Posts Tagged ‘sportsnation’

#Lakers Never Intended to Dominate This Season: Be of Good Cheer #LakersNation

March 26, 2019

Be of good cheer, LakersNation! The Lakers never intended to win a championship this year. It’s been noted that a 3 year plan was the goal. Needless to say, the Lakers fans should “trust the…” Okay I won’t say it. However, when LeBron James signed on the dotted line, Lakers fans saw parade streamers immediately; however, that’s not entirely what LeBron and Maginka had in mind. It does come as a shock that this team would not at least make the playoffs, but it does not derail the overall goal.

Let’s relive this dream-turned-nightmare season…

The Lakers jumped out to a dismal 2-5 start. However, they quickly began to hit their stride going on a run that would place them in 4th place. This run was punctuated by a rout of the champion Golden State Warriors.

Then LeBron got hurt. LeBron’s 17 game injury was exacerbated by accompanying injuries to multiple key players at a time including JaVale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo and later Lonzo Ball. The Lakers tumbled out of the playoff race.

Then came the trade deadline. Lakers failed to keep their outrageous trade offers to the Pelicans for Anthony Davis out of the press. This caused the already descending morale of the remaining Lakers being depended on to shoulder the burden in Bron’s absence to drop even more. The Lakers sputtered into the all-star break in spite of LeBron’s return.

In spite of LeBron’s attempt to activate playoff LeBron, the Lakers never returned to the pre-injury form. The Lakers looked ordinary and downright pathetic at times and continued to plummet in the standings. The Lakers in a few months went from discussing playoff seeding to discussing draft lottery position.

So where’s the optimism?

Being bounced from playoff contention was never the goal; however, neither was winning a championship as is. In Maginka’s first season, they drafted well and then proceeded to clear cap space to make room for LeBron James, which they drafted in year two. Although one can find fault with the types of players and personalities brought in, the Lakers managed to get ahold to five players on 1-year deals. If you make a deep run, fine. If you don’t, these players fall off your books. Everyone knows the Lakers intended on maintaining cap space to add yet another star to pair with LeBron James in the next off-season. Now they have the money to do so. This still leaves them with the ability to keep their young core of Kuzma, Ball and Ingram — if they aren’t dead set on trading them. Furthermore, the Lakers now can focus on filling these spots with long-term deals with quality role players.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Lakers are possibly pulling a low-key tank move after losing some very embarrassing games, save their recent five game losing streak snapping victory over the Kings. It is quite plausible that the Lakers package a possible high draft pick and other picks for another quality player. The question becomes whether or not they part with any of the young core.

Needless to say, the Lakers head into the off-season in a position to make good on their three-year plan to become the dynasty we’re used to seeing. There are a few questions however. Nobody knows the fate of coach Luke Walton who obviously got forced into an unfair situation and may have coached his final season with the Lakers. Also a question mark is who of the young core will not make it into the new season without being traded. Lastly, one can only hope that Maginka has learned to do better with maintaining the morale of their team, that Magic can learn to minimize the micromanaging and that LeBron, Ingram and Ball can actually stay healthy for a full season.

So be of good cheer, LakersNation. The Lakers will return to that familiar place of dominance and the faithful fans will be rewarded for their loyalty.

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Lakers Optimist Facts: JaVale’s Resurgence, Lakers Recent Winning Streak and What the Addition of Tyson Chandler Means (@LakersNation #Lakeshow #NBA #Lakersnation #Lakers)

November 13, 2018

The smoke has all cleared and the new NBA season is well underway. As teams are still figuring out where they stand in this extremely competitive league, teams like the Wizards are struggling, the T-Wolves had to trade a kicking and screaming Jimmy Butler and the Cavaliers are getting used to rock bottom all over again. The Lakers themselves are still finding their way. After a lackluster yet somewhat expected 0-3 start, the Lakers have gone 7-3 and are currently on a 3 game winning streak. Within those wins are a gutsy win over a relentless T-Wolves team, a blowout of the hot starting Kings and an ugly squeaker over a hapless yet scrappy young Hawks team. Let’s take a look at a few Lakers Optimist facts we’ve learned from the young season.

Lebron James is as good as advertised. LBJ is averaging just about 26 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds. Free throw and three-point inconsistencies aside, he is truly doing what we expected him to do. He has done a much better job taking over games of late although it’s asking too much to request a “Mamba Mentality” from King James. That being said, Lebron has done an excellent job of not stunting the growth of the young Lakers. In fact, it seems the young Lakers have benefited greatly. Kuzma having to do less dribbling now finds himself scoring much more in the painted area due to James’ ability to find him. He has also set up Ingram and JaVale McGree, giving them easy points.

JaVale McGee is the surprise of the season. For perspective, JaVale McGee averaged 4.8 points, 0.9 blocks and 2 rebounds in 9.5 minutes a game in Golden State just last season. JaVale was to be a serviceable big man for the Lakers and didn’t garner much excitement from his veterans minimum signing. 13 games in, JaVale McGee is averaging 13.7 points, 3 blocks and 7 rebounds in 25.8 minutes and vying for Defensive Player of the Year. He seamlessly fit right in with the Lakers offense, anchoring the defense, running the floor and finishing the break with resounding dunks.  Grant it, if given the minutes, perhaps he would have put forth the same effort in the Bay Area. Either way, he is more than a pleasant surprise and is a major reason why the Lakers can at times be very formidable on the defensive end.

Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson are doing what we expected. Rajon Rondo has given the Lakers a solid boost off the bench and has done a great job closing games as well, providing a veteran presence on both ends of the floor. He is giving the Lakers 9 points, just under 7 assists and 1 steal per. His ability to survey the floor and find the open man has created a calming affect for the team. Coming off the bench, this assures there is no drop off in ball movement when Zo, Bron or Ingram sit. Lance Stephenson has no doubt brought the Lakeshow to new heights with his celebrations; however, it’s not just for show as he puts up just under 9 points a game. Many of those points come during crunch time. Needless to say, these vets have become excellent supporting cast members and will pay even more dividends should the Lakers make the playoffs.

Josh Hart keeps getting better and KCP keeps falling. At the beginning of the season there was much debate over who should start at shooting guard between Josh Hart and KCP. Well, at the moment they both come of the bench. However, Josh Hart has gone from just under 8 points a game last year to just under 12 points per to go along with 1.7 steals. Conversely, KCP dropped from 13.4 points a game last year to 6.4 points per to go with 0.5 steals. He has quickly become somewhat of a forgotten man. Although he still provides great team defense, he is shooting a miserable 39% and an even more dismal 28% from behind arc. The question is whether or not Lonzo Ball swapped shooting skills with KCP when he wasn’t looking. Needless to say KCP is quite the disappointment. But as a streaky shooter, one can only hope that this is just an aberration and he will hit his stride at just the right time this season. Josh Hart however, is shooting 45% from the field and 40% from the three point line. This story-line may be only beginning but at the moment Josh Hart is being exactly what the Lakers wanted KCP to be.

Tyson Chandler, the missing piece? The Lakers at 4-6 were noticeably lacking interior defense and rebounding as they would often go small whenever JaVale McGee would take a breather. The other teams would immediately take advantage. The Lakers had one unproven rookie in Wagner and a 3-year veteran who still struggles to find himself in Zubac. John Williams gave his all but the height still was a glaring issue. Enter Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s signing immediately grabbed my attention before he made his first appearance as a Laker. He possesses great defensive instincts, a big body in the paint, excellent rebounding ability and championship experience. Albeit a short sample size, the Lakers are 3-0 with Chandler in the lineup. Chandler promises continuity in defense and rebounding with McGee sitting, a 7-footer always on the floor and a closer in the 4th. Chandler has had a game winning tip/rebound and a game winning block over these three games. The Lakers in the last few games gave up 100 per game after giving up an average of 120 points per in the first 10 games. So is Tyson Chandler the missing piece? Let’s check back in about 10 games, but it looks like the Lakers have addressed a glaring issue early in the season.

The Lakers lack killer instinct. For stretches the Lakers look like a juggernaut of a team that will run up the score and win by like 30 points. However, after getting the lead up to 15 or 20, they begin the cruise. Only against Phoenix and Sacramento did they manage to keep the score a respectable blowout. The Lakers clearly need to work on two things: 1. Taking advantage of teams they know they can beat and not losing interest. 2. Putting teams away when they have them on the ropes. Body language is everything as you can see the Lakers against Dallas and Atlanta just going to through the motions. After getting up by 15 on Atlanta you can see them start to slow it down and get out of their offensive strategy and get lax on defense. The Lakers will need to find that mojo and really start to develop a reputation for NOT giving teams a way back into games. Too early, the Lakers feel they can flip the switch when they have NOTHING to base that on as they only sit at 7-6.

It appears that the Lakers have begun to slowly turn a corner for the last three games. However, there are NO DAYS OFF as Portland comes to town Wednesday and will be seeking revenge. Portland is 10-3, yet the Lakers truly are not their record. They hope to continue to prove that in this coming game.

Stay tuned, Lakersnation!

 

“I’m Magic Johnson” – Lakers Sign LeBron James… Is Showtime Back?

July 4, 2018

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When Magic Johnson took over and Rob Pelinka joined his side, Jeannie Buss had completely transformed the Lakers regime. Fast forward to a few days ago. The Lakers managed to secure a massive amount of cap space and develop an exciting young core and determined to use both to bring in what the Lakers have lacked since Kobe Bryant sang his swan song 2 seasons ago — a superstar. As the media sharks circled around Magic Johnson, they asked him if he felt any pressure to which he replied among other things… “I’m Magic Johnson.”

In a matter of days social media was flooded with the jubilant news that LeBron James, yes THE LeBron James had agreed to a 4-year 154 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers did it. Magic and Rob did it. They brought the greatest player in the world to Los Angeles. The organization used to having the best of the best once again had the best of the best. Not finished, the Lakers resigned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and then added veterans Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo — all 1-year contracts. We would be remiss not to highlight the genius in that point. As we are never to finish an off-season without casualties, the Lakers were not able to keep Julius Randle. He requested to be renounced to unrestricted free agency and was snatched up by the New Orleans Pelicans. With all these roster moves being made and still (at press-time) maintaining the bulk of their young core, what can we expect from this current team?

Before we get deep into this, let’s establish that the Lakers are still in need of a center so they are not finished. Even so, we still have enough to discuss how this roster improved and the way this can be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

James, KCP, Rondo, Stephenson and McGee and are all great long individual defenders. The Lakers already possess developing defenders in Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma (working on it), Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Although their defense has not yet been proven, the Lakers added more athletic length in Siatoslav Mykhailiuk, Isaac Bonga and Moritz Wagner. They also have additional undrafted players Malik Newman and Jeffrey Carroll. The Lakers now boast a roster full of guys that can play at least 2 – 3 positions on the court. Last season the Lakers became a top 10 defensive team due to their ability to switch on defense. With this many individual defenders and players with a high IQ, the Lakers will rarely have to double team any one player and should have very little trouble with defensive rotations.

The Lakers pride themselves on pace, space, ball movement and paint. The Lakers were atop the league in points in the paint. Although Randle scored a large portion of those points, let’s just say we traded Randle for James. The Lakers now boast great passers in Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. At times, Brandon Ingram is also a great passer. At all times the Lakers will have a general who can get and keep the ball moving. Both LeBron and Rondo have the ability to drive and kick and get to the basket and  break down defenses. Additionally, this team possesses a great many slashers who can break down defenses and either create points in the paint or set up open looks. These players include Ball, James, KCP, Rondo and Ingram. Lance Stephenson can also get to the basket and finish. Within an attack and high-pace offense, opposing teams really can’t relax as the Lakers do not intend to be in the half-court for too long. The way make a player like LeBron or even more deadly is to have guys that can knock down shots. Enter Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Lance Stephenson and even Mortiz Wagner. These guys can hopefully be counted on to hit shots on passes from Rondo, Lonzo and James.

Can Luke mesh all these personalities together and make it work? Luke is actually a perfect fit. Having coached (in spite of people thinking even a cave man could do it) the Golden State Warriors, played with Kobe Bryant and coached a team full of young players and vets this past season, Luke Walton has shown the ability to manage people. He knows what he wants to do with a team and how it needs to be done. He also has the rings to back him up. Lastly, Luke has the respect of the players and a coaching staff that features former NBA Champion Brian Shaw. With a focus on defense, rebounding and pushing the tempo, Luke is chomping at the bit to be able to apply this exciting brand of basketball to such a talented group.

With such a deep and interchangeable roster full of savvy vets, Luke will have the luxury of keeping players minutes and keep players fresh. The young players will be less susceptible to injury, as well as the veterans. This is important as the rule still applies that the healthy team wins the championship. If this team stays healthy, you are easily looking at a top 5 seed in the West. Golden State may have pulled the heist of the century by adding Demarcus Cousins to an already stacked roster, but the Lakers stand reloaded and ready to make a strong case for the returning Kings of the West.

I hope you’ve become as excited as I am about the possible return of Showtime. Stay tuned. It’s only just begun, LakerNation!

Brace Yourselves, @LakersNation — IT’S THE OFFSEASON!

June 21, 2018

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The Lakers managed to recapture their luster of old (okay, like 7 years ago) through a combination of talented and headline-grabbing young players, cap-space saving trades, smart coaching and a whole lot of Magic. And although they did not make the playoffs, they were legitimately competing for that eighth seed for much of the season. With the game viewed as a chess match, Magic and Rob focused on placing themselves in great position for the off-season where many game-changing superstars will be choosing their destinies. The Lakers brass freed up a massive amount of cap space and amassed an intriguing mix of youth and saavy veterans. With the off-season now in full swing, rumors are flying and both fans and media alike are entertaining several scenarios ranging from the Lakers returning to the 2018-19 campaign with a superteam down to the Lakers simply walking away empty-handed and returning with their current team (still a very strong team). Let’s take a look at a few of these possibilities briefly and determine their likelihood.

Perhaps the biggest watercooler discussion is that of LeBron James’ free agency. It doesn’t take much for the media to quickly link Lebron James to Los Angeles. His son is said to be enrolling in a school in the LA area. He has been rumored to see Los Angeles as his best opportunity for other business endeavors. So, is LeBron coming to the Lakers? Do fans want arguably the best player in the world? Regardless of what anyone feels about James (he’s a crybaby, he takes over an organization, he’s not as good as Jordan), one can’t say that he is not an instant upgrade and the Lakers are at least number 4 seed on paper. Many pundits feel that with James in, Ball goes out. That couldn’t be further from the truth. James, like Kobe, does not wish to be ball dominant. Players like James and Bryant actually covet the idea of playing with a pass first point guard, especially one who sets the table like Lonzo Ball does. So with James joining purple and gold, Ball is safe. The Lakers now have a go-to player, a willing defender, and a leader. One would then have to examine what kind of domino effect this will have in terms of pulling in other free agents like a Paul George who has already been considered a lock to don the purple and gold. Brook Lopez has already been reported to be willing to take less to play for the Lakers if they are a contender. Now, do you still try to resign Julius Randle? That depends on how much Julius wants and how saavy Magic and Rob are with their funds. Adding fuel to this fire is the prospect of the Lakers also trading for Kawhi Leonard to create a LeBron-PG-Kawhi superteam. There are several moving pieces surrounding these scenarios and look for the Lakers to leave no stone unturned.

The next big looming scenario is the signing of Paul George. Paul George who hails from Palmdale, CA has been very open about his desire to play for the Lakers. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance on a possible 1-year PG rental; however, OKC has not been completely written off. Lakers fans are salivating at the possibility of Paul George inking a deal with the Purple and Gold. I hear from sources that Paul George has all signs pointing to coming to Los Angeles. If Paul George is a lock to be a Laker, the Lakers then have added an offensive juggernaut and a great defender who would love to be on the receiving end of Lonzo Ball passes.  The Lakers are, in my opinion, one player away from being a contender with a budding star in Julius Randle and fast rising stars Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram. Paul George would be a game-changer.  The move would be an obvious one for the Lakers, but would signal a triumphant off-season nonetheless.

The latest wildcard scenario is the potential trading of Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has now been said to want out of San Antonio. Other sources have indicated that he’d like to be traded to the Lakers. Pump the breaks! Poppovich has never been one to trade with Western Conference rivals and certainly not to make them better! San Antonio has been rumored to be waiting patiently before even considering trading the coveted forward, but are willing to hear offers. Two questions. One, do the Lakers possess an appetizing package to peak San Antonio’s interest? Two, do the Lakers really want to give up the moon and stars to land Kawhi when he is a free agent after next season? Additionally, is Kawhi healthy? What kind of player are we in fact trading for? Who’s on the table? As I mentioned earlier, I find that Ball is off the table; however, Kuzma and Ingram are distinct possibilities because they are both forwards and Kawhi is like having Ingram at full potential now. Plus, this would be probably the strongest package the Lakers can submit without completely killing their core. Do I think it’s worth it? Not so sure yet. If the Lakers can successfully trade for Kawhi without completely breaking up the young core and are willing to deal with the 1-year rental situation; then they will definitely be getting the off-season off on the right foot.

Our last scenario is the possibility that the Lakers have a very strong team already. Supposing they do strike out on LeBron and PG, we have to consider what’s in front of them. At the present time, the Lakers have the following major free agents: Julius Randle, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Isaiah Thomas and Brook Lopez. Julius Randle has become a force to be reckoned with offensively and will be a highly coveted free agent. KCP is a deadly shooter when he’s on and has proven to be a lockdown defender, something the Lakers definitely need to keep. Isaiah Thomas averaged about 28 per only a season ago and was only limited by injuries. With a successful surgery complete and being officially pain free, one can’t help but to expect IT to pick up right where he left off. A crafty scorer, deadeye three-point shooter and excellent passer, Isaiah Thomas is the star the Lakers have right under their nose. Remember, he actually wants to be a Laker. Brook Lopez is arguably the strongest big man the Lakers have had since Pau Gasol. As I said in a previous blog, the question is which one of these players if not all do they want to keep. And how long will these players wait as the Lakers first attempt to shoot for the moon with the likes of Paul George and LeBron James?

There are plenty of scenarios that could play out this summer and as always, all eyes are on the Lakers. The Lakers have already begun by trading for an additional draft pick, securing the 25th, 39th and 47th pick in this year’s loaded draft class. Will there be more moves made?

Stay tuned, LakersNation! As Kyle Kuzma tweeted, its gonna be interesting…

 

 

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!

 

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!