes down the stretch and have coughed up close games several times this season. Many losses have come in the closing minutes. The team struggles with turnovers, especially in crucial moments. New and even more disturbing is the Lakers inability to hit free throws. It seems that minor fixes can easily make this team a threat over the next several games; however, the young Lakers have also tended to play down to the level of their opponent. They will play Golden State into an overtime battle and then drop a clunker against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. 

With salary cap status an obvious focus for the Lakers brass, the notorious names Clarkson and Randle have once again resurfaced as the February trade deadline looms. We can safely say that this roster may not be the same after February. For the kids this is a distraction and cannot be overlooked as another “bad”. 

What’s Questionable: Don’t get it twisted. I’m not jumping on the “fire Luke Walton” bandwagon by any stretch. Anybody watching the games can see a severe inconsistency in the game to game rotations, however. What’s more, we know it’s being partially done intentionally because he’s said so and also has highlighted the search for the right combination on the court. Case in point, Julius Randle can either enter the game early in the 1st quarter, or late in the 2nd. Same with Nance. Some guys don’t even play full games after coming off the bench the game before. Starters have been roughly consistent prior to injury and the emergence of Kuzma. The issue is clear. Maybe I don’t know much, but a rotation should be set no matter what to build chemistry which the Lakers lack. The fact that he openly highlights an enjoyment of tinkering with the rotations is a little disconcerting. We’ve got to assume that eventually they’ll have a set rotation following the trade deadline. They have quite a bit of talent, and the question is can Luke effectively integrate them all. Until then, this is questionable. 

Something else questionable is the erratic shooting of KCP. Kentavious has become the epitome of, “No! No! No! Yes!” as he’s been streaky and has hit timely shots. His defense is invaluable, but when he’s cold and continues to jack up awful shots, this becomes questionable. Also questionable is the management of Randle. It seems that he is in someone’s dog house. His minutes are obscenely low for someone so effective in the paint and with such game-changing ability. So is he not fitting in the Lakers future plans and therefore being phased out? Time will tell, but this is also questionable. 

Overall, the Lakers are in a good place. The core is developing quite nicely and the team is exciting and competing every night. As they start to get their guys back, particularly Lonzo Ball, and the schedule gets a little bit easier (not playing championship contenders back-to-back) I can see them starting to rack up more wins. Losses to Blazers and Grizzlies recently are pull-out-your-hair frustrating, but they’ll learn to win as the season progresses.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans! This is gonna get interesting…

What We’ve Learned about the Lakers After 3 Games

October 26, 2017

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The Lakers have had a very eventful and promising off-season, Summer League and preseason. The New-era Lakers hype train has taken off at full speed and the expectations, albeit tempered, have reached meteoric heights.

For those who may have been under a rock, let me give you a recap. Magic and Rob replaced Kupchak and Jimmy. Lakers drafted highly-touted UCLA star Lonzo Ball. He became the biggest out-of-college celebrity to never play an NBA game. Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell for Brook Lopez and a 27th pick. They signed young defensive stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Lakers young guns took the Summer League Championship. Lonzo won MVP and 27th draft pick Kyle Kuzma won the Summer League Championship game MVP and averaged over 20 points a game. The hype continued to build in spite of a lukewarm preseason and now here we are three games in. People are already talking, and because it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, everything is magnified.

The Lakers laid an egg in the season-opener, got bounced around in the paint by Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan and the Clippers. Patrick Beverly gave Lonzo Ball an official rookie hazing and trial by fire, holding him to 3 points and basically bullied him up and down the court. Even so, Ball pulled down 9 rebounds and even had a steal and a block. Lopez opened with a 20 point game and Clarkson continued to be steady off the bench with 18 points. Nance had an impressive debut with a double double.

The Lakers were able to turnaround and pull out a win against the Suns. Lonzo made up for his debatable opening night failure with a near triple double. He had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. This game saw Brandon Ingram breakout to a career high 25 points. Clarkson, Lopez and Nance stayed consistent.

The third game of the season featured the debut of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who did not disappoint with 20 points 2 steals and a block. Kuzma broke out with 20 points and Clarkson was business as usual with 24 points. The Lakers lost this one by 7, but almost pulled off an improbable comeback after trailing by as many as 22. Lonzo Ball had an off shooting night, but the statsheet stuffer still dished out 13 assists and had 8 rebounds.

The Lakers sit at 1-2. Fans and media have weighed in (because I suppose they have to) on everything from whether Lonzo is legit to whether Randle is just trade bait or a great player figuring things out.

So, even though it’s early. What have we learned?

Jordan Clarkson is STILL the man. Hate it or love it, you cannot deny that Jordan Clarkson is still Mr. Consistent. Even with demotion (which I still take issue with), he has been the most consistent Lakers player ever since he came on the scene. He has started off this season no different. It seems he relishes his role off the bench although one can validly argue that he should start somewhere. His mid-range is money. He can get to the basket and create. He is developing that 3 point shot, and low-key he is starting to be more active on defense.

Kyle Kuzma is destined to get more minutes. Luke has a dilemma of sorts. Kyle Kuzma has not been denied since Summer League. He is officially the steal of the draft. He has a motor like Randle and a jumpshot. He has ups similar to Nance and can create his own shot. It won’t be long before he threatens to takeover the starting spot. Luke knows he has to find major minutes for Kuz, even at the expense of other big men.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is as good as advertised. It’s just one game, but once chemistry develops, KCP will no doubt mesh well with Lonzo Ball. His 20 points and 2 steals will be a huge boost to the Lakers defense. I even may expect KCP to guard Wall in tonight’s game against Washington.

Josh Hart will get more minutes than Ennis. Josh Hart seems to be the next energy guy who will make his presence felt in ways that do not show up on the stats. His rebounding, energy and ability to attack the rim and hit the three puts him ahead of players like Tyler Ennis. The shooting guard position off the bench is still relatively up for grabs and he looks to grab those minutes if he bolsters the defense the way he did against N.O.

Lonzo Ball is going to be great. Lonzo’s ability to affect a game even when he’s not scoring is why he’s going to be a star. When he’s not scoring, he is pulling down 9 rebounds, dishing out 13 assists or getting steals and blocks. The fact that it’s only the third game of the season and he’s almost averaging a triple double is evidence enough. He just needs time. I expect him to move up the learning curve quickly. He has no choice with the NBA coming for his head on a nightly basis.

Chemistry still pending. Relax guys. The Lakers had a preseason without Lopez, without Bogut, without Ball. They started the season without KCP. Then they got him back. Luke is still looking for the right mix of guys that can get results. Sunday’s game shed some light on that. Hopefully they can settle on a rotation that lasts for at least 5 games and develop some chemistry.

The jury is still out on Randle. Julius spent the first 2 games somewhat offended that he had to come off the bench. In the 3rd game, he showed what he can do when he’s engaged. Although Nance has seemed to takeover that starting spot, Randle still can find his stride if he picks up where he left off in the 3rd quarter of the last game. He still needs to find his jumpshot too.

If we throw out the Clippers game where nerves were definitely there, the Lakers actually had some pretty good games. They found their defense in the 2nd half of the Pelicans game, allowing 41 points after giving up 68. What we will be looking for tonight against Washington is if they learned that they should play this way for 48 minutes, and especially at the beginning.

Look for Luke and staff to take notes from the last game and start to develop effective rotations. Look for Ball to make up for a poor shooting night. Look for Brook and Nance to also try to have better games. Also look for continued improvement from Brandon Ingram who still hasn’t been himself yet.

Stay tuned, Lakers fans!

 

What Should We Expect from Each Lakers Player This Season?

August 2, 2017

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The Lakers have made headlines since the middle of the prior season, make some eye-opening moves during the offseason and then proceeded to make Summer League news. With all that in the rearview and training camp on the horizon, Lakers fans are chomping at the bit and looking forward to the new NBA Season. Even before then, fans will be salivating at that first preseason game.

It’s been widely discussed what the expectations of the Lakers as a team are (we’ll leave Charles Barkley’s opinion out of it). The consistent viewpoint is that this team will improve, yet fall short of playoff contention. Vegas odds and CBS Sports have the Lakers finishing with about 36 wins, a 10 game improvement from last season AND two more wins than the temporarily “best in L.A.” Clippers. I just threw that in for the heck of it. Having said all that, what can or should we expect from each Laker on this new-look roster? Let’s take a look at each Laker and discuss what they can and must do to help these Los Angeles Lakers meet and or exceed expectations this season.

 

Brook Lopez

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Brook Lopez averaged about 20 points a game on 47% shooting and shot 34% from beyond the arc last season. He became an official stretch five last season with the Nets. He’s a pretty solid defender and has an array of post moves. The important thing is that the often in times past injury prone Lopez stays healthy. In order to be the first successful big man acquisition since Pau Gasol, he has to be a force offensively. He needs to be a real threat from the three point line and a trustworthy post scorer when called on. He has to be more of a rim protector than Mozgov and Hibbert was. I expect Lopez to be the second or third best distributor on the team by his ability to draw double teams in the post and demanding attention down low. I also expect him to run the floor and be on the receiving end of some great passes by Lonzo Ball. Lopez should easily be the team’s leading shot blocker. Much is riding on Lopez being just as dominant as he was in Brooklyn and not another failed veteran big man experiment.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a defensive-minded scorer who can create his own shot. He also has great finishing skills at the basket. After not being able to score a max contract with Detroit, he was convinced by Magic and Rob to join the purple and gold for an 18 million dollar 1 year deal. My expectations for Caldwell-Pope is to be the Lakers leading scorer and to possibly make strides towards all-star status. His game will only be elevated by Luke’s system and Ball’s pass-first mentality. I also expect him to be an on ball defender taking on the opposing team’s star point guard to take pressure off of Lonzo Ball. He will no doubt lead the team in steals.

 

Loul Deng

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Loul Deng is the remaining player with an unpopular inflated contract. The Lakers were successful in unloading Mozgov to the Nets, but they still have Loul Deng. Coming off an extremely disappointing Lakers debut where he averaged a lackluster 7.8 points a game on 38% shooting, he rarely showed up and was really a nonfactor in many of the games. His performance drew criticisms of fans and media alike. His meager contributions made his albatross of a contract even less appealing. Deng has reportedly been working hard in the off-season and most certainly has a lot of prove to himself, the NBA and the fans. With a year under Luke’s system, Luol will be less lost in the system and become more of a contributor. I expect Luol to come off the bench and provide some leadership, offensive punch and defense with that second unit. Although, we can’t deny that he will most certainly be on the trading block for any takers willing to absorb his contract. However, in the meantime, expect a resurgence from the 2x all-star.

 

Jordan Clarkson

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JC is truly in a make or break year. Over the Lakers rough years, Clarkson is the one player consistently contributing on a nightly basis. I expect this year to be no different. Clarkson possesses the ability to run the point, but is a true shooting guard who can create his own shot and get to the basket. He still has yet to figure out consistent defense. However, he will most likely be a 6th man, especially with KCP recently added. Expect Clarkson to average 15-20 points a game, providing a spark off the bench. He will most likely improve on the defensive side of the ball. Expect Clarkson to feast off of Lonzo Ball passes. This is probably his last chance to have a breakout year.

 

Corey Brewer 

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I like Corey Brewer’s defensive tenacity and his ability to finish on the break. I don’t expect him to get too many minutes unless someone gets injured. However, when his number is called, he will give the Lakers some toughness. His benefit will be seen in the locker room.

 

Lonzo Ball 

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What can we say about Lonzo Ball that hasn’t been said? Considered the face of the franchise by Magic Johnson and a transcendent player by Rob Pelinka, loved by Skip Bayless and already selling out Lakers season tickets, expectations are high. Lonzo gave us all a preview in Summer League, leading the Lakers to the championship and having two triple-doubles. His passing became infectious as fans saw the culture immediately transform for this Lakers team. The bold expectation of winning the whole Summer League was translated to each player and came to fruition. Lonzo comes with high expectations already. He is a star before even playing his first preseason game, much less a regular season opener. So with all that in the backdrop, what are realistic expectations for Ball? Expect Lonzo to be the assist leader for this team and making his players better. He could quite possibly average at least 10 assists a game. He is the catalyst to this Lakers team’s success by the way he stimulates ball movement. Expect Lonzo Ball to vie for rookie of the year because of his ability to create his own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim. We have yet to see him truly get hot from the three point line. I expect that to be a work in progress. In the meantime, players around him will be feasting off of open looks and ally-oop dunks. As a rookie with a target on his back from the rest of the NBA, expect some struggles, but rookie of the year is his to win or lose. No pressure. His ability to transform the offensive fluidity of a team in Summer League must translate to the regular season, which I think will happen.

 

Brandon Ingram

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In spite of all the hoopla surrounding the drafting of Lonzo Ball, this is still Brandon Ingram’s team. Magic Johnson all but flatly stated that Brandon Ingram was the one “untouchable” Lakers player, even for DeMarcus Cousins. Ingram did not really wow anyone with last year’s numbers. His rookie season featured a 9.4 point a game average. What was noticeable was his work ethic, his fearlessness, his ability to take instruction and his mechanics. You just knew that once things started to click, he was going to be special. In the latter part of the season, Brandon Ingram started to show why Magic and Rob would build around such a player. Ingram created highlight reels, dunking on the likes of Pau Gasol and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He showed out in a few minutes of play during his Summer League debut alongside Lonzo Ball and quickly scored 26 points before going down with a cramp. So what can we expect from the humble beast? Expect him to take a leadership role and be either the first or second leading scorer on this team averaging 18-25 points a game. Also expect Ingram to be even more of an attacker with one year under his belt. He’s no longer timid and will be not hard-pressed to create his own shot with Lonzo Ball setting him up. As a pretty skilled passer himself, look for him to rack up about 5-7 assists per game himself. Defensively, I look for an improvement as well. The most exciting one-two punch I’m looking forward to is Lonzo to Ingram on a nightly basis. Let’s hope he still does make good on that promise to work with the Black Mamba.

 

Julius Randle

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Randle dropped 32 points on the Houston Rockets in the latter stages of the season and seemed unstoppable. This is the love-hate relationship we have with Randle early in his career. He can be unstoppable and other times he just gets lost in the shuffle. So much is riding on this season for Randle as this is a make or break season for him. I expect him to breakout this season. Randle has made a physical transformation that shows he is taking this offseason very serious. Randle is decimating teams in this summer’s Drew League. He, like many of the other Lakers, are looking forward to playing with Lonzo Ball. Julius is a tenacious rebounder, very adept at getting to the basket and can at times be a defensive force. However, there are some that believe that he may always be on the cusp, but not quite there. I expect Randle to make it over the hump and make one more stride toward being an all-star caliber player. Rumor has it he is on the trading block, but if he does breakout, this will work in his favor whether he is traded or not. I expect Randle to up his average to about 18-20 points a game and 12-17 rebounds per. The knock on Julius is his outside shooting which was spotty last year. I look for that to improve. Again, being on the receiving end of Lonzo’s passes will give him quite a few easy buckets. I’m very excited about Randle’s potential this season, but let’s hope it doesn’t just stop at potential.

 

Tyler Ennis

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Tyler made some small strides last year during the Lakers high draft pick threatening 5 game winning streak. He showed some ability to shoot the three and he seems to create a level of calm when he is running the point position.  He has a very clean game, only averaging 1 turnover per game on his career. Although he is the only other true point guard that the Lakers currently have, I can’t say whether or not he will see much floor time. JC, BI and Josh Hart all can potentially play the point guard position as well. I personally can say that the only guaranteed rotation players off the bench are Loul Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac and Jordan Clarkson. The rest will be fighting for minutes. Expectations are low for Tyler, but he will have to prove himself whenever given the opportunity.

 

Larry Nance Jr.

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(Sorry, Brook) Our very own human highlight reel Larry Nance Jr. is probably the most exciting player on this Lakers team. I am salivating at the opportunity to see that first ally-oop from Ball to Nance. Larry possesses the ability to play the four or the five. Walton tried that experiment late in the season and I hope that he will consider playing him at center in this season as well when they want to go small. Larry has all but solidified that first power forward off the bench spot to relieve Randle. Nance showed flashes of hitting that open jumper and even a few threes as well. This will be the one factor that can make him a very dangerous player considering how well he finishes and how high he flies! His fundamentals and basketball IQ makes him a team leader of sorts on and off the court. He also is moving up the defensive learning curve very quickly. We love his athleticism and effort. This season I expect him to move further past the “energy guy” phase and more of a dependable scorer and elite defender. His numbers last year were very misleading. Look for Larry Nance to up his scoring average to 10-12 points a game and for his rebounds to increase as well. I see him as becoming a integral part of that second unit as well as this young Lakers core. One last expectation we have for Nance is that he will not be snubbed for the Dunk of the Year!

 

Kyle Kuzma

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“Started from the bottom now we here” is Kyle Kuzma’s theme. A product of the Houston trade that sent off Lou Williams, Kyle played his way to Summer League Championship game MVP and a Nike shoe deal! What we got to Kyle was a dead eye three point shooter, tenacious scorer and a very fluid offensive game. He played very well off ball with Lonzo Ball setting him up. Even without Ball in the lineup he was able to create his own shot. He was the leading scorer of all the players in Summer League. He is a position-less big man who can move to the three, four or five if going small. Kuzma enters into a very crowded frontcourt; however, he seems to be the most likely of all the rookies not named Lonzo Ball to actually see floor action. The question becomes how many minutes? I will go out on a limb and say that he will be the one addition off the bench (to include Deng, Zubac, Clarkson and Nance). I expect him to become one of the main three point threats and pure shooters that Ball and the Lakers need in order to get wins this season. Also look for him to compete with Nance for minutes due to his ability to also finish at the rim and create his own shot. Ultimately though, he will be that 8-10 point sparkplug off the bench in his debut season with the Lakers.

 

Josh Hart

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When I saw the way he played in college via Youtube, I was very excited about this young man’s motor and his “hart”. Entering into a crowded backcourt with Caldwell-Pope and Clarkson eating up most of the minutes, he will most likely learn from the pine this year. There is a slim chance that Walton, in his attempt to run and keep his players fresh, will go deep into his bench which will give Hart a chance. If given a chance, you have a player that can get to the rim with ease and provide pesky on-ball defense. His ability to get to the rim can collapse defenses and set up open looks for other players. I can see Hart competing with Ennis for minutes. Expectations are cloudy, but I can see him giving a good 5-7 points at least 1 steal off the bench if given the opportunity.

 

Ivica Zubac

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Zubac wowed and surprised everyone last year the way he immediately contributed. He started with Summer League where he blocked shots and scored with ease. This translated to the regular season where eventually he took minutes from Mozgov. By the end of the season there was chatter of Mozgov taking over as starting center. So Zubac would dominate in Summer League this year right? Wrong! He seemed rusty and confused at times and seemed winded when trying to get up and down the court with the fast-paced Laker offense. Coming off a season-ending ankle injury, one can only conclude that rust was all it was. Zubac, reportedly working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, still possesses a skill-set that is invaluable. He has a nice stroke from the perimeter, a developing array of post moves and a great defensive IQ. He still is the first center off the bench following Brook Lopez. I expect Zublocka to make great strides in his 2nd year, shake off the Summer League haters and average 10-12 points a game off of the bench, 1-2 blocks a game and continue to develop into an integral piece in the Laker’s bid to return to championship glory.

 

Thomas Bryant

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The Indiana University power forward/ center Thomas Bryant certainly turned heads during his Summer League debut. He possesses a motor similar to Julius Randle, grabbing rebounds and finishing powerfully at the rim on putbacks. He also can shoot the three which was the reason Magic and Rob really wanted him. The Lakers scored him through a trade down with Utah Jazz for two lower first round draft picks. This was the 28th pick they initially earned from the Nets in the D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov trade. Not bad. Thomas Bryant still enters into that crowded frontcourt and with Kyle Kuzma being most likely to crack the rotation first, he may have to wait his turn. Again, if Walton wants to go deep into his bench, Bryant may see perhaps a couple minutes to show what he can do. My expectations for Bryant is to soak up as much knowledge as he can and can provide a defensive and “energy guy” spark when his number is called.

 

Alex Caruso

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Alex Caruso played his way into the hearts of the Lakers fans and the Lakers brass during Summer League, putting together some solid performances in place of the injured Lonzo Ball. His ability to hit the three and play a relatively clean game positioned as a reliable backup point guard. His height also gives him the ability to see over defenders to make great passes. We won’t go so far as to call him a hidden gem, but he did earn a two-way contract with the Lakers. Having said that, Caruso will most likely be a valuable contributor to the South Bay Lakers with his ear to the phone in case any of the backup point guards ahead of him get injured. Now let’s not rule out the fact that neither Ennis or Hart are guaranteed favorites over Caruso. He is in a similar boat of fighting to crack the rotation, but will probably have less of a chance than the aforementioned guards.

 

Vander Blue

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Being a G-League MVP is a lofty honor but doesn’t guarantee NBA success. However, Vander Blue at times seemed unstoppable in Summer League as he put up big numbers. Blue is a scorer if nothing else. He has the ability to create his own shot, although his finishing ability can improve drastically. Once he does clean that up and plays within the offense with a little more discretion, he can become a “microwave” type player off of the bench. Within this Lakers team, I find it very difficult for him to crack the rotation. Shooting guard is very crowded behind KCP and JC. This will be more of a wait and see situation. Given the minutes, Vander can be an instant offense kind of guy. I’d look for him to make another bid for his second G-League MVP (or first since it was D-League before)

The Lakers’ rotation may look like this for this coming season:

Starters from 1 – 5: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez

Bench rotation: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Luol Deng, Ivica Zubac, *Kyle Kuzma, *Tyler Ennis, *Thomas Bryant

*depends on how deep they go into their rotation

So there you have it, folks! If these Lakers individually meet or exceed expectations, this team will surprise the league and make strides towards contention heading into a very exciting 2018 offseason. Stay tuned!

 

Here We Go Again: Summer League Expectations from a Lakers Optimist (@SpectrumSN @LakersOptimist @Lakers)

July 7, 2017

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Well here we are again! Summer League! What’s familiar about this? Well for the last couple of years the Lakers have been actually favored to win it all…in Summer League. This is because of the Lakers grabbing #2 draft picks (Russell and Ingram) the last two years. The expectations somewhat fizzled by the end of each Summer League campaign.

The Summer League has begun with much fanfare once again. In many ways it’s the same. Lakers picked up very talented draft picks, yada, yada. So based on previous years, they’ll do okay and then fall short of the lofty expectations to dominate. Both Ivica Zubac and Lonzo Ball expect to dominate and win the whole thing. Brandon Ingram didn’t say as much, but came as the voice of reality saying that this is just Summer League.

As I mentioned, this is different. But why? It’s different because Lonzo Ball is not a “face-of-the-franchise” hopeful like D’Angelo Russell. He IS the face of the franchise. Brandon Ingram has a year under his belt is across the board considered to have no ceiling. He is also expected to be the team leader. Ivica Zubac wowed everyone in his debut last year and now has full year under his belt.  David Nwaba impressed in the latter part of last season defensively and is expected to develop into a lockdown defender. They’ve also added some solid pieces in Kyle Kuzma, Thomas Bryant and Josh Hart. These are very exciting players that many are looking forward to seeing them play extended minutes. This is also different because what you see on the Summer League court may very well be some of the combinations you see during the regular season. This also places value on actually dominating and winning during Summer League.

Having said all that, does winning the Summer League Championship mean ANYTHING? Yes! Ever since the changes that the Lakers have made, which include hiring Luke Walton and replacing Jim and Mitch with Magic and Rob, the goal has been to establish a winning culture. This means that Summer League does matter. The Lakers of Summer League must set the tempo for the season. Winning the championship sets the tone and affirms what everyone has been talking about. Surely, losing Summer League will get people talking…in a negative way. Yes, we watch Summer League to see how these guys look on the court and how they gel. It’s important to develop chemistry, camaraderie, etc. But it’s important for these Lakers to dominate and to prove a point. The mentality they must have is treat Summer League like the NBA Finals.

It’s a bright new day in Lakerland! The Lakers Optimists are revitalized and ready to see what the future holds for the Magic, Rob, Luke, Ingram and Ball era!

Magic and Rob Doin Work On the Eve of Draft Day 2017(@DanDuangdao @SpectrumSN)

June 21, 2017

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Okay guys, I have to get this in super fast because by the time you read this, everything might change!

LakerNation is reeling in both a good and bad way after the Lakers traded away young budding superstar (or budding bust, depending on who you are) D’Angelo Russell to the Nets. Now this trade was mostly an attempted to dump the questionable massive contract that Timofey Mozgov had as he was also traded to the Nets. In return the Lakers received talented stretch 5 Brook Lopez and the Nets 27th draft pick in this year’s loaded draft class.

So there are a couple of ways to look at this. If this is the end of the trade action, then we have questions, right? Does this mean that the proverbial keys have been given to whoever they draft at number 2? This is widely expected to be Lonzo Ball. But that has not been guaranteed. It could be De’Aaron Fox although it’s been said that his lack of outside shooting prowess puts him at a disadvantage. Even so, this puts a great amount of pressure on whoever takes the reigns as point guard to do fill the void. If this is the end of the trades one can hope that this trade provides a great opportunity for Jordan Clarkson. Anybody who knows me knows that JC has been my pick for “next up” in Lakerland. His game was stunted by the drafting of Dloading. The media and the Laker’s brass considered him the possible face of the franchise and Clarkson was slighted in every way including coming off the bench last season. Clarkson, a true shooting guard, took over the reigns late in the season under Byron Scott and made a name for himself. His feisty, fearless attack and developing jump shot and on-ball defense makes him a great piece for the Lakers core…or trade bait. With a backcourt potentially being JC and Lonzo Ball, you have a great finisher and shooter and an amazing facilitator working together. Your frontcourt is Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez. Not bad.

However, various sources indicate that this is not the end of the trades. Lakers are reportedly trying to prepare a package sweet enough to trade for Pacers superstar Paul George. For those who missed it, Paul George reportedly told Indiana he would not return to Indy after next season and consider Lakers a top destination. Additionally, teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers have begun talking to Indiana prompting Magic and Rob to make every attempt to acquire Paul George so that he doesn’t re-up with a championship team. What this means is that nothing is sacred. The Lakers reportedly tried to trade down with the Sacramento Kings to obtain 2 picks and were rejected. In which case this now creates a volatile situation in which every Lakers young core player is up for grabs. By the end of this blog will Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson even be Lakers anymore? Will the Lakers even have their number 2 pick? Sources said that the #2 pick and Brandon Ingram were off limits…but now the #2 pick isn’t necessarily off limits anymore.

Opponents of the initial trade suggest that Dloading was going to be great and was considered one of the bright spots of last years dismal season. He improved greatly over the latter part of the season and put a 40 point game together on Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. HIs cocky attitude, creative passing and quickly developing jump shot made him a shoe-in for the Lakers next superstar. The view is that Magic and Rob basically let him go for peanuts. This trade may be even more detrimental if they are not able to swing a deal for Paul George.

However, reports (and my girl Fax at the barbershop) say that Magic was not too impressed with D’Angelo Russell and that coach Luke Walton took issue with his work ethic. Perhaps the consensus was that he would not be the one that would take the reigns from Kobe. Further evidence was the fact that Brandon Ingram, not D’Angelo Russell, was considered “untouchable” in trade talks.

So we can’t necessarily “grade” this trade until we know what its finality is. What I can safely say is I thought D’Angelo Russell was going to be a great player. That being said, it was a good move if they intend on bringing in a quality point guard via the draft and also intend on getting Paul George without surrendering too much. At this point it looks like Magic and Rob are hell-bent on bringing in PG. I just hope that they do not completely gut this promising young core, thus leaving the Lakers with few pieces to support a superstar-caliber player.

From a financial standpoint we can applaud the Lakers brass for being able to finally unload Moz and his fat contract. This frees up the Lakers to offer max money to a superstar from the highly stacked 2018 free agent class. Rumors and reports have linked the Lakers to both Paul George and Lebron James as preferred destinations. The question is was Dloading really that expendable.

Of course we die-hard Lakers fans tend to attach ourselves to players whereas businessmen like Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka can detach.

Let’s just hope when the smoke clears, the Los Angeles Lakers are much better for it.

Stay tuned.

 

Why These Tough Lakers Times are Very Different Than the Previous Years (@SpectrumSN @lakersreporter)

January 26, 2017

I know. The Lakers are 17 games under .500 and suffered the worst loss of the season to the worst team in the Western Conference a few days ago. They have one of the worst defenses in the league and can’t seem to string together consistent effort on the court. 

This may lead some of the Lakers faithful and experts to go, “How is this any different than last year? Or the year before that and the one before that? We still stink!”

I’ll give you that. At 16-33, there is good reason to consider this another awful lottery year with no hope in sight. However, there are plenty of reasons to see this much differently and even more reason to believe that this team will only get better AND faster than you think.

Here are the differences between this year and previous years:

 1. Not Trying to Win with Declining Stars: The Lakers in years past were working with a declining post-Achilles injury Kobe, an ailing Steve Nash and a mashup supporting cast that featured other declining stars including Carlos Boozer. They possessed vets that were not game-changing and young players that would warm the bench on other teams. Mike D’antoni faced this issue following Dwight’s dismissal of the Lakers brass along with that injury bug. Byron tried to build with Randle and Clarkson, but there was still the glaring Kobe effect, Boozer was a disappointment and he outright did not know how to coach Jeremy Lin. Kobe’s final year was unanimously considered a full on circus with the farewell hoopla to add insult to injury. Now the Lakers possess a group that is centered around rising stars who will only get better. Players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, to name a few, have high ceilings. Growing into contenders is a united focus from top to bottom and nothing else. Therefore losses are expected and almost welcome as they become learning opportunities. Nobody likes losing, but it makes more sense now. 

2. The Coach of the Future: Long before a promising and eye-catching 10-10 start, Coach Luke Walton said that he would not measure this team’s success by wins and losses. It would be more measured by whether or not they buy into and implement what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish on the court. Therefore, even as they deal with losses piling up, this is still the right coach for the job. The team has developed a respect for Luke and staff as evidenced by their effort early in the season and in spurts as of late. It is also reflected in their attitudes towards him. D’Angelo Russell has not complained when benched in the 4th quarter. He’s gotten Nick Young to play defense and has the team together even as they face these losses. The biggest blows to the team were injuries, youth and actually, success. 

3. Chemistry with the Young Core Has Improved and Will Continue to Improve: The team that loses together will win together. The Lakers’ young core have all made substantial improvements in their numbers from last year to this year, and Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have moved up the learning curve quickly during their rookie years. We know some players can have a softmore jinx or start to plateau too early, but many of the players like Larry Nance Jr. and D’Angelo Russell have high ceilings and as a collective unit, they will become even stronger. You have to consider that the rookie and youthful mistakes will begin to dwindle as time progresses. One would hope this happens sooner than later. Examples of this are the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors’ recent core that became dominant over a few years after forgettable playoff-less seasons.

So even as they get pummeled by some teams, get close and then can’t hit shots at the end, and surprise the top contenders and pull upsets, we have to look at this season differently. We also look at it with the same cautious optimism. Certain shots that miss will start to go in. Defensive breakdowns will occur less and less and focus will remain for more than a few quarters.

Get used to it, fans. This is a rebuild and the foundation has been laid quite nicely.