Posts Tagged ‘Luke Walton’

Lakers Optimism? Of Course!

April 16, 2017

Brandon Ingram flushes the dunk on Pau Gasol

At the beginning of this Lakers season, promising a fresh start and a new culture, nobody thought we’d be back here again. Where is here? Pulling out the tanks and cheering the Lakers on openly, while quietly (well not so quietly. Have you SEEN Twitter?) praying for losses in order to keep their draft pick. 

Lakers finished the season 26-56, winning 9 games more than last year. However, as we tend to look at the present, that’s just AWFUL. The Lakers yet again will miss the playoffs for 4 straight years. So we can’t overlook the obvious. The Lakers still stink from a record and competing standpoint. 

So where’s the optimism?

Assuming the Lakers increase by 9 wins each year.

Let’s first look at trends. Am I reaching? Perhaps. The Lakers finished the season under Luke’s first year +9 in wins. If this trend was to continue, logically the Lakers would be official contenders by 2019. Even before then they would start to reach that playoff bubble by 2018 and be much more fun, competitive and tolerable by next season. 

We know that late in the season there were some very pivotal changes that took place which could very well increase that +9 win total.

1. New Regime: Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss were both unceremoniously booted from leadership and replaced with former sports agent Rob Pelinka and Lakers legend and saavy buinessman Magic Johnson. Immediately after Magic took the reins as head of basketball operations, he traded 6th man Lou Williams to Houston for a 1st round pick. They have gotten behind Luke Walton as the coach for many years to come and touted Brandon Ingram as their future superstar. Evidence of that is their refusal to trade him even for Demarcus Cousins.

2. The Emergence of the Youth: Once the Lakers surrendered to the lack of playoff contention, the youth movement began. The guys got BUSY. Brandon Ingram’s scoring numbers shot up, D’Angelo Russell put up big numbers and career highs. Ivica Zubac put up career high numbers, David Nwaba made a name for himself defensively and the kids just got better. The Lakers ended the season 5-1 in their last six games and featured some of the best highlights you would ever see from a losing team. Kobe Bryant is expected to work with Brandon Ingram this summer, and it would appear that all of Lakers players intend to improve over the summer.

Tank talks now aside, the Lakers have the 3rd worst record in the league and the potential to get a top 3 pick in what has been considered by many experts and scouts to be a loaded draft class. They will either add another strong piece in the draft or at least add a promising young prospect later in the first round if they lose out on the lottery. Remember that their draft pick is top 3 protected and could go to the Sixers if it falls to 4th or lower.

Unknowns remain, such as what kind of free agent, if any, the Lakers can entice. Nick Young has a player option and has expressed that he’d like be on a playoff contender next season. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng did not meet expectations. Are they still a part of the Lakers future? Can one of the young Lakers have a breakout year next season?

One thing for sure, the summer once again remains very exciting and expect the Lakers to be newsworthy all summer long. These Lakers impressed the league and have put them on notice. That early successful start before the injuries was no fluke. Expectations will only rise. 

The question is will expectations be fulfilled.

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.

State of the Lakers After 41 Games: Have the Young Lakers Turned a Corner? (@spectrumsn @lakersnation @lakers @nbaonespn)

January 10, 2017
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Nick Young celebrates after draining a three point shot.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in what basketball experts and analysts term, “rebuilding”. As always, we briefly reminisce on how the Lakers once were not known for patience and rebuilding as opposed to quick retooling and reloading by way of a mega-signing or blockbuster trade. Blame the new CBA rules or the David Stern veto, but the Lakers now are forced to do things the conventional way: put together a young core with a few supporting veterans and… be… PATIENT!

 

So the Lakers brass over the last couple years went that conventional way, picking up Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in the 2014 draft. Then they picked up D’Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr. (Anthony Brown too but waived him during pre-season this year…) in the 2015 draft.They then picked up Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac in the 2016 draft.  They also nabbed young bruisers Thomas Robinson and Tarik Black via training camp invite and signing off waivers. They then nabbed a few free agents that appear to be possible keepers over the last couple years to include gunner Nick Young, former 6th man of the year Lou Williams, serviceable point guard and sharpshooter Jose Calderon, International star point guard Marcelo Huertas, NBA Champion big man Timofey Mozgov and former all-star Loul Deng. Lastly, but not least, former defensive player of the year and NBA Champion Metta World Peace rounds out the Lakers rebuilding roster. Charged with the task of making something from this young group is Luke Walton, assistant Brian Shaw and company.

This young group jumped out to a 10-10 start which surprised everybody. Then injuries and perhaps a lack of focus caused a December that featured only 2 wins out of 15. This included a new enemy that plagued the Lakers— blown leads. Blown HUGE leads. 19 against Miami, 19 against Charlotte and 11 against Dallas. The Lakers begin January in better fashion, however, jumping out to a 3-2 record featuring a 3 game home winning streak and a 2 game winning streak overall. Furthermore they’ve managed to beat their opponents by an average of 19 points. They get a second crack at their next opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, yet another team they could have beaten if not for another blown double digit lead. (Heck, they could be 5-0 if not for blowing another double digit lead to Toronto in January as well). Having said all that, the Lakers sit at 15-26 at the halfway point of the season.

With all that in the backdrop, the question is have the Lakers turned a corner?

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Rookie Brandon Ingram goes above the rim.

 

The team seems to have come to terms that they must defend, rebound and attack for 48 minutes and have seemed to figure that out for 3 or their last 5 games. Young players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram are starting to find their groove. Nick Young has developed into a pretty good defender. They’ve seemed to have found something special in the rebounding, paint play and defensive prowess of the “Bruise Brothers” Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson in the absence of Larry Nance Jr. (they are doing this without Larry Nance Jr!). Furthermore, the starters have picked up their play to add to an already dangerous and NBA leading bench. This includes a resurgence of Luol Deng’s offensive output. In each of their wins, the Lakers are dishing out over 20 assists, they are holding opponents to an average of 99 points and they are also forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.

 

We may not be able to confidently say they’ve turned a corner until they can start racking up a few more consistent wins. Sitting just 3 games out of the 8th spot in the loss column, they have something to play for, in addition to Luke’s goal to simply focus on getting better and playing the way the coaching staff wants them to play. The Lakers have in fact developed an identity. Although they have failed to do it enough to close out games, the Lakers are one of the better teams in fast break points and points off turnovers. They are a quick team that relies on turnovers, transition and the 3 point shot. They are successful when they the move the ball and they get above the rim and dunk. The Lakers have earned the reputation of being “fun to watch”.

I’d like to see what they do in the next few games. If we’re looking at a team that can compete for that eight spot, we need to see a convincing win against Portland tonight. After that they will have another tough (but winnable) stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Clippers and Pistons. Following that stretch they have a potential 4 game winning streak against the Nuggets, Pacers, Mavericks and Blazers. If the Lakers can manage a minimum record of 5-3 over these next 8 games, we can talk turning a corner.

There are quite a few standouts over this January stretch and even throughout the latter part of December. This is by no means an exhaustive list. We saw Nick Young get record-setting white hot and then cool off. We saw Julius make his bid for the team leader with his triple double and inspired play on the defensive end. We’ve seen Larry Nance Jr. get the dunk of the year on Brooke Lopez. We’ve seen Clarkson get a little dog in him during his scuffle with Goran Dragic. We’ve seen Lou Williams take over games and shoot lights out. We’ve also seen the improbable quick maturation of Brandon Ingram, who at this pace, may actually overtake all the players for the star of this team.

I’ve said too much. I can be longwinded at times. However, it takes no rocket scientist or NBA expert to see that this Lakers team is far ahead of the schedule. With only 17 wins TOTAL last year. Lakers have 15 early in January. They are 3 games out of the playoff picture. They are good enough to take double digit leads on any team AND good enough to blowout any team (see Golden State and Memphis). Let’s enjoy this young exciting team and see where the month of January takes us.

Next up is payback against Portland!

Expectations for the Young Lakers Changing So Soon? (@lakersreporter @lakeshow @lakersnation)

December 14, 2016

Coach Luke Walton ejected from the last game against the Sacramento Kings

Without beating the proverbial dead horse on what everybody thought the Lakers would do versus what they actually have done to this point, let’s cut to the chase–

The Lakers are 10-17 and have lost seven straight games.

Adversity strikes the young Lakers and the young coach who has garnered much praise which included whispers of coach of the year consideration. Adversity strikes a young core that shocked the NBA with a improbable 7-5 start. The Lakers are losing games and more recently they are not competing in a few of them. During a couple of these games, we actually have seen them kind of, dare I say…give up.

We attributed it confidently to injuries and calmly suggested that the Lakers would resume their sharp climb up the learning curve once guys come back. The Lakers are far from 100% with Tarik Black (ankle) and Jose Calderon (hamstring) both just being cleared to practice today. However, both Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell have returned to action as of their game against the Knicks and they lost a close one 118-112. Okay, they were both eased into the lineup on a minute restriction which would be slowly removed as the games progressed. They then were embarrassed by the Sacramento Kings (I hate losing the Sacramento Queens) after a nauseating 3rd quarter. One alarming stat was the 3rd quarter letdown that typified the Lakers last season (uh-oh). The Lakers gave up 39 points in that quarter and eventually lost 116-92.

The Lakers have become very rudimentary in their understanding of defensive execution over the last several games. During the 2 games with their starting backcourt back on the floor they gave up 118 and 119. Previously they gave up 119 and 134. If you watch the games, there are several breakdowns resulting in layup lines. They are failing to rotate out to the shooters giving up open looks and for crying out loud— they can’t give a hard foul to save their lives! This young team knows what good defense looks like because in the wins they’ve had, they made key stops and forced turnovers. They scored enough to make teams pay for missing and then they were no pushover on the defensive. Right now they are awful and giving up career highs to opponents.

So is this team the one that everyone thought they would be before the season began or the team that were said to be able to fight for that 8th spot?

The latter.

We have to remember that this is a young team. Young teams are quite emo and that can be a challenge when certain levels of adversity create a distraction. Without the injuries, all they had to worry about was making adjustments with the same unit and rotations. Once they caught on, they moved quickly up the learning curve. After the myriad of injuries, inconsistent rotations and damaged chemistry things changed. This is a distraction that would shake a young team just a little. Plus we can’t go and say this team is just as bad as predicted when they just showed what they can do when healthy. The sample size of 12 more games with Russell and Young back in the lineup would have to be used. They’ve only played 2. If they do worse than 7-5 after the remaining 10, you might have a legitimate point. 

What should and needs to happen is the Lakers have to get back comfortable with the rotations once again and then defensive rotations and effort will begin to develop. It’s difficult to play hard and play confused at the same time. 

That being said, there should be a dramatic improvement in performance in tonight’s match-up against the Nets where they need to be ON POINT with their rotations against a 3-point happy team. I’m sure Jeremy Lin would love to stick it to his former team too.

So again I say, relax Lakers fans. 10th in the West after a 7 game losing streak is still very hopeful and I expect the Lakers to return to early season form on this road trip.

Enjoy tonight’s game!

 

Post-Kobe…and So Far it Looks Good!

May 26, 2016

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Well folks, we finally say goodbye to the worst Lakers season in HISTORY. This season started with a somewhat unexpected Kobe retirement announcement and ended with a Kobe 60 point ending. But the Lakers managed only a 17-65 lottery earning season.

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The season featured the development of 2nd round draft pick D’Angelo Russell, 2nd year “rookie” Julius Randle and softmore Jordan Clarkson amid celebrating the Kobe retirement tour. Coach Byron Scott attempted to navigate such a conundrum, and Mitch Kupchak stated that he did a good job— before firing him.

Nobody really wishes to relive this horror story of a season, so let’s move on. The fact of the matter is the Lakers have quickly moved from the NBA’s punching bag to a team on their way back to the hated winners we all are used to. Within a matter of about a month the Lakers had a combination of choices, circumstances and luck that set the stage for a quick turnaround. Here are following things that are very promising for your beloved Los Angeles Lakers.

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1. Kobe retires: Mamba out. I can’t stress enough how HUGE this is. Last season was an anomaly of sorts because Kobe was in and out of the lineup to preserve him to the end of the season. When Kobe was in the game, Kobe was going to still be Kobe for better or for worse. And while Kobe was noble in his efforts to teach the kids, the rookies’ development somewhat took a backseat. Furthermore, the gaping hole that Kobe leaves is what presents the biggest benefit. The team is now crying for an alpha male to take over the franchise. This player will no longer have to defer to anyone. This also leaves the Lakers with a fresh start mentality that goes a long way. Lastly, this hole can be very appetizing to a free agent looking to fill such a gap on a storied franchise such as the Lakers. Not to mention, the millions that they now have to potentially pay that max player if they choose. Here’s to new beginnings. I can’t leave this section without saying thank you, Kobe for everything!!!!

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2. Lakers part ways with Byron Scott. Even if Byron didn’t see this coming, I think a lot of fans and sports analysts did. I read a great article that did a great job pointing out how Byron was fired for doing exactly what was expected of him this year. Perhaps he was the right guy to manage this team under the circumstances. His job was to develop the youth and get Kobe through the season. He wasn’t told to win at all costs. However, all that aside, one can argue that this Lakers team which features the future tandem of Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell is not looking forward to starting this new era under Byron Scott’s tough love regime. Lastly, it just made sense that this new era begins completely anew. Remove the stains of the previous two forgettable seasons. Fair? No. Necessary? Yes. Magic didn’t necessarily rejoice like he did when D’antoni was let go, but I’m sure he knew this was necessary.

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3. Lakers hire Luke Walton. Luke Walton became an instantly sought after coach after guiding Golden State’s historic start as Steve Kerr was recovering from surgery. He is widely known as someone whose basketball mind would lead him to being a great coach some day. He’s a young likable guy who can embrace the current direction the game is going while having been a part of winning organizations in Los Angeles and Golden State. Okay. He’s unproven. He has no true head coaching experience. So why is his hiring such a big deal? Because he’s fresh and new, he knows basketball, the young players like him already and and he represents the new era. He will also reportedly be joined by lead assistant coach Brian Shaw. Lastly, he’s Luke Walton. Get excited.

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4.  Lakers get the #2 pick. After sitting in front of the television sweating bullets, the Lakers survived the lottery and kept their second pick. This puts them in the running to pick up a rookie that can help them immediately. Ben Simmons is picked to be the next LeBron while Brandon Ingram is considered to be the next Durant. Okay, we’re jumping ahead of ourselves, but the Lakers are poised to add another piece to the new era puzzle (or trade it which I doubt).

These factors put the Lakers in an excellent position to start heading in the right direction.  These small moves have resulted in an immediate upgrade. 

Stay tuned as we watch the Lakers prepare for the new post-Kobe era. Once again we start anew and the Lakers Optimist is ready!