Last Season: 17-65, 15th and DFL in the West
Off-season Gains: A once-great franchise that was held hostage for years, dignity, not being coached by Byron Scott, SF Brandon Ingram (draft), SF Luol Deng (free agent), C Timofey Mozgov (free agent), PF Yi Jianlian (free agent), PF Thomas Robinson (free agent), PG Jose Calderon (trade/Chicago), Coach Luke Walton,
Off-season Losses: TV ratings, celebrities at games, anyone paying attention, SG Kobe Bryant (retired), PF Brandon Bass (free agent/Clippers), C Roy Hibbert (free agent/Charlotte), PF Ryan Kelly (free agent/Atlanta)
Off-season Stock: It's not available. They sold all the shares to Kobe Bryant as part of his last contract.
League Pass Team?: So, they're just an ordinary rebuilding team now? Where's the fun in that?
At last, our long national nightmare is over. After a final game that had all the narcissism and dignity of Vladimir Putin scoring eight goals in an exhibition hockey game against former NHL stars, Kobe Bryant has finally retired. To my surprise, the Lakers franchise didn't disband in his honor. I mean, what's the point of going on any longer? Those balls aren't going to shoot themselves. The Lakers are, belatedly, trying to do the right thing for any club at its nadir, stockpiling talent through the draft with Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and, this past summer, Brandon Ingram, but you can tell it's not really their thing, that this whole concept of rebuilding is foreign and something their front office views as beneath them. It's just not how the Lakers have done business, traditionally. Even Bryant was a draft day trade involving an established player (Vlade Divac), the way Kawhi Leonard was acquired for George Hill. But free agency and trades have always been the Lakers' modus operandi, from Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal.
So naturally this summer they threw a boatload of money at... Timofey Mozgov and then another pile at Luol Deng because they had to reach the salary cap floor somehow and it'd be rude to admit publicly that THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS can't get any free agents worth a darn to take their money, even without the specter of having to play with Bryant no longer an issue. Why don't people want to play for them now? They don't want to deal with being in the same locker room as Loose Lips Russell?
Oh well. I guess every city can't be the (ahem) big market draw that San Antonio is.
If you can forgive them their free agent excesses -- with Mozgov and Deng accounting for nearly a third of the team's cap room for the next four years -- then the Lakers ... geez. Where was I trying to go with this? There's just no way I can spin them paying Mozgov and Deng over $34 million a year. The former is a Frankenstein's monster who fell off a figurative cliff and the literal Cavaliers rotation while the latter nearly died two years ago from a medical misdiagnosis due in part to how inept the Bulls' front office is. Deng averaged 12.3 points a game for Miami last season, the lowest since his rookie season, with a league-average PER. He's a guy with the "three-and-D" reputation, who doesn't quite shoot it consistently well enough for the "three" part nor move his feet fast enough for the "D" part. All his contract does is drive home the point, for those of you who needed it driven home, that Danny Green's contract is a bargain for the Spurs.
Anyway, veterans aside, there are pieces here. Jordan is a San Antonio success story, though he was less efficient in his sophomore campaign having to babysit rookies and mollify Bryant. His role should be more defined playing for an actual coach in Luke Walton, but it's still going to be an odd backcourt pairing with another combo guard in Russell and I'm not quite sure how it's going to work. As for Russell, his well-documented violation of the locker room code aside, he had a decent enough rookie season when you account for the fact that he was only 19 and playing for a coach who openly undermined him at every turn and with a roster full of teammates who were the James Harden All-Stars on defense. I look for Russell to make a big leap in year two, especially as a playmaker. I'm less enthused about Julius Randle's prospects. His rookie season was postponed a year after breaking his leg in the opener of the 2014-15 season and when he finally did get to play last year, he was pretty miserable at both ends, shooting 43 percent as a power-forward. Randle is billed as a Zach Randolph clone and Z-Bo wasn't too hot himself the first couple years of his career, but the only team he shoots 43 percent against is the Spurs, so the comparison isn't apt yet.
Ingram is the guy I'm curious about. A 6'9 string bean, he has the potential to develop into a superstar scorer once he fills out, with the size and athleticism to score in ways that Clarkson nor Russell cannot. Ideally the Lakers would've preferred to sign Kevin Durant in free agency I'm sure, but Ingram can perhaps grow into the poor man's version of that, albeit a decade younger and far cheaper. You never know with young guys, and Los Angeles is not the kind of calm, nurturing distraction-free environment full of patient people, but honestly I think it's going to be hard for the Lakers to screw this up in the long term, especially with Walton around to oversee things. I'd say we need to enjoy watching L.A. struggle while we can, but even that won't be much fun without an arch-nemesis in Shaq or Kobe. Are we really supposed to hate on a bunch of kids? By 2018 or 2019 though, I think the Lakers are going to be a force again and it shouldn't be difficult to summon up the proper vitriol for them.
While watching the pratfalls and growing pains of the youngsters, there will at least be the comedy value of their bench, filled with draft busts like Thomas Robinson and YI Jianlian (he's back, America!), a sixth-man ready to challenge Bryant's records on field goal attempts per minute in Louis Williams, the pathologically defenseless Jose Calderon and two more kids in Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown, whom I compared to Green last year because I'm an idiot. Oh, and Nick Young is still on the roster, because why wouldn't he be? And Metta World Peace has returned, to provide mentoring because I guess Stephen Jackson wanted too much money.
Los Angeles will lose many, many games. They may finish dead last in the West again, which is just going to net them another really good player. Bryant's hubris may well end up helping them in the long run. Their future already looks in considerably better shape than teams like Dallas, Houston, New Orleans... maybe most of the conference. Even when the Lakers stink, things have a way of working out for them.