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Which Current Players Do The Lakers Build Around?

Which players could be building blocks for the Lakers as they transition into their next era of basketball?

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When you’re dealing with a Los Angeles Lakers team that is currently 13-37 and actively sinking in the standings, the gut reaction of some might be to get rid of anyone or anything associated with the group that is likely in the midst of setting yet another franchise mark of futility. However, there are several pieces on this Lakers roster that could be productive parts of the future.

Obviously, the team is counting on Julius Randle to be a future franchise cornerstone when he returns next season, but along with what they hope ends up being a top pick in the upcoming draft, the front office and coaching staff have to utilize the remaining 33 games in order to assess what exactly they have with other young assets. While several media entities have attempted to drum up reasons as to why it makes sense to trade Kobe Bryant to the New York Knicks for what would realistically be his final season, it seems likely that Bryant will retire a Laker. Beyond that, and while we all wish him a full recovery, Bryant won’t be a part of today’s discussion.

Players that need further assessment:

Julius Randle – After being hailed as the “reward” for such a disastrous 2013-14 season (27-55), Randle now has fans cautiously optimistic that he can still be a large part of a future foundation. Not only did he miss his entire rookie campaign while recovering from a fractured right tibia he suffered on opening night (was that really just three months ago?), both he and the organization determined it would also be best to replace the troublesome screw in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot some were concerned about back when the versatile, 6’9 power forward was drafted.

Jordan Clarkson – Fans and folks from within the organization alike have to be pleased by the progress this young man has displayed over the past couple weeks. The more time he earns on the court, the more Clarkson seems to impress his coaching staff.

“You gotta learn,” head coach Byron Scott recently said of Clarkson following a double-overtime win over the Chicago Bulls. “Sometimes you have to throw a guy into the fire and see what he’s made of. I thought Jordan sort of fell on his face for a few minutes, but obviously kept his composure, gathered himself and played very well in the second overtime.”

The next 30+ games will offer an invaluable amount of on-the-job training for the 6’5 guard’s development, and Clarkson appears to be ready to embrace the challenge.

Tarik Black – Black is an interesting player, as the 6’11 former Kansas Jayhawk went undrafted and was seemingly caught in an odd-man-out situation in Houston as they made room for Josh Smith, but has managed to show a few flashes during his time in Los Angeles. With Jordan Hill expected to miss the next two weeks due to a hip injury, Black must take advantage of the opportunity to prove whether he can be seen as a player that can be developed moving forward.

Players that could stick around moving forward:

Nick Young – At this stage, what you see is pretty much what you get from Young. You just have to hope the streak-shooting, fun-loving, reserve scorer can not only remain focused but on the same page with the coaching staff as well. For the scoring punch he can provide, Young is actually under a relatively cap-friendly contract for at least the next two seasons. With a player-option for 2017-18, unless Young can’t find a way to see eye-to-eye with the coaching staff, expect him to be here for the long haul.

Ed Davis – Davis has proven that he can be a solid rotation piece as a player that can at the very least provide frontcourt depth as the Lakers are developing a guy like Randle and perhaps a player like Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky’s Karl Towns if the Lakers (who currently have the league’s fourth-worst record) were to land either big man in the upcoming NBA Draft. Davis is an energy guy who’s a willing weakside defender, solid rebounder and someone who doesn’t require specific plays for him on the other end of the court. Davis holds a $1.1 million player option for 2015-16 and he’s possible he could earn a raise by opting out this summer.

Wayne Ellington – After a slow start, Ellington seems to have found his stroke from the outside and has actually been impressive while filling in for an injured Bryant. The journeyman shooting guard appears to be favored by a coaching staff in search of consistent effort, so Ellington might have found a home with these Lakers.

Ryan Kelly – Kelly has shown an encouraging amount of versatility and skill for a man with his size when healthy, but availability has been the biggest issue for the 23-year-old big man. He’s cost-controlled at a very low rate for at least another year, so we should probably expect the organization to continue exploring just how effective Kelly can be at this level for another season.

Players that may not be in the future plans:

Jordan Hill – Prior to his injury, Hill’s name was the most common Laker coming up in trade rumors of late. With the deadline looming (February 19), that probably won’t change, especially if his recent hip flexor strain isn’t seen as something that will linger. It should be noted that the Lakers could avoid Hill’s ability to veto a trade (re-signed on a one-year deal) by simply opting into the second year of his deal.

Jeremy Lin – It seems pretty clear to the outside observer that Lin may not be someone Scott sees as the future leader of his offense. The trouble for Lin is that in a contract year, he finds himself trying to earn minutes on the court for a ball-control and defense-oriented coaching staff while battling several other players with similar motivating factors. One is a rookie simply trying to assert himself and the other is a scrappy defender that has fought and clawed his way to stay in the league. Lin has to find a way to impress as he is playing out the schedule in hopes of landing his next deal, which doesn’t seem as likely to come from these Lakers.

Carlos Boozer – All things considered, Boozer has actually been consistently productive on the offensive end since Coach Scott decided to mix up the rotation and bring the veteran big off the bench. With his deal expiring at the end of the year, it seems most likely that Boozer would try to join a contender in search of veteran frontcourt depth.

Wesley Johnson – Johnson is going to be 28 years old by the time next season begins, and while he could certainly go on taking one-year deals from the Lakers, this is generally the time in a player’s career when long-term security tends to become a concern. It remains unclear at this juncture whether Johnson is a part of their future plans or whether they are a part of his.

Ronnie Price – While it is clear that Scott appreciates the intensity and much-needed perimeter defense Price can provide when healthy, his future with the organization seems tied to how they do in terms of acquiring and luring in talent this summer.

Robert Sacre – Sacre has always been well-liked within the locker room and by the organization, but his future with the team also seems tied to what he can prove to the current coaching staff over the final stretch of the season and how the front office decides to attack reshaping the roster. If Davis and Black remain with the team, a returning Randle – not to mention any young big man they could potentially pick up in the draft – could make for a very crowded frontcourt for Sacre.

The Lakers clearly have some major decisions to make as they continue to transition into life after Kobe Bryant. They’ll rightfully honor and commemorate Bryant for all that he’s meant for this organization (and league) during his farewell tour next season, but let’s just say the party will have to be held with a bit of construction taking place in the background.

The Lakers may be on pace to win just 22 games, but an influx of young talent along with the noticeable development of those players they ultimately hope to build around can at least give L.A. fans hope for the future. For an organization with a clear history of swinging for the fences when it comes to imaginative or unforeseen deals, the more viable assets they have in tow, the easier it is to negotiate with opposing teams.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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