It’s time to realize what the Lakers don’t have

I’m about to marginally insult people I’ve never met — namely, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. I don’t like doing it, because they don’t seem like horrible people. And it’s kind of a cheap shot.

It has to be done in the name of tough love.

Not for their sakes. They don’t give a damn about me.

It has to be done for Lakers fans — who have started to see this roster get torn asunder by the new leadership team of Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka. It had to be ripped to pieces because what was put together by the scatterbrained Jim Buss looked like a quilt for puppies. It looks cute in a photo, but in real life it’s a rag that stinks up the entire house.

But you’re wrong, James. This is a young core that needs to develop! Give them time!

Um, how much time? Especially when you can clear salary cap room for players in the prime of their career who have already developed. You have no idea if Randle will be better than Paul Pierce. I wouldn’t wager on it. And don’t insult my intelligence by saying Clarkson will ever approach Russell Westbrook.

Not that I believe both Pierce and Westbrook, or Pierce and LeBron James, or Pierce and insert-megastar-here are sure to come to LA. But maximum contracts in exciting cities with player-friendly ownership groups go a long way.

How can anyone argue that wagering on the future of inconsistent players is superior to the certainty of perennial all-stars? True, Russell scored 40 points in a game against the Cavaliers. He is also the 17th-most turnover prone player in a league of about 450 people. He averaged 2.8 per game. Considering when a point guard turns a ball over, it is often at midcourt, that’s the equivalent of about three breakaway layups every game.

You can’t have that. Even worse came public feuds with coaches, a breach of trust with his teammates by posting an embarrassing video to social media and telling Lakers fans that they expect too much.

Lonzo Ball is unlikely to blast his coaches, tell Lakers fans to pipe down or betray the fellas in the locker room. … OK, maybe his father, but let’s withhold judgment.

So why Randle and Clarkson? Well, Clarkson doesn’t even start. There is no such thing as an indispensable reserve on a team that can’t win 30 games. As for Randle, how can I put this?

Consider that the Lakers had no leadership last year. That was, in my opinion, by design. First-year coach Luke Walton inherited a team of young players and — like Phil Jackson used to do — let his players try to figure it out. That whole thing you hear about “whose team it is”? How the Wizards are John Wall’s team. The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team? Well, if those younger players were worth the hassle, one of them would have taken the reins. One would have busted his rear, produced big numbers and insisted his teammates follow his lead.

Randle didn’t. He, too, was as inconsistent as Russell. Given a chance to make a name for himself, Randle scored 13.2 points per game — a mere two points better than his first full season. Even worse, his rebounds per game dropped. And this guy is supposed to be a power forward?

Now, he’s still on the roster, for now. But Lakers fans need to catch up to me. No, better stated, they need to jump off the “next gen” bandwagon and look with sober eyes at players that might mature. They have been affirming a future that his little discipline. 

And affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion.

Squint really really hard and there’s hope for the Lakers

If you saw the Lakers depth chart for the upcoming season — and Google pushed ESPN’s chart straight to the top of its search engine — you would be as deeply startled and disappointed as if you had stayed up to watch Julian Assange online this morning.

Here’s ESPN’s cruel equivalent of a WikiLeaks bombshell, which I downloaded this morning:


Please take a moment to ask God if you’ve suffered through enough horrible basketball yet to be punished further by this graphic.

The fact that Roy Hibbert plays for the Charlotte Hornets not withstanding, there’s a lot on the actual roster that will make basketball fans feel equal parts optimism and loathing for the upcoming season. The preseason, by the way, begins tonight in Anaheim against the equally dreadful Sacramento Kings.

Ultimately, much like the graphic above, this team has far more questions than answers. Having questions alone is a reason for good cheer. With the team last year, we already knew the answer: They were going to stink.

Coach Luke Walton is every bit of an unknown as the roster. Sure, he took over to coach the Golden State Warriors for a spell last year in Steve Kerr’s absence, but how much does that mean? One, the Warriors have an elite roster that knows their game plan. Two, Walton coached with Kerr — who let the Warriors rain three-point shots — but he played under Phil Jackson, who ran the Triangle offense. That offense features free-flowing motion and can help post players.

So are the Lakers trying to reinvent themselves into the Warriors or rediscover the Shaq-Kobe era? We can guess. We don’t know.

In the graphic above, the only roster spot we know is locked up belongs to point guard D’Angelo Russell. How close he is to being an impact player is anyone’s guess. The Lakers like him, but if he were a sure-fire star, he wouldn’t have been playing for their summer league team in Las Vegas. There are also legitimate questions of his maturity level, and he’s supposed to be the conduit for the offense?

Jordan Clarkson is likely your starting shooting guard. The only reason he wouldn’t be is if the Lakers craft a three forward offense of some sort after ingesting copious amounts of hallucinogens. And the Lakers are surprisingly deep at forward.

It seems highly likely that Julius Randle is the starting power forward after a productive first full year, considering he averaged a double-double in points and rebounds per game. However, a team that won 17 games last year can’t etch too many sure things in its roster and the Lakers also like what they’ve seen in Larry Nance Jr. It’s also possible both play in the front court for small lineups.

The idea that Nick Young still draws a paycheck or is listed as a starter in the above graphic is beyond me. Young has been rightfully buried at small forward in the depth chart. No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram may not start in his rookie year, but the entire organization will tackle him if he ever steps to “Swaggy P” for advice. Your likely starter is Luol Dang, who is serviceable but not a game-changer.

L.A. hopes Timofey Mozgov is serviceable at center. He brings with him a championship from the Cavaliers and also the eternal emotional baggage from this. I sure hope the Buss family is paying for therapy after that. Should he falter, Yi Jianlian is listed as a power forward but he has seen time in practice as a backup center. He’s a defensive liability but can shoot.

So what to make of it? The gut feeling here is that the Lakers aren’t trying to be the Warriors as much as they are trying to be the Oklahoma City Thunder in the near future — deep, athletic and more importantly, versatile.   

For this season, the Lakers can’t be worse than they were the last two years. Aside from 17 wins, there was this sinking suspicion that they simply didn’t like each other or enjoy the way they were playing under Byron Scott. 

I think there’s reason for optimism. 

I think they’ve turned a corner.

I don’t think the results will be that much better, surely not a playoff team. 

If this team doubles its wins, it misses the playoffs by a mile. However, if the Lakers do win 34 games — which is conceivable — Randle makes a firm connection with Russell and Ingram cracks the starting lineup by the end of the year, then the clouds will finally lift for a franchise that is in desperate need of direction.

The state of the Lakers after day 1 of NBA free agency

Every so often, I’ll get asked from random sports fans about the Lakers. Even though I no longer cover them. Even though I no longer live in California. The Lakers are a franchise much like the Dallas Cowboys. Up or down, they spur interest.

So I’m pretty confident after one day of free agency to tell you how the team will do next year.

They’re going to stink. Just not nearly as bad as they have the last two years. Better said, they will stink in a fun way, like when you’re 8 years old and your friend let one rip and you both think it’s the funniest thing ever.

If everything breaks right, maybe they are above .500 and get into the playoffs. That is doubtful, though, considering the youth of this team and the very uninspiring signing of Timofey Mosgov as the new starting center. I had thought it would be a somewhat simple task to upgrade at center over last year’s starter Roy Hibbert. Mosgov was the third center on Cleveland’s depth chart, and before that was best known for this.

In other words, the Lakers front office did the impossible in a thick free agent class. This is a downgrade in a critical position. I’ll wait for another post to outline why you should blame Jim Buss.

The other four starting positions, while reasons for optimism, are far too young. You expect four people — two of whom cannot legally consume alcohol — to meld into a cohesive unit in one summer?

Add to that, incoming coach Luke Walton has no prior NBA head coaching experience. Well, scratch that. He served as an interim coach for the Golden State Warriors, who already did function as a cohesive unit because they were experienced and had the current best player in the game.

Despite the hyperbole from the national press, you have no idea if the Lakers will play the Warriors brand of free-flowing distance-shooting offense. Walton coached the Warriors as an assistant, true. But he also played under Phil Jackson. It’s just as likely the Lakers could revert to the triangle offense — which isn’t reliant on three-pointers.

There are players to like on the team. Julius Randle is a double-double machine in the Kevin Love mold. I didn’t want the Lakers to take guard D’Angelo Russell. (I would have preferred a center. Jahil Okafor had a productive rookie season in Philly. It would have been easier to find a guard than a center this offseason. Okafor is already better than Mosgov.) Still, I don’t think Russell is a bad player.

People have good reason to believe small forward Brandon Ingram is can’t miss. So there is the potential for good times ahead.

Conversely, you have a coach who was charged with the task of rebuilding the league’s glamour franchise over the course of one summer. Four starters are age 24 or younger — yes, three of them lottery picks. And a center who is on a lot of posters for the wrong reasons. What’s the verdict?

I think they can double their win total from last year.

But that’s 34 wins, which is below .500 and out of the playoffs.

Better break out the whoopie cushions and remember to blame the guy next to you when the farting noises come from Staples Center.