2015-16 NBA Record: 17-65
Additions: Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac (draft), Luol Deng (Miami Heat), Timofey Mozgov (Cleveland Cavaliers), Yi Jianlian (Guangdong Southern Tigers), Jose Calderon (traded from Chicago Bulls)
Subtractions: Kobe Bryant (retired), Roy Hibbert (Charlotte Hornets), Brandon Bass (Los Angeles Clippers)
Projected Starting Lineup (via ESPN.com)
PG – D’Angelo Russell
SG – Jordan Clarkson
SF – Luol Deng
PF – Julius Randle
C – Timofey Mozgov
With NBA great Kobe Bryant retiring last season, the Lakers enter a new era under rookie coach and former Laker Luke Walton, as well as a core group of youngsters who will look to make an impact on their own without the 5-time champ. Lakers fans have had to endure torment over the last few seasons, but it’s led to the draft picks of guys like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and this year’s pick, Brandon Ingram. This year’s season will look to be more about the progress of the young core rather than aiming to make the playoffs, which will disappoint hardcore Laker fans. All eyes will also be on Luke Walton in his first season as a head coach. Walton tasted success with the Warriors last season but will need to prove that it wasn’t due to a star-studded lineup. Walton will look to install a free-flowing offense which could allow the young studs to get loose and comfortable. This team is not elite like division rival teams the Warriors and Clippers, but they can trouble teams around the league if Coach Walton lets them run free.
The baby Lakers have all showed their flashes of potential last season which provides optimism for die-hard Lakers fans. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson will look to take control of the team from the backcourt. Russell especially will need to prove he can be a floor general in this league (averaged only 3.3 assists last year), as well as a reliable leader in the locker room after last season’s issues with Nick Young. Clarkson is improving each year and is quickly becoming a steal for the franchise. Julius Randle will look to be a double-double machine like last season, while the athleticism and energy of Larry Nance Jr will look to spark the Lakers’ bench. The second overall pick out of Duke, 6’9 Brandon Ingram, will look to contribute as a scorer, although I don’t see this happening right away. Walton will look to ease Ingram into the rotation before he allows him to let loose and demonstrate the potential that’s compared to him to former MVP Kevin Durant. Ingram will need to build more muscle, but once he does, he will be a match-up nightmare for opponents.
The additions of Luol Deng and Jose Calderon provide a much-needed veteran presence in a locker room full of young guns, while the signing of Timofey Mozgov under a questionable contract fills the void left by Roy Hibbert, who wasn’t much of a success in Los Angeles. Former NBA Sixth of the Year Lou Williams and Nick Young will look to provide some scoring off the bench. Despite this veteran presence, the Lakers will look towards the young core in search of a future locker-room leader and face of the franchise after Kobe’s retirement.
Which begs the question: how long do Lakers fans have to wait for each individual to develop before they can develop as a team? It won’t be a quick turnaround, but the players clearly like what Walton’s brought to the table. The mix of young guns and experienced veterans makes for an intriguing season and the development of the youngsters will be exciting to watch under the bright lights of the Staples Center. I think they will eclipse their record of last season, but not by much.
Prediction: 5th in Pacific Division