Realistic expectations for the Lakers this season
The Los Angeles Lakers look to continue rebuilding after some very rough seasons in the National Basketball Association. The last two of which saw the franchise win only 48 games out of 164 games possible (a 0.29% win percentage).
You can look back to the franchise’s winning seasons of 2008-2011, at which time they failed to locate and develop any decent talent through the draft to supplement the organization’s future. The trade for Chris Paul in the winter of 2011 that ex-Commish David Stern and the NBA revoked, acquisition of Dwight Howard, departure of Howard and eventually Pau Gasol, the coaching turmoil that saw four different coaches hold the job in a one-and-a-half year period, all the injuries that have piled up over three seasons and even the failed attempts to lure some of the biggest free agents in the league to Los Angeles.
Whatever the issue is, or has been, it’s got us to this point in Laker history. A point where there is really nowhere to go but up. And that “up” is a steep, winding hill, with rugged terrain and a brutal climate capable of demoralizing any franchise and its fan base. It’s called the Western Conference.
Kobe Bryant can no longer carry this franchise. It was tough enough for him to do so in 2005 after Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher left the squad. This is not the young, No. 8 jersey-wearing Kobe, and honestly, we do not know what No. 24 will bring to the table this year.
But what the last few miserable seasons have done for the Lakers, is give them something they haven’t had since the mid-90’s: young talent. Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were drafted in 1993 and 1994 respectively, by the Lakers, who eventually used these players to help lure Shaquille O’Neal to Los Angeles via free agency in 1996. Van Exel was a 37th pick who stepped in and contributed right away. Eddie Jones was the tenth pick in ’94 and he stepped in and contributed right away. Along with Elden Campbell and Vlade Divac in the front court, this team was competitive.
This time it’s a 46th pick in Jordan Clarkson and a number two pick in D’Angelo Russell as the upstart back court of the future. Then add a young thoroughbred in Julius Randle, the No. 7 pick in 2014, at power forward. You combine him with a motivated Roy Hibbert in a contract season and sprinkle in some Lou Williams and Nick Young off the bench and you have the makings of a competitive team. On paper at least.
Picture a regular season matchup in a loud, rocking Staples Center with Russell going back and forth with Chris Paul, Randle banging down low with Blake Griffin, Clarkson going at J.J. Reddick and Hibbert jockeying for position against Deandre Jordan while Kobe Bryant dodges blows from Lance Stephenson. Yes, the Clippers most likely will get the best of the Lakers. The Clippers are serious contenders, looking to reach their first Western Conference Final and NBA Final in team history. But the matchup still has potential to have some explosive moments. Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps.
There will be the games that Clarkson, Russell and Randle play well. There will be the games where Russell makes a good play against Tony Parker or does a nice move against Steph Curry. They’ll be times where Clarkson does well versus a Russell Westbrook or a Klay Thompson, or plays when Randle bullies Dirk Nowitzki in the post. The reality of it though is that there will be games where they don’t play well. There also will be games where these elite players, and others around the league like them, will be able to take advantage of the young Lakers at times. It’s just a given and it will be part of a growth process. The quickness how long it takes for the young Lakers to understand and learn the game will tell the story on this upcoming season.
Bryant was quoted as saying he thinks the Lakers can absolutely make the playoffs this season, in a Q&A Interview he did with Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. Clarkson also commented on the postseason recently, saying that he hopes the Lakers can make the playoffs this season. Now it is not impossible. Health, scheduling, development and some luck — it will take a lot. There’s a lot of NBA basketball to be played and games to be won, in order to secure a playoff spot. Being in the tough Western Conference, it’s even harder.
Golden State and San Antonio are clear-cut favorites to potentially represent the West in June. The Clippers, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies are all expected to be in the mix atop the West as well.
The Dallas Mavericks won 50 games a season ago and New Orleans and Oklahoma had 45 wins each. All three will be in the mix this year as well.
We haven’t even mentioned Portland, Phoenix, Sacramento, or Utah, who are all talented and capable of winning some games this season. There’s also Minnesota, who has a good young core of guys.
So where does this leave the Lakers?
With attendance and television viewers for the Lakers summer league games at an all-time high this July, one can suspect that Lakers’ fans will be out in full force come late October and November, when preseason and the regular season starts. They want to catch a glimpse of the “Young Dogs” (my trademark paperwork is already filed). Rightfully so, as these are exciting times in Laker Land. People want to see what these kids can do…and so do I.
I anticipate Staples Center being full of energy, especially earlier in the season when hope is at its highest. Home court advantage does play a factor and, after going 12-29 at home last season, the Lakers should drastically be able to improve on that record by at least five to seven wins, minimum.
Bettering their horrific road record of 9-32 should be very attainable also. Their 2-14 record versus Pacific Division teams will be tough to improve on, but getting wins against teams like Sacramento and Phoenix will be possible this year.
Versus the Eastern Conference, the Lakers were 12-18, which isn’t that bad, all things considered. Going .500 against the East this year may be a little ambitious but it’s not totally out of the question.
Realistically, the Lakers can win 35- 38 games if they can stay healthy and if the team can grow and mature as the season progresses. If they compete under Coach Byron Scott, and are able to stay in games going into, and late, in the fourth quarter as they did last season, then surely they have talent in place that is capable of maneuvering late game situations. Closing games out was the Achilles heel for this team last year for the team that led the league in games missed due to injury. A healthy and consistent lineup will equate to more wins obviously, and having Roy Hibbert patrolling the paint will take away a lot of easy baskets that were given up last season.
To say they are a playoff team now is very premature but the pieces are in place to compete night in and night out. Last season, 45 wins (New Orleans) captured the eighth seed. For the Lakers to reach 45 wins, it will take drastic improvement on offense and defense and the young players will have to develop and learn the game rapidly. They also have to stay healthy and generate extraordinary chemistry among the key players while they establish an identity. That’s not out of the question, but let’s start by taking it step by step, one game at a time.
Do you think the Lakers are a playoff team this season? How many wins do you think they will get this season? Please leave your responses in the comment section below.
Tayrance Allen covers the Los Angeles Lakers/ NBA for MFST, you can follow him on Twitter (@Twigganomics) and FaceBook/Instagram (@TwiggNATION).
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