30 Teams in 30 Days: Lakers start their rebuild process

Kobe Bryant's retirement opens door to a new era in Lakerland

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today’s team: Los Angeles Lakers

2015-16 record: 17-65

Who’s gone: F Brandon Bass, C Roy Hibbert, G Kobe Bryant (retired)

Who’s new: Coach Luke Walton; SF Brandon Ingram, C Ivica Zubac (via Draft); F Luol Deng, F/C Yi Jianlian, C Timofey Mozgov (via free agency); G Jose Calderon (via trade)

The lowdown: The Lakers just endured their worst season (17 wins) in franchise history and their three-year playoff drought is also their longest ever.

Last season was a drain. Good luck getting anyone in the organization to admit that. But it was all Kobe Bryant, all the time, and the Lakers couldn’t begin to rebuild in earnest until he left. In his last few seasons, Kobe wanted to win … until it was apparent he didn’t have the help and that the Lakers weren’t willing to mortgage their future on his pipe dream.

That’s over, and a new era beckons — or so the Lakers hope. The search for the next star begins with Ingram, a springy licorice-thin forward who brings good instincts and plenty of realistic hope.

Ingram was an easy choice to draft No. 2 overall because of a combination of size, skills and intangibles. The Lakers suffered plenty in order to put themselves in position to draft Ingram, and by most early indications he should be worth the pain.

The good news for Ingram is he’ll have company on the learning curve. That’s because the Lakers have a handful of players who were attending their prom just a few years ago. The goal is to allow this young core to grow together and make their mistakes now, with hopes that in another season or two, they’ll be seasoned enough to make significant progress toward the playoffs. This proud franchise isn’t accustomed to being in this position, but in the absence of a blockbuster trade or big free agent signing, what choice do they have?

The Lakers were never really in the hunt for Kevin Durant this summer. But they do have a solid brand and ample salary cap space. Therefore, the chase for top free agents next summer and beyond can be realistic if their youngsters put up a convincing case that the franchise is headed in the right direction.

The Lakers received some encouraging signs from second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell during the Las Vegas Summer League. Actually, once the regular season was over, Russell was back in the practice facility and returned daily. That earned him points from Laker management, which was frustrated by his growing pains, both on and off the court. Russell was inconsistent as a playmaker and struggled to show leadership skills, although in both cases, it was understandable; he was just a teenager who found himself on a glamour team and living in Hollywood.

Russell shot 41 percent last season and, even more disturbing, he averaged just 3.4 assists, raising questions about whether he was a distributor. He evidently decided he didn’t want to be tossed in with other Draft busts, so he turned serious and told management that he wants to be this team’s point guard of the present and future. To that end, the Lakers didn’t bring in anyone to compete with him for the job this season.

He should have a better relationship with new coach Luke Walton than with Byron Scott. Walton made that a priority when he accepted the job and he also brings the casual temperament that could connect with Russell.

Just to be safe, the Lakers brought in veteran reinforcements, in the form of Deng, to tell the youngsters how to go about their business the right way. The Lakers are also depending on Deng to be a productive scorer, and if he can average in the mid-teens in scoring while also being an exemplary defender, he’ll be worth the price.

The Lakers surprised many by making Mozgov a $17 million-a-season player. In the 2014-15 season, Mozgov played relatively well for the Cavaliers in the playoffs and in the NBA Finals. In 2015-16, he eventually was all but invisible in Cleveland. Nonetheless, the Lakers sensed Mozgov was simply a bad fit for the Cavs’ rotation and, if healthy, can be a post presence. That, combined with the increase in the cap and the scarcity of big men, made the Lakers reach deep in their wallet.

They also re-signed Jordan Clarkson and are banking on big improvements fromJulius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. It might not be enough to enter the playoff picture out West, but the Lakers want to take steps to point toward better days.

Coming Next: Brooklyn Nets

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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