Los Angeles Lakers – Off Season Report

brandon-ingram-stack

2015/16 Record: 17-65 (Worst in Western Conference, 2nd worst in NBA. Worst Laker record ever).

Ins:

Brandon Ingram DR – Pick #2
Timofey Mozgov FA – 4 Years / $64 Million
Luol Deng FA – 4 Years / $72 Million
Jose Calderon TR – Bulls
Ivica Zubac DR – Pick #32
Jianlian Yi FA – 1 Year / $8 Million (Partial Guarantee)
Zach Auguste FA – Undrafted 2 Years / $1.4 Million (Partial Guarantee)
Julian Jacobs FA – Contract TBD
Travis Wear FA – Contract TBD

Outs:

Kobe Bryant Retired
Roy Hibbert FA – Hornets
Brandon Bass FA – Clippers
Ryan Kelly FA – Unsigned
Metta World Peace FA – Unsigned
Robert Sacre FA – Unsigned

Off Season Analysis:

Picture this: You are going about your business, walking down a street surrounded by beautiful trophies. All of a sudden, you feel a snap. You stagger, and in that moment, you fall down a hole in the ground you never saw and when you land, you separate your shoulder. All of a sudden, you’re in a dark tunnel, no help, no light, no end in sight. You trudge forwards, which is actually backwards, because you have no sense of direction.

This is the Lakers when Kobe Bryant did his Achilles, then his Shoulder injury. 3 years trying to figure out where to go and what to do. 3 years on, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a path back to the street surrounded in Trophies.

That path looks a lot like Brandon Ingram and Luke Walton.

LA basically couldn’t lose on draft night, and they were fortunate to get the player who better fit with their roster, and peers voted as most likely to have the best career in their draft class. Kevin Durant 2.0 Brandon Ingram wow’d from early in the College season and drew praise from KD himself as part of the Select Team squad that trained with the USMNT. The kid will be special. He has an effortless look about him on offence, similar to Durant and Tracey McGrady.

He needs to add some strength, there will certainly be games where he gets bullied and looks underdeveloped. But make no mistake, he should become a superstar.

Also staring in this New Hope is Luke Skywalker Walton. His laid back surfer style is perfectly SoCal, and he appears ready to shepherd LA into their future.

He has the complete backing of Jeanie Buss, who views herself as an unofficial mother to Luke:                 screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-7-47-53-am                      D’Angelo Russell has already bought in, which is a testiment to the lessons Walton learned under people like Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson (and also an indicement on how poor the relationship with Coach Scott was). His most important job is the development if his young pupils, and getting Russell on board only 2 months into his stewardship should be music to Laker faithful’s ears.

The other moves appear to be more hit and miss. Luol Deng is an expensive veterain presence, but it is hard to argue against his signing. He provides a safetynet to protect Ingram from having to do too much, and doubles as a personal mentor and coach. They even have the Duke connection. He will be able to play in lineups both with and without Ingram, and becomes a pricey yet valuable weapon off the bench in 2017/18 when Ingram becomes a full time starter.

Jose Calderon was acquired for free from a Bulls team trying to get “younger and more athletic”. While I struggle to see him getting many minutes, he provides a steadying presence if needed. Long a leader in assist to turnover ratio, there should be plenty Clarkson and Russell can learn from him.

Speaking of Clarkson, he signed a very fair deal of 4 years 50mil. There is, however, lots of work to be done in all areas of his game. For a penetrator, he needs to improve on his 52.9% shooting in restricted area, and 34.8% from 3 is OK but not fear enducing. His defensive rating of 113.2 is partly excused by the defenders he played with, but needs to come down if he is going to be a long term fit next to Russell. However, he is only entering his 3rd year, so he should improve. And his deal makes him moveable if it looks like the fit isn’t there.

Then there is the most intriguing signing in the league, bar none. Jianlian Yi. He’s Back!

 

Yi the player, at worst, is a marketing ploy and at best a 3rd string back up to guard against injury to Randle or Nance Jr. His true value though is his contract. Through some CBA quirks, it is a minimum deal ($1.3 million approx.) guaranteed for only $250,000. However, thanks to incentives he is deemed ‘likely’ to achieve, his deal can reach as much as $8 million and counts as $8 mil against the cap. This creates huge opportunities for trades should someone become available.

The head scratching comes from the first signing: Timofey Mozgov. Only Buss and Kupchek know why they thought it was better to pay Mozzy over a player like Mahimi or Biyombo. But you can be sure there are many GMs annoyed at the baseline price set out for a starting C who is going to be on the wrong side of 30 very soon. Mozgov forced players to shoot 6.9% worse within 6 feet of the rim than the expected average, so he does offer some rim protection. But that is not enough to justify this sort of deal.

The Mozgov deal is the only major blemish that could affect what I deem to be the truly important moment for this franchise. This Laker offseason isn’t really about the 2017 season, or the 2017 offseason. This is all about setting up for 2018, when they will have an established identity, a (likely) top draft pick from 2017, a state of the art practice facility, and a stable of young talent. If the key players develop like their talent suggests, all of a sudden you have a destination free agents want to go. That is the light at the end of the tunnel, and the sort of clout LA has missed when misguidedly chasing top shelf free agents the past few years (remember wooing Aldridge?)

For the record, I don’t think LA could have done much more than they did with Kobe still on the roster. Since they didn’t hire Phil Jackson to come back for one final ride, getting Scott to coach a veteran team made some sense. But then Kobe started getting hurt and Scott was forced to coach kids, and we could all see where that would lead. Kobe deserved to get the royal treatment from the only franchise he knew, and his last game was something else to behold.

But now a new era has officially begun, and now there are no more nostalgic excuses for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. The rebuild is finally, properly here. With the roster as it is, 1 more trip to the lottery seems likely. But there is now a true blueprint to build back to title contention, and Jeanie just might let Jim keep playing with his Laker Toy.

Grade: B+

2016/17 Prediction: 25/57

League Pass Meter: 7.5/10.

For a bad team, they will be fun to watch, whether you are a Laker fan or want to Hate Watch them because you secretly wish you had Ingram on your team. Uptempo offence, 3s (Everybody celebrate Scott isn’t the coach one more time), and potential everywhere. But eventually the losses will pile up and it will get boring, and avoid at all costs if you want to see good defence.

Depth Chart:

PG Russell Calderon Huertas Jacobs*
SG Clarkson Williams
SF Deng Ingram Brown Young Wear*
PF Randle Nance Jr. Yi* Auguste*
C Mozgov Black Zubac

 *Salary likely guarantees Jan 10, 2017. 

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 Salary: $99,885,688 (Over the Cap)
2017/18 Salary: $84,416,158

Max Room: $44,366,571
Min Room: $17,583,842

Future Assets:

Incoming:
2018 2nd (Nuggets)
2019 2nd (Bulls)

Outgoing:
2017 1st (76ers, Top 3 Protected)
2019 1st (Magic, conditional on 2017 pick)
2019 2nd (Trailblazers or Cavaliers, Blazer preference)

2016/17 Questions:

Can Russell blossom in Walton’s System?

Can Ingram earn the starting role over Deng?

Can Walton handle all the losing and stay upbeat?

Will Randle develop a J and improve on Defence?

Can Clarkson be a long term fit next to Russell ala McCollum and Lillard?

BONUS QUESTION: How many times will Mozzy get Mozgov’d?

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