The worst is over. That’s the good news for the Lakers and their fans. Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell are experienced, Jordan Clarkson is more experienced, rookie Brandon Ingram has a bright future at small forward, rookie Luke Walton has a bright future as coach, and there is real reason to believe in tomorrow. But the Lakers are still not within telescope range of the playoffs. That’s the bad news. There will still be a lot of losses this season.
For the first time since May 2, 1996, the Lakers will play a game without Kobe Bryant on the roster…. The Lakers used the second pick in the draft on Ingram with good reason to believe he is a better fit than the first pick, Ben Simmons…. Walton left as No. 1 assistant with the Golden State Warriors to become coach of the Lakers, returning to the organization where he played eight-plus seasons…. Luol Deng signed as a free agent with the plan to become a locker-room presence as well as to become a contributor at small forward.
- It’s not just the financial aspect that the Lakers went in $72 million on Deng and $64 million on Timofey Mozgov. It’s that both got four-year deals when Deng is 31 and Mozgov is 30. Can L.A. get two years out of both before it is paying for little contribution?
- Randle averaged a double-double in 2015-16. As essentially a rookie ... at 21 years old ... and coming off a serious leg injury. Imagine once he gets going.
- Bryant averaged almost 17 shots a game last season, three more than any other Laker (Jordan Clarkson). That would be a lot of chances coming to Ingram, Russell, Clarkson and Randle anyway, with the possibility of even more if Walton steps on the gas after L.A. finished 16th in pace.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Secret Agent D’Angelo Russell. There would have been a lot of expectations anyway, but ending his rookie season with the mess of recording details of the personal life of teammate Nick Young put one of the unique spotlights of the league on Russell. Now he needs to prove a lot more than whether he can handle the NBA as a player.
D’Angelo Russell | 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg
Fourth among rookies in assists and steals, fifth in scoring and 3-point shooting
Jordan Clarkson | 15.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.4 apg
The leading scorer last season among returning Lakers
Luol Deng | 12.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg
Experience gives him an edge over Ingram for the opening-night start
Julius Randle | 11.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.8 apg
Among nine players who averaged a double-double, no one did it in fewer minutes
Timofey Mozgov | 6.3 ppg, 4.4 apg, 0.8 bpg
From 76 minutes in the playoffs to $64 million in Los Angeles
Brandon Ingram | Rookie
One of the leading preseason contenders for Kia Rookie of the Year.
Larry Nance Jr. | 5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.9 spg
No. 27 pick at power forward was one of the first-year steals of 2015-16.
Lou Williams | 15.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
At 15 points a game each of the last two seasons, still provides a scoring punch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Avoiding last place in the Western Conference, at least, would be a good start. But the Lakers would be wise to not pay attention to the standings the next season or two. The priority is to develop the young talent, maybe or maybe not with another lottery pick next June, with the possibility it could end up in Philadelphia, but with several building blocks already in place. They’ve got their coach for the future as well. Now to get through more growing pains.
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