What Should the Lakers Do Going Forward?
What’s next for the Purple & Gold?
The all-star break is the unofficial halfway point for the NBA season. It’s been a pretty rough first half for the Lakers so far, & the best way to try & get over a bad start is to look ahead. Here’s what I think they should do going forward.
The rest of season will more than likely look like how it’s gone so far. As I wrote about earlier, Byron Scott isn’t going anywhere, so we can expect to see the same inconsistency on the court. In a season that’s going as poorly as the Lakers’ is, the best way to make the most of it is to appreciate moments. There are only 27 games left this season, which means there are only 27 games left in Kobe Bryant’s career. There will be plenty of moments to embrace in the remaining games, concluded by the bittersweet season/career finale on April 13. He may not be having the usual Kobe-type season on the court this year, but will all miss the Mamba when he’s gone. So let’s enjoy his last moments on the court while we still have the chance.
The Lakers were quiet & didn’t make a trade before yesterday’s deadline. The Lakers were stuck in the middle of two situations: do you not make a move & continue to play poorly to keep your chances of landing a top pick or do you make a trade to try & win now, but jeopardize you’re chances of keeping your pick? As of right now, as much as it pains me to say this, I think they should keep things the same & try to keep their pick. They can only keep their pick if it ends up in the top 3 after the lottery, & the only way to have a chance of ending up in the top 3 is to lose. The idea of having a top prospect to add to our young core & build for the future seems like the most logical philosophy to have. With Kobe gone, the Lakers will need a new identity, so why not try to find one amongst our young talent? Also, having such a luxurious pick will give the Lakers the option to trade the pick & potentially get something good in return, similar to what the Cavaliers & T’Wolves did with Andrew Wiggins & Kevin Love.
There were rumors about Nick Young, Lou Williams, Brandon Bass & Roy Hibbert being on the table, but no one made them a good enough offer. Then there were some rumblings that Roy Hibbert would be bought out if he wasn’t moved, but now it appears that’s not the case. By not making a trade or buying out Roy Hibbert, it appears the Lakers are all in on losing too. One upside to the Lakers committing to losing is Byron Scott will be increasing the young guy’s minutes. This is the moment Laker fans have been waiting for. All we’ve been wanting is for Russell, Randle, & Clarkson to be able to learn how to play together. There will be growing pains, but it’s better to have them work out the kinks now. That way they will be more comfortable playing together next season & many seasons to come, when hopefully they have a better roster around them & a better coach coaching them. The final step to look out for is the 10-day contracts given to a variety of D-Leaguers. That’s the tell-tale sign your team has given up on the regular season & is looking ahead to the future.
Now this is where things get interesting. There’s a lot that will happen & could potentially happen this offseason. A lot of different variables will affect what the Lakers do going forward. Like I mentioned earlier, whether or not the Lakers keep their draft pick depends on how they finish the season. They can increase their chances by losing, but the rest is up to the lottery & out of their control. What they can control, though, is whether or not the Lakers keep Byron Scott as their head coach. It’s still up in the air if he’ll stick around for the long run, but many believe it’s time for him to go. If that’s the case, who should the Lakers bring in?
My choice is Tom Thibodeau. Say what you want about him being stubborn & intense while he was in Chicago, but he is a proven winner, with a .647 career winning percentage, finishing every season above .500, & a NBA Coach of the Year in his first season. He was this successful, despite Derrick Rose’s multiple devastating injuries, & with a group of good, not great, players. Of course you can’t talk about Thibs without mentioning defense. While in Chicago, the Bulls finished in the top 5 of defensive efficiency each season, with the exception of last season where they finished 15th, mainly due to many missed games by key players. And one thing you cant argue is Thib’s ability to get the most out his players. His hard-nose, grind-it-out style may not be popular, but it made all of his players better. He coached Derrick Rose to a MVP in the middle of the apex of LeBron’s prime & Joakim Noah to a Defensive Player of the Year a couple seasons later. The Lakers players don’t believe in Byron Scott anymore & are going to want something new to believe in that works. These young, hungry players are tired of losing & I believe they will buy into Thib’s intense style if it means they’ll win. He’s also taken this entire season off to reflect on things, so maybe(& it’s a small maybe) he might take a look in the mirror & see if there are some things he could change to maintain the intensity that has made him successful without running the risk of overworking his guys to the point where they can’t take it anymore & tune him out. If he doesn’t join the Knicks or another team this summer, I hope he decides the join the purple & gold.
Another popular candidate is former Laker, Luke Walton. He may not have gotten any credit for the wins, but how he managed the Warriors in Steve Kerr’s absence was very impressive & got the attention of every team looking for a head coach. Like Thibodeau, this includes the Knicks. Phil Jackson has always seen Walton as a long-lost son & believed he would make a good coach before anyone else. So it’s natural to think that Walton would want to work with his mentor again. The only issue is that the Zen Master still favors the triangle offense. While Walton is pretty well versed in the triangle, he seems to have embraced a more fast-paced, run-&-gun style of play. Either one will have to adjust to the other’s philosophy, or they will have to meet somewhere in the middle & try to make both philosophies work. However, there’s also this rumor floating around that Phil Jackson might be on his way back to LA eventually. Luke Walton will definitely become a head coach, & it might be with his old mentor, Phil Jackson. But which coast will it be on?
Those things that might happen this summer, but what will happen is a lot of guys becoming free agents. Clarkson will probably be the only one the Lakers re-sign, leaving them with a little over 65 million dollars in cap space. With cap space like that, it gives the Lakers A LOT of options on how & where to spend it. They should take full advantage of it & make offers to as many free agents as possible, big & small.
Kevin Durant is obviously the prize every team has their eyes on this summer. Everyone is going to put their best foot forward in trying to court KD to come play for their team, the Lakers being no exception. They will already have plenty of cap space to throw a max deal at him, & they can try to pitch that he can be the new face of the Lakers with Kobe being gone & help return them to their winning ways & become part of the tradition. Yeah, it’s cliché & has been used over & over again, but it’s a cliché for reason because it’s true. As humble as KD is, he knows what it would mean to be the superstar that resurges a storied franchise like the Lakers back to glory. And as much as people are trying to downplay how “large markets don’t matter anymore”, there’s nothing more exciting than a superstar having success in a large market city. The only reason people are saying that is because the two largest markets, LA & NY, both don’t have superstars & aren’t playing well. I personally experienced it twice with the “Shaq & Kobe” era & ‘09-’10 back-to-back championship teams here in LA & there wasn’t anything like it. The city completely changes & KD can be the guy to do that. And they can give him some input on what other moves to make, like other free agents to sign or who he would like to be coached by. There are a lot of reasons for KD to come to LA, but like Zach Lowe said before the season started, it really just makes too much sense for KD to not sign a long-term deal this offseason & sign a one-year deal, instead, in order to take advantage of the dramatic salary cap next offseason. It will also align his free agency with Russell Westbrook’s & Serge Ibaka’s for them to make a decision together, if they choose to do so. He’s going to make his money regardless of what he does, it’s all a matter of what KD thinks gives him the best opportunity to win.
Demar DeRozan is someone else I think the Lakers should heavily pursue, if he decides to opt out early this summer. Again, the salary cap increases dramatically next offseason, when his contract ends, but I think the Lakers have a better chance of courting DeRozan than people think. The Lakers biggest selling point is always their legacy; and who better to sell the legacy of the Lakers to than the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe & the Lakers. What would it mean to DeRozan if he can follow in his favorite player’s footsteps & play for his hometown team? If that’s not enough motivation, than I don’t know what is. He’s having a career year, with career highs in points(23.4), assists(4.1), true shooting percentage(.548), & PER(21.6) since becoming a full-time starter couple seasons ago, & just made his second All-Star team. His stock is the highest it’s ever been right now, & the Lakers should offer a max deal to him.
The glaring position of need is a big man to go along with Julius Randle. Roy Hibbert was a huge disappointment(as I knew he would be)& is almost 100% not going to be here next season, so the Lakers are literally going to have to fill some big shoes. Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, & Joakim Noah are the possible bigs the Lakers should have on their radar. Al Horford is the safest choice out of that group. Averaging a career 15 points & 10 rebounds on 54% field goal percentage per 36, everyone knows Horford can put the ball in the hoop. But it’s his defense that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. He may not put up the individual defensive stats or be a traditional rim protector like Whiteside & Noah, but the work he puts in under the rim, properly switching on pick-&-rolls, disrupting passing lanes, calling out plays, makes him a can’t miss target this offseason.
Then there’s Hassan Whiteside & Joakim Noah. These two are much bigger gambles than Horford, given Whiteside’s on-court issues & Noah’s injury history. Whiteside’s numbers this year have been tremendous. He’s filling out the stat sheet, averaging 12 points, 11 rebounds, leading the league with almost 4 blocks a game & is 9th in the league in PER at 23.7. But despite his impressive stats, a major criticism of his game is that his numbers don’t translate to wins. Not to mention his on-court troubles & ejections that have followed him his whole career. Whiteside is no doubt a young, talented player who can really help this team, but the baggage that comes with him creates quite the dilemma when deciding to give him a long-term deal. Joakim Noah has had his fair share of altercations in his career, but they’re the kind that come a good place; rooted in competition & passion for the game. It’s that same passion that helped him become a Defensive Player of the Year. But that same passion & intensity that’s pushed his game to the limits has also pushed his body to it’s limit. It started with his knee in 2014, & most recently with his shoulder. At 30, he’s not getting any younger & we can expect to see more injuries from him. But his defensive knowledge & ability to contribute on offense without having to score makes him a great addition to any team, especially with this young & already offensively-talented team. Both these guys are gambles to offer long-term deals, but sometimes you win when you take a gamble, & you can’t win if you don’t play.
The other position they’ve desperately been trying to find is a true swingman. Nicolas Batum & Harrison Barnes will both be available & fit the bill perfectly. Both are proven talents who are effective in more than one way. They can both score close to the basket, as well as from deep, they both rebound & assist well, & can defend multiple positions. Batum is playing terrific basketball in his first season with the Hornets, averaging 15 points, 6 boards, & 6 assists per game, but he’s been putting up well-rounded numbers like this since he was in Portland. He seems to like it in Charlotte, but Batum is definitely someone I would try to go after. Harrison Barnes’ situation is interesting, to say the least. He turned down a deal from Warriors last offseason, in hopes to show out this year & earn a bigger deal. His numbers are slightly better this season, considering he’s getting more minutes, but the jury is still out about his game. As talented as he is, it looks like there’s still plenty of room for him to improve his game & get even better. However, as good as he is, some feel like he might have hit his peak, & is a terrific athlete, but won’t ever be able to make the leap & develop into the type of player who can operate in a system that involves him to make decisions with the ball. He’s part of a revolving door of guys that fluctuate in-&-out of the starting lineup in Golden State, but he for sure would start for just about every other team in the league. Maybe going somewhere & becoming a full-time starter is the extra push he needs to get to the next level. Also, Solomon Hill & Allen Crabbe are good, solid pros who can be effective off the bench. And they’re both from LA, so I’m sure would love to come play for their hometown team if given the opportunity.
This summer has the potential to be the most exciting summer the Lakers have had in a while. With this many possibilities to improve & completely turn this thing around, it’s going to be really hard for the Lakers to mess this up. The future looks bright for the Lakers, but all we can do is wait. So let’s make the most of what we can now & find moments to remember, & we can worry about the future when it gets here.