Not that one game defines the Lakers, but…

As a faithful Angelino, I overloaded my DVR on Thursday to watch the Dodgers and Lakers. I learned two things from the binge watch with certitude.

Them sure ain’t the old Dodgers. Reaching the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades helped me reach that conclusion.

Also, these are the same young Lakers. There really isn’t much reason to think the Lakers are going to be appreciably better than last year.

I will stipulate to you that is an overreaction if you will stipulate that preseason hype about this being a playoff team is an overreaction.

We all get it. Magic Johnson’s first priority was to restore order after the slipshod, play-the-hunch approach from trust-fund baby Jim Buss. I am confident Johnson has taken big strides in a short amount of time.

Yet, the drubbing they took from the Clippers on opening night looked like the same no-defense, no-low post, no identity hot mess from the last three years when the Lakers finished with the No. 2 overall draft pick. Only this year, no matter how bad it gets, the Lakers won’t get any such draft relief. That was traded away.

Let’s be semipositive to start: I didn’t have much of a problem with Lonzo Ball’s nasty debut. He debuted against a chippy defensive expert. Not an easy task. He will improve.

I also liked the fact that the starting lineup included some long-needed tough decisions. In other words, there was an unstated admission that former lottery draft pick Julius Randle can’t stay awake during a game. Overall, there is some rhyme and reason to a starting lineup of Ball, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr. and Brook Lopez. It should get somewhat better when Kentavious Caldwell Pope enters the lineup, bumping either Deng or Nance back to the bench.

But the playoffs? Maybe it’s a better investment to wager that in a Vegas sports book than to buy Big Baller Brand shoes. Either way, that’s not money well spent. This team won 25 games last season. To qualify for the playoffs, it would stand to reason that they would have to win more games than lose this year. To do so, the Lakers would need to win at least 16 more games. That is a huge spike.

Beyond the open paths to the rim the Lakers allowed, despite the addiction to chucking up threes with nary a teammate under the rim in case the shot goes awry, though, I was struck by a third chronic unsolved problem.

Last year, I wrote that the Lakers had no team identity or defined leader. All of that youth meant nothing if the energy was not organized and then molded. Take the Dodgers. They have an identity, a philosophy, that lead to wins. We are going to have depth across the roster — starting pitching, relievers, etc. The Dodgers are called “relentless.” But they also have defined leaders, an ace in Clayton Kershaw, an elite closer in Kenley Jansen, elite hitters in Corey Seager. Most importantly, it seems as if they have a leader in Justin Turner.

Who is the leader of the Lakers? Hell, who is their best player? Do you know? I don’t.

Last year, coach Luke Walton figured he’d just let the roster decide on its own. It was foolish then and it’s foolhardy now. There was no sign of an alpha dog on the floor who would put his teammates on his back through sheer force of will. That’s on Walton. In a roster of youngsters, he’s the adult in the room. If he refuses to put someone in position to lead, he’s going to be out of a job.

It may be the first step for actual growth, which is what — you know — you have to do to become a playoff team in the first place.

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.