For the first time in 20 seasons, Laker fans can't rely on Kobe Bryant to make the team relevant. His 60-point retirement game was the perfect send-off for a first-ballot hall of famer; Kobe I salute you. Now the Lakers turn to 20-year-old D’Angelo Russell to kick start the team's youth movement into full gear. With elite passing ability, above-average shooting, and terrific play making that will only get better with time, the Lakers are in good hands.
Leading the charge in the front office is longtime GM Mitch Kupchak. After Golden State's record-setting 2015-2016 season, the Lakers plundered the Warriors' staff and signed first-time head coach Luke Walton. Laker fans probably remember Walton for his insane towel-waving abilities that led the team to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Of course, this was during the "Holy crap did we really get Pau Freakin' Gasol for that dumpster fire of an offer" era. Congrats Laker fans, you have a coach that will install a very nice offense where players will actually share the ball. That said, I'll set the over/under at 2 for how many times Walton passes out on the floor. This will be due to a combination of a lack of shooting, trying too hard, whipping passes out of bounds (almost hitting Jack Nicholson), and of course players "forgetting" to play defense.
After the Kobe retirement hype faded, the first thing the Lakers did was sign Timofey Mozgov to a 4-year $64-million deal. He will be the starting center next season, and although he is not completely useless, he certainly isn’t the ideal fit for this team. He blocks shots at a just-below-average rate, he rebounds at an average rate for his position, and he's an average passer with average post moves. Add it all up and the Lakers are looking at a worse version of Kelly Olynyk. Congratulations Laker fans, your team really knows how to pick talent (cut to Laker fans making the face you'd make if someone is leaning on your new car that you care far too much about). The Lakers then backed the truck up for Luol Deng's 4-year $72-million contract; I guess they really wanted a 31-year-old small forward that at best can put up 16 points per game. For a team like the Magic, which is a good veteran player away from being a playoff contender, signing Deng to a big contract makes sense. But for the Lakers, this is a head-scratcher to say the least.
Moves like these should make Laker fans throw up and not care if the public videotapes it. Why not just trot out the lineup of Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Randle and Mozgov to start and get a majority of the minutes on the floor? Deng will be the first option off the bench, and he will be followed by the artist formerly known as Nick Young, who should have challenged D’Angelo Russell to a steel cage match for the locker room suicide maneuver Russell committed last season. (How hasn’t this happened already? Commissioner Silver can you channel your inner Vince McMahon and set up a pay-per-view? -- Sincerely, all NBA fans)
Five things Laker fans can look forward to for the 2016-2017 season:
1. Watching D'Angelo Russell dominate this year, which is the most likely thing to see this year out of this squad.
2. Discovering what this team has in Larry Nance Jr. Robert Stack needs to uncover the truth on this mystery of a player.
3. Watch Robert Sacre do the only thing he does best. Towel waive and be a cheerleader this guy is unreal.
4. Laker fans cheering seeing what the future is going to be. Just make sure the team sucks for another year so they don't lose that pick to Philly (This is crucial). Then, draft Henry Giles and watch fans do back flips on draft night to complete the 4-year rebuild with supreme young talent.
5. Watch the Lakers go hard after Russell Westbrook in the off-season. Pairing a superstar with a young core like this can be deadly. If the Lakers can trade for him a package of Russell and Brandon Ingram + picks + a role in Fast & Furious 10, this would get it done.
Even if Westbrook isn’t in the cards, the team has a fantastic point guard to build around for years to come. With the right amount of youth and a few over 30-somethings, the Lakers are positioned for a nice start to what looked like an endless rebuild process. Keep your heads up, Laker fans, this team is a just few moves away from being a team nobody wants to play.