While the common narrative about the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers may revolve around their inability to persuade some of the bigger names in free agency to don the ‘purple and gold’ for the next few seasons, the front office has quietly put together a nice stretch of transactions that should improve their roster moving forward. Whether they sort of backed into these deals is somewhat irrelevant at this point, as the team seems willing to finally revert back to a formula the has proven successful for so many years.
Essentially, and fans of the critically acclaimed HBO show ‘The Wire’ would certainly understand and relate to the reference, the front office appeared to lose sight of what they’ve always done best in an attempt to “play away games” rather than sticking to cultivating and developing young talent and assets in preparation to strike when a desired player became available to acquire via transaction.
The notion of simply signing any and every player that becomes available may ‘sound’ great and certainly makes for nice Twitter hashtags, but the reality is that was a totally flawed approach that has clearly proven itself to only lead to disappointment within the organization and additional frustration from the fan base. In fact, perhaps their greatest mistake over the past couple seasons was selling the fans on a strategy that actually stood little-to-no chance given the team’s circumstances. Put simply, while some may still hold a certain level of resentment toward a star like LaMarcus Aldridge for not staking what will likely be the remainder of his prime to a team still in the midst of a rebuild, those of us being honest with ourselves completely understand the decision to go elsewhere.
That isn’t to say the Lakers aren’t chock-full of young and exciting pieces the organization and fan base should be happy about; rather it just means we can totally understand why a 30-year-old may still find comfort in choosing a team with a roster that is already proven and ready to succeed from the opening tip.
Combined with the promise and hope that comes along with adding young talent like this year’s lottery pick point guard D’Angelo Russell as well as the return of last year’s top selection forward Julius Randle, the front office did a stellar job in turning things around on the free agency and trade markets with proven veterans like center Roy Hibbert, shooting guard Lou Williams and power forward Brandon Bass to solidify what has quietly turned into a solid rotation in support of a budding foundation.
Kobe Bryant will be mentioned in the NBA history books among the greatest to ever lace them up, and while his likely ‘swan song’ around the league will deservedly be the large portion of the discussion surrounding the team as he enters his 20th season with the Lakers and final year of his contract, fans should really look forward to enjoying this exciting youth movement the organization appears to finally have embraced.
Somewhat similar to the necessary shift that took place throughout the mid-90s, these Lakers also find themselves with last year’s All-Rookie First Team selection Jordan Clarkson attempting to disprove those that may have chalked much of his 2014-15 success up to all of the opportunities that a 22-win team affords a young player. If the workout footage and accounts from those around the team’s first few Summer League practices are accurate, Clarkson is already a clear-cut step ahead of where he was coming in as a moderately known second-round pick in last year’s draft.
Although he may find himself as part of what has suddenly become a bit of a crowded guard rotation (at least, while Nick Young remains on the roster), Clarkson has proven an ability to play either backcourt position and should blend well with Kobe Bryant while in relief of Russell as well as eventually as the second-overall selection’s running mate once Bryant takes his final shot at Staples Center.
Rumors continue to swirl surrounding potential sign-and-trade deals involving center Jordan Hill and reserve guard Jeremy Lin, but it is uncertain exactly which player (or players) the Lakers have in mind that might round out this roster. Rookies Larry Nance Jr. (power forward) and Anthony Brown (small forward) should be able to compete with guys like Jabari Brown and Tarik Black for spots in the rotation as the roster is currently constituted, but this front office doesn’t appear to be done adding talent just yet.
Undrafted rookie and rim protecting center Robert Upshaw has an opportunity to not only prove an ability to play at this level, but a willingness to take the steps required to be a responsible professional. As Hibbert is on the final year of his deal, this could be the perfect opportunity for Upshaw to re-write his own narrative. With Wesley Johnson making the somewhat predictable move across the hallway to the Clippers, the Lakers could probably stand to add some additional swingman depth.
The notion of playing Bryant at the small forward, particularly against the smaller swingmen, could work for certain stretches, but surely isn’t a viable plan moving forward. If the past three seasons have taught us anything, it’s that Bryant’s health can hardly be something the coaching staff can rely upon.
More than anything, fans of the Lakers as well as those that simply appreciate the game of basketball in general, would like to see Bryant as healthy as he can be for a majority of what could be the end of a storied career. Banging up against the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James or even Carmelo Anthony on a somewhat nightly basis would seemingly all but guarantee to cut that short once again.
Time will tell whether these young players will actually pan out, but at least it appears the organization may finally be on the road to recovery. After two years of all-out and undeniable futility, this could be a season that ultimately reinvigorates one of the more rabid fan bases in professional sports. Stick to your guns on this one, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. You’re already locked and loaded with plenty of youth and skill for the immediate and the future, so you may as well see just how strong the ammunition might just be.
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