WHAT THEY TRIED IN 2017-18
To steel the franchise in the face of what we were told was a formidable outside threat to the NBA and its television partners — some rookie’s dad. Los Angeles needed to further establish its growing core of talented prospects, something had to turn a corner, surviving in the field even with so much of the work left to be done up top. Luke Walton’s Lakers needed a stiff rebound from 2016-17’s league-worst defense, the thirtysomething also had to cement the idea that his wisecracks could outlast whatever twaddle the Ball family left us to champ on. The Lakers also made an effort to be a dick to Luol Deng for some reason.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2017-18
35-47, No. 11 in the Western Conference.
Walton looked a prince, handling the Ball family’s reservoir of shared, fetid opinions with ease. His Lakers rolled with a top-ten defense for some stretches, outrageous work for a team with so many youngsters (plus Brook Lopez tipping center). Los Angeles’ goal was to ride out a recovery season without embarrassment, no small task given so much at summertime stake, Walton’s club even outlasted a mid-February deal that saddled the club with Isaiah Thomas’ launch parameters (24 shots per 100 possessions). The Lakers succeeded in whatever they were trying with Luol Deng, working the veteran only 13 minutes all season.
OFFSEASON INS AND OUTS
Here: Michael Beasley (free agent, one year at $3.5 million), LeBron James (FA, four years and $153 million), JaVale McGee (FA, a year at $2.4 million), Lance Stephenson (FA, a year at $4.45 million), Rajon Rondo (FA, one year at $9 million). Issac Bonga (No. 39 draft pick, deal with 76ers) Moritz Wagner (No. 25 draft pick), Svi Mykhailiuk (No. 47 draft pick).
Gone: Channing Frye (Cavaliers), Brook Lopez (Bucks), Gary Payton II (Trail Blazers), Julius Randle (Pelicans), Luol Deng (Timberwolves), Isaiah Thomas (Add a comment … Post).
PLAN FOR 2018-19
The Lakers have LeBron James now, so most every waking working moment will be spent trying to remind themselves that this is a basketball season, not some fractious exercise meant to meet monstrous whims partway. If each of the veterans are locked in with what Walton wants to do defensively, the Lakers can turn a washout year into something inspirational. People gotta remember why they should want to play with LeBron.
HOPE FOR 2018-19
Rondo and LeBron turn in an overdue treatment, these two were meant to write together years ago. James in the ostensible pivot as a C-F-G-Rover dashing around after another stop and leak, Rajon taking chances with the best collector this game has ever seen — come on, Los Angeles, Everett to Flipper never looked this good. Brandon Ingram sings too supremely to ignore, his second quarter scoring carries the Lakers to more wins than worries. Each of the combatants takes to the gold: the goddamn Blazers aren’t gonna sweep the Lakers anymore.
FREAK FOR 2018-19
After a day full of structure on set, the irascibility of the Laker setup overwhelms LeBron, for the first time in years he presses to win hearts instead of pleasing one professional pal at a time. The spacing is atrocious, the class gets destroyed on the glass and at the front of the rim, Lonzo leaks back way too early from his knee surgery as the shortcuts continue.
COME ON MAN LOOK ATThe best thing about Lonzo Ball, right now, is that absence of reflex. There’s no hesitation with him and we have to keep it that way — you can’t chase off players like these. You can’t dull the sport for the types that see it way, way slower than everyone else.
Ball will have to go very, very slowly in this run, a second season is nothing to fuck with, a meniscus tear and snip is no joke. Magic Johnson knows this better than anyone and he’s going to have to routinely remind his point guard that there are no certainties in pro basketball (outside of the grinning knowledge that tells you that, even at it knottiest points, tonight’s game is “going to be fun.”)
Lonzo Ball is special. Allow the 20-year old to ease into the world that’s been created for him.
C: JaVale McGee — fine at basketball. McGee’s block percentage in two years with the Warriors outpaced his (rather lofty) career numbers, he can crash to finish a defensive possession and his GSW turnover rate was low — same as Brook Lopez’s last season. The key as always is conditioning, and what the Lakers can count on from date to date.
PF: LeBron James — it would be boring if he tried to quell the doubters, if he shot for big numbers and an MVP campaign. LeBron is gonna be tacky as hell this season.
SF: Brandon Ingram — shooting dings (39 percent from deep) and free throw attempts are encouraging, the 21-year old is James’ fiber opposite but that doesn’t mean he can’t mug both mean and malleable during the same sprint to the timeout.
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — back on a one-year, $12 million deal because this is how these things work.
PG: Rajon Rondo — was bouncy bouncy bouncy at the thought of taking chance after chance with Anthony Davis in the New Orleans pitch and catch, now imagine how things are going to look with LeBron James at the other end.
THERE WILL BE A BENCH
F: Travis Wear — a stretchy big man that should try to intercept a few passes in camp.
G: Lonzo Ball — catch and shoot stats mean nothing going in, not with LeBron now on the other end of things, same as the new knee. All the percentages are back to zero for Ball, he’s gonna have to find a way to not let that bother him.
G: Lance Stephenson — lowkey compensation penalty for signing LeBron.
C: Ivica Zubac — this is the year to figure out if the 21-year old is at all feasible for a modern defense. This is also the year he’ll back up JaVale McGee, so good luck in this relative world, Zubac.
F: Kyle Kuzma — scored a bunch of points (16.1 a game) because he worked a ton of minutes and shot a lot, so what? Find another pitch for him, discover the other things that tick his interests, a 23-year old’s second season shouldn’t be summarized by a buncha statistical comps. Kuzma is eager, don’t make him feel bad for that.
F/C: Moritz Wagner — yeah you can’t shoot that slowly in the NBA.
G: Isaac Bonga — the 18-year old German prospect will spend most of the season in the NBA’s minor league, attempting to line that skinny frame of his with all the sugar water his refrigerator can handle.
F: Svi Mykhailiuk — a lights-out shooter that stands 6-8 and also a chance at being on national television quite a bit this winter.
G: Alex Caruso — should be typing about Red Grange, with a name like that. LaVern Dilweg! Walt Kiesling! Wilbur (Pete) Henry!
G: Josh Hart — really good rebounder, that was weird, also hit 39.3 percent of his threes and was legally allowed to play in each contest.
F: Michael Beasley — listen, they can’t all be Korvers.
46-36, tied for sixth in the Western Conference with someone unexceptional.
LET’S WATCH THISThe Lakers are great more times than not but they’ve only been really, really cool a few times. That’s not bad, and more than most franchises. Subscribers will enjoy a pair of looks at Nick Van Exel that we have planned for midseason.
Plans start at $5, hop on now for the season previews, get ready for Behind the Boxscore, scope out the summer’s deep dives. This is a great thing to have in your inbox most every day, consider contributing, consider retiring from your typical, anxiety-laced scroll through the content feeds.
Next up: Dallas.
(More to come.)