The Los Angeles Lakers enter the 2015-2016 season at a crossroads of sorts.
This is in all likelihood the final season of one one of the best players to ever lace up his sneakers in Kobe Bryant, and they have a trio of talented youngsters who will in all likelihood suffer growing pains as Bryant embarks on his farewell tour around the league.
Bryant has been such a dominant force in the NBA for so long that these last few seasons almost seem like a bad dream or a horrible ending in a script to a glorious career for a lot of Laker fans. However, it might be in the best interest of the franchise to see Kobe pull another season-ending injury early in this final one to ensure the youngsters the best chance to develop together rather than stand around and watch Kobe hoist jumper after jumper in his quest to separate himself from Michael Jordan’s shadow as he adds to his scoring totals. Yes, I know it’s sacrilege to utter that but the alternative is the youngsters development getting stunted as Bryant does what he always has best……score. Except, he is a shadow of his former self and is more like a cariacature of himself , similar to when Michael Jordan finished his career with the Wizards.
On a playoff contender, Kobe would be a nice option to have but this is not a playoff caliber team, not in the West. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and DeAngelo Russell are players that need the ball to develop and Kobe may not be the ballhog many claim him to be but dominates the ball a lot. Clarkson has the potential to be his heir apparent at shooting guard (he averaged 16.7ppg, 5.4apg, and 4.6rpg after the All-Star break) and only stands to improve upon those numbers. Russell is a talented young point guard who will be learning on the job this season while Randle has some people thinking he’s a more athletic version of Zach Randolph.
Free agency started slowly for the Lakers as they struck out on the major names but they rebounded quite nicely as they brought in sixth man of the year Lou Williams. He was tempted to leave Toronto and their surprising team with a three year deal worth 21 million, a bargain when Jae Crowder got 7 million per season from Boston, Iman Shumpert got 10 million per season from the Cavs, and Cory Joseph got 7.5 million per season from the Raptors. Williams averaged 15.5 points a game last season and gives them a solid presence off the bench to backup Clarkson at the SG position. And he can run the point at times for short stretches, a good thing since Marcelo Huertas is the only other PG on the roster.
Roy Hibbert was brought in from Indiana via trade and he won’t make anybody forget about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O’Neal, but he provides a big body in the paint and a solid defensive player and upgrade for a team that was 29th in points per game allowed (105.3) and FG % allowed (46.6%) last seaason. Hibbert had a down year but he should be motivated since he’s playing for a new contract, if that doesn’t motivate him…..nothing will. Hibbert will need to be in shape for the offense that will be running up and down the court. Tarik Black and Robert Sacre will be competing for the backup position. After being acquired last season, Black showed a penchant for hustling and rebounding the basketball while Sacre’s upside is very limited.
Brandon Bass was brought in to provide some depth at power forward. Bass will give them a solid veteran who can play 15-18mpg and fill in the starting rotation if Randle encounters more injuries. Bass is a solid defender and can rebound well.
In a somewhat surprising move, Metta World Peace was brought back and he’ll see action as a PF and SF if needed but they have Kobe and Nick Young at SF. However, Young could be on his way out of LA by gthe trade deadline with all the swingmen they have on the roster.
Another long season of ups and downs as the youngsters learn to play together. I think 35-38 wins is about the most we can expect out of this squad and that’s if they are relatively healthy and show signs of progress. On the flip side, they could easily win as few as 22-25 games if they encounter another round of injuries like they have the last few seasons. But, the talent and nucleus is there for a solid team in a few years. Dare I say they have the makings of a younger Golden State team with their solid trio? Clarkson has the ability to be a solid 18ppg, 6rpg, and 6apg while Randle has the talent to develop into the aforementioned athletic Zach Randolph and Russell has the potential to be another Jrue Holiday.
Regardless, the pace will be frenetic and the games should be exciting. Winning may have to be put on the backburner until Kobe retires and the youngsters can fly on their own.
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