Lakers Offseason Report: Hollywood Nights – The Prelude

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2016/17 Record: 26 – 56 (14th in the Western Conference)

2017/18 Salaries: $105,688,295 (Over The Cap Team) – full LAL salary cap situation – here.

Incoming Draft Picks: DEN ’18 2nd , CHI ’19 2nd

Outgoing Draft Picks: BOS/PHI ’18 1st (PHI Protected 1 and 6-30), ORL/BKN ’18 2nd, POR/CLE ’19 2nd.

Lakers Ins and Outs

Despite what LaVar Ball may have prophesied, the Los Angeles Lakers will not be making the playoffs this season. Yes, Lonzo Ball should impact a team in ways which few rookies have done, but it still won’t be enough.

The Lakers don’t own their first round pick in 2018 and thus regardless of where they finish the regular season, they won’t receive any compensation. For most teams this would be a season in somewhat of a purgatory state with not much to play for.

But the Lakers are not most teams.

As is fitting for being the basketball team of Hollywood, the Lakers will be on audition for the entirety of the season. Coach Luke Walton, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball & Co. will be under the microscope from the big name free agents of next offseason. LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Paul George will have to decide if the Lakers youth is worth partnering with, in an attempt to make an assault on the Golden State Warriors and an NBA Championship.

The biggest scrutiny will no doubt be the last two second overall draft picks, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. Both will be the stars of the show next season for the Lakers, and the performances of both will go a long way to deciding if the current crop of NBA Stars will trek across to La-La Land.

There are certain expectations that come with being such a high draft pick. Those expectations intensify further when you’re suiting up for a big city team drenched in NBA history. It’s safe to say that Brandon Ingram didn’t meet those expectations in his rookie year.

Check the comparison between his freshman season at Duke, and Year 1 at LA:


Duke: 36 games, 34.6 mpg, 17.3 ppg, 44.2 FG%, 41.0 3PT%, 6.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 tov, 1.1 spg, 1.4 bpg.
Rookie: 79 games, 28.8 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 40.2 FG%, 29.4 3PT%, 4.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 tov, 0.6 spg, 0.5 bpg.


The clearest indicator of the difference in Ingram’s performance from College to the Pro’s is PER, 22.5 at Duke against a paltry 8.5 as a rookie. The severe decline in shooting percentages is also cause for concern. Whilst there is an expected dip from production from College to the big leagues, such a dip is expected to be less drastic from a second overall pick.

Yet it is unfair to write a player off after only one year, especially when that player is not yet 20 years of age and lacks the muscle to compete professionally. That potential is still there, physically at 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan, but also in regards to position. Coach Walton played Ingram at both wing spots, and some Point Guard. There is a reason why new GM Rob Pelinka and new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson saw Ingram as un-tradeable.

The brighter spotlight however will be on Lonzo Ball. When you’re passing skills are compared to the greatest point guard of all time, who also is the person responsible for drafting you and you’re handed the keys to the Laker offense, the limelight is deserved. So far, Ball has lived up to the hype.

The Las Vegas Summer League is the only yardstick to go off to date. Despite a poor first game, Ball justified the immense excitement about his NBA career. His shot wasn’t falling the way it did at UCLA, but he was a walking triple-double and finished missing a few games and still winning the MVP award. You can read the TFPP’s rundown of the Vegas Summer League here.

Not only that, Ball’s unselfishness spread to the rest of his teammates, all of whom ran lanes that little bit quicker, and screened just that little bit harder because they knew that if they did, Lonzo would reward them.

If Ball can continue to justify the hype in the season proper, there will surely be pull from those star Free Agents next offseason that will look to get on the ground floor of a once-in-a-generation distributor.

Make no mistake however, the pull that the Lakers once held by simply being the Lakers is not as powerful. In recent seasons, players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe have dismissed Tinseltown in favor of smaller markets. To rediscover their former eminence as a Free Agency destination, the Lakers need cap room just as much as demonstrated potential from their young guns.

Lonzo Ball’s looming selection made D’Angelo Russell expendable. Russell, who had an up and down tenure in his time at the Lakers, wasn’t exactly revered by Magic. So when an opportunity arose to nab the expiring $20 million contract of Brook Lopez and an extra first round pick (which became Kyle Kuzma) for the albatross contract of Timofey Mozgov, Russell became the Nets’ incentive.

Lopez is also auditioning, although his performance is for the leagues front office executives. At 29, his next contract will likely be his last big deal before the likes of Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingas, Nikola Jokic and others hit their straps. The smart money is that such a deal won’t be with the Lakers, who are holding on to him only as a harbor for cap space for next offseason. Despite what could ultimately be a temporary arrangement between both Lopez and the Lakers, he is an upgrade on Mozgov which should only help both Ball and Ingram providin better floor spacing and better talent on the floor.

Likewise, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s one year, $17 million deal with the Lakers means he will also be auditioning for a better and longer deal for offseason 18/19 (TFPP provided a breakdown in our Rich Paul article here). Should Westbrook, James, George or one of the other high-profile Free Agents decide not to sign on to Lonzo’s Lakers, KCP may find himself as the right guy in the right place at the right time and be a fallback option for the Lakers. Caldwell-Pope will hope to benefit from Ball’s passing ability, and will also take the best opposing wings most nights. It’s the right environment for KCP to demonstrate he can be an elite 3-and-D guy in this league, and help pad his wallet next offseason.

But it will all come back to Ball and Ingram. If they can show enough, it will provide enough incentive on top of max contracts for the likes of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Season 2018/19 may just see the return of the Showtime Lakers, and the upcoming season is its prelude.

Projected Starting Five:


Projected Depth Chart:
Depth

Overall Offseason Grade: B+

2017/18 Prediction: 34 – 48

The Lakers have had a solid offseason, drafting well and making moves which will set them up to make a splash next offseason. They’ll be fun to watch – if only because of Lonzo Ball’s constant highlight reel – but they still will likely finish towards the lower end of the Western Conference, potentially battling to stay out of last place.

Randle

Player to Watch: Julius Randle

Julius Randle will enter the 2017/18 offseason as a Restricted Free Agent, which makes this season potentially make-or-break. He has reportedly got in better shape, which is always requirement number one, but he also must improve in two main areas: right-hand effectiveness and three-point impact. Randle has always had a great combination of strength and athleticism, yet those two major deficiencies inhibit him taking that next step. If he can improve his shot and open up the driving lane where he can be extremely effective, Randle could be a handful alongside Ball, Ingram, KCP and Lopez.

Four Key Questions:

1. Can Ivica Zubac be the Center of the Lakers’ Future?
Ivica Zubac was a handy pick-up for the Lakers with the 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and whilst he only played 16 minutes a game in 38 games at the top-level, it was enough for the 19 year old to tantalize. He’s an old-school Center, but with Lopez at the end of his deal and the only other Center on the roster rookie Thomas Bryant, Zubac has an opportunity to show that he’ll be worth persisting with as the Lakers long-term middle man.

2. Can Kyle Kuzma overtake Julius Randle as the Lakers number one Power Forward?
Bleacher Report ranked the top 30 Power Forwards at the end of the 2016/17 season, and unsurprisingly, eight of the top 10 can stretch the floor. Stretch PF’s fit the modern swing to pace-and-space offenses, and the Lakers only have one true stretch four, Kyle Kuzma. Furthermore, the Kuzma-Ball ‘connection’ looked effective in the Las Vegas Summer League, and could influence Coach Walton to turn to the 27th overall pick for a starting gig should Randle not take the strides required.

3. Can the Lakers create even more cap room by trading Luol Deng?
A glance at the Lakers’ salary table will see one name and contract stands out, that of Luol Deng and the remaining $54 million he is owed over the next three seasons. Deng, at 32 years of age, doesn’t fit with the youth or expiring contract movement Pelinka and Magic have established, but will be hard to move. Whilst it would no doubt be in the Lakers’ best interest to maximize their amount of available spend for next offseason, moving Deng would likely come at a similar cost as the moving of Mozgov, i.e. adding a young piece as an incentive. Can the Lakers’ new front office find a creative solution?

4. Can the Lakers significantly improve defensively?
The Lakers were dead last in defensive rating last season, giving up the third most opposition points a game, a porous 111 per night. Los Angeles will hope that the offseason additions can help stop the leakage. Lopez is an upgrade on Mozgov at 1.7 blocks per game against 0.6, and 1.8 defensive win shares against 0.4. Perimeter wise, it would be expected Caldwell-Pope will have the best wing match-up most nights, and is an upgrade on Swaggy P. Again, using defensive win shares as the marker, KCP’s 2016/17 was overwhelmingly better, 2.5 against 0.2. The Lakers – on paper – should be better, but will it be enough of an improvement?


Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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