The Lakers Are Back
After winning the Summer League Championship, Magic made a huge declaration. Is he right?
On July 5th 2010, at his introductory press conference, with a 100 million dollar contract signed, Amar’e Stoudemire declared that “the Knicks are back”. He then proceeded to play half a season of MVP-level ball, before the Knicks traded the farm, the house, and the kids for Carmelo Anthony. They never meshed together well on the court, and then injuries ultimately decimated Stoudemire’s career. The Knicks had one good season with him on the roster (and coincidentally in this millennium), in 2012-13, winning 54 games, in which Amar’e played 23.5 minutes in 29 total games in what was an otherwise injury plagued season for him. He was the reason for the success of that team in the same way that lettuce is responsible for making a BLT the delicious sandwich that it is. Take him off that team, and they still win 50+ games. Take lettuce out of a BLT, and you still have a tasty lunch. Declaring that your team is “back” is a bold move that isn’t taken lightly and is forever remembered.
After the uprising last season that saw Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka take over the Lakers, expectations were raised in the organization. After a few years of tanking, while disguising it as the Kobe Farewell Tour, the Lakers gathered some assets. They assembled a nice young core of Randle, Clarkson, Russell, Ingram, and Nance. It wasn’t enough, and how could it be when a bunch of college-aged kids are playing in a league in which the likes of Russell Westbrook and LeBron James decimate everyone in their path? Magic’s first offseason’s highlights include trading Russell to the Nets for Brook Lopez and a late first round pick (which became Summer League Championship Game MVP Kyle Kuzma AKA KOOOOOOOOZZZZZ), drafting Lonzo “I Shoot Like A 12 Year Old” Ball 2nd overall, and signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a bloated $18 million/1 year deal. In one summer, he’s revamped 60% of his Starting Lineup, but how did he really do? Let’s take a look.
Lonzo won Summer League MVP despite not playing in the finale (it didn’t really matter, he threw enough majestic passes over outstretched arms to win it regardless), but will still be a rookie and play like one (somewhere Lavar is screaming at a TV). Rookie Point Guards typically don’t translate well coming right into the league, and even with his great feel for the game offensively, will still struggle defensively with his skinny frame. The Lakers will probably have KCP guard the tougher perimeter option but NBA defense is a wildly intricate beast to learn. Expect Lonzo to get burnt on that side of the ball. We’ll still get a season of Rubio-esque passes from Lonzo and everyone in Staples Center will definitely own a Ball jersey by season’s end.
Caldwell-Pope has been in the league 4 years already and frustratingly enough for Pistons fans, did not improve all that much. To the point that Detroit signed Langston Galloway and simply renounced Caldwell-Pope, turning him from a restricted to unrestricted free agent in the process (yikes). His shot is wildly inconsistent, making him one of the most infuriating 35% 3-point shooters in the league. His defense will still be valuable though, helping mask some of Ball’s deficiency on that side of the floor. Look for him to run out on transition every chance he can get to try and get some of Lonzo’s full-court dimes (KCP is currently rubbing his hands together just thinking about this).
Brook Lopez (and Nets franchise leader in points) joins the team after a season in which he made more than quadruple the amount of three pointers than he had ever even attempted in his entire career prior (134 makes vs 31 attempts in 8 seasons combined). He has transformed his game into what a modern center should play like, and being on the court with bruiser Julius Randle will help make up for his lack of rebounding (Lopez is currently shooting in an undisclosed gym in delight of this). A knock on Lonzo from Summer League was his inefficiency in the half court. Watch for him to catch Brook for three pointers as the trail man if he can’t find anything in transition.
Along with Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle working on their bodies this offseason (Randle is yoked now by the way), their starting 5 will look to run a lot and should actually be a lot of fun to watch. Coming off their bench, they have Jordan Clarkson, Corey Brewer, Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, and the corpse of Luol Deng, which should be mostly horrible with a few Larry Nance posters mixed in. The Lakers will be bad next year. We know that. Young teams that don’t play a lot of defense and are new to playing with each other historically are. That’s fine. The hope is that it doesn’t really matter as the team is looking forward to next summer’s free agents and beyond.
Brook Lopez is on an expiring contract and I’d expect them to try to move him at the deadline to a pseudo-contender in exchange for some assets, taking back as least salary as possible (which will be tough as few teams have the cap space necessary for such a move). They gifted KCP with a crazy payday, which many believe is to win the favor of Rich Paul, his agent and mutual agent of future free agent LeBron James. All signs have led to Paul George headed to the Lakers next year as well.
Maybe it’s fine for the Lakers to punt next season in hopes of getting these two superstars to pair with a young and growing core. I still would be wary of this since they’ve had trouble getting free agent meetings in the past. Maybe a potential meeting with Magic and pairing with Lonzo and Brandon Ingram changes that though. All it could take is a year of playing with Westbrook for Paul George and another year of losing to the Warriors for LeBron to perhaps join forces and head west. This is the pipe dream Magic has devised and hopes to bring to fruition. Who knows what its likelihood of actually happening is. All I know is that if I were in his place, I would’ve made sure I sign those guys before declaring “The Lakers are back”. If Magic is saying he’s making a BLT, he better make sure to bring the bacon and not just the lettuce.