For a fan base seeking any ray of optimism to bask under, I understand Lakers fans rejoicing that the newbies won NBA Summer League in Vegas last night. I’m in the same boat. I’d rather feel good than to remember the disaster the franchise became since the passing of Jerry Buss. Swaggy P? Buss family legal infighting? #TheLakersAreSoWhite? Timofey Mosgov?
But you do realize this is akin to being the valedictorian in summer school, right? No student applying to Harvard would include that on the application.
True, the Lakers are right now better than they were at any point in the last four years. However, that’s an indication of how low the bar was set.
Any improvement by the Lakers in the last few weeks had nothing to do with a handful of games near a casino. You just haven’t been able to see that yet because with the exception of Lonzo Ball, most of those Summer League players will not make an impact during the upcoming season.
The Lakers upgraded in at least two, and as many as four, positions in the starting lineup. That’s what should make you happier.
Brook Lopez at center and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard are genuine improvements over Mosgov and Jordan Clarkson. They are simply more versatile, particularly at the defensive end. This matters because in the NBA, defense is suspect. In Los Angeles, defense was nonexistent.
Further, second-year forward Brandon Ingram was the one untouchable player in a tsunami of Lakers trade rumors, meaning his future is far brighter than Luol Deng’s anything.
And Ball appears to be better right now than D’Angelo Russell ever was. True, analysts took Ball to task for his poor shooting and defense. People took Magic Johnson to task for poor shooting as a rookie, too. I have no problem giving Ball time to develop accuracy in his shot because if those Summer League games proved anything, it’s that the kid is a sniper in terms of passing.
Now for the reasons to curb your enthusiasm: Any other names from the Lakers summer team that you throw at me and I’ll give you the same reply. Maybe they make the team, but the only remaining starting player on the hot seat is Julius Randle.
Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma aren’t starting. They’re guards. Thomas Bryant is a center. He’s probably third on the depth chart behind Lopez and Ivica Zubac. Maybe Zubac or Bryant or Larry Nance Jr. pry the inconsistent and undersized Randle from the lineup. I wouldn’t mind seeing that. I’d miss Randle about as much as any of you pine for Russell right now.
Does this column read a little cold? It should. When you haven’t won 30 games in a few years, that’s a frigid reality. Johnson was right when he took over the team. Only Ingram was an untouchable. If Johnson didn’t fall in love with the Lakers youth movement of the last few years, why should you? The results aren’t there.
As for the results this year? The smart money is LA winds up with about 35 wins, forfeits its first-round draft pick as the result of horrible trades you don’t remember them making and possibly firing Luke Walton to lure top tier free agents.