But the Lakers aren’t supposed to be the boys of summer

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.

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.

The Lakers: Two easy choices, after that…

Magic Johnson is aware that his reputation as a franchise savior — regardless of whether it’s deserved or fair — depends on the Lakers qualifying for the playoffs next year. 

True, under his stewardship the Dodgers are compelling viewing — if anyone in Los Angeles has Spectrum SportsNet to view them in the first place. But even the prior ownership group knew the Dodgers owned a stocked minor-league system. The franchise was set to consistently win regardless of who cut the checks.

On the other hand, the Lakers have a random collection of lottery-pick level players and no specific sense of direction. In the NBA, that is a recipe for long-term irrelevance. Trust me, I now live in Orlando. The Magic are the definition of a team with a bevy of lottery players and no idea how to make them a winning team.

Simply put, Lakers fans think far too highly of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Maybe Brandon Ingram is worth the hype, but putting the weight of this marquee franchise on those skinny shoulders might be a bit much to bear.

Moreover, coach Luke Walton did not answer the fundamental question — what direction is this team going? In other words, whose team is it? What does the method by which this team will learn to win. What type of team is it?

You watch the Golden State Warriors and you know how they approach the game. Same for the San Antonio Spurs. Heck, even the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards have more of a defined approach to the game.

For the Lakers, this is their biggest problem heading into the upcoming season. If Walton can’t give ownership and players a vision, or if Johnson has a vision that Walton cannot produce, then I’m going to be the first to assert that everybody’s beloved former sixth man will have to go. I like him as a guy, but dem’s the breaks, dude.

How do the Lakers get from 26 wins to 40-plus wins? (Portland qualified for the playoffs with 41 wins this season.) I don’t have all the answers, but after careful consideration I know of only two easy decisions for the Lakers:

1) Russell has to go if they draft Lonzo Ball. The idea that Russell can function as a shooting guard seems pie-in-the-sky. He never played off the ball before. Moreover, Russell was given a poor role model when he broke into the league. What the hell was Jim Buss thinking by having a space case like Nick Young mentor Russell?

Russell developed bad habits. I don’t think of him as a bust, but drafting Ball gives the Lakers two of the same player. Moreover, drafting Ball sends a clear signal. The Lakers would indeed be his team. A big part of me thinks that’s why so many stories linking the Lakers and Ball exist. Taking Ball automatically removes the decision from Walton.

2) Pursue no top free agents other than power forward. Like the draft, this class is loaded with small forwards and point guards. The best option at power forward is likely Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, because I can’t see Blake Griffin leaving the Clippers. Free agent centers start with other team’s reserves. No thanks.

Signing Millsap, which I don’t particularly envision, likely sends Randle to the bench.

Everything else is up in the air. Everything. Because the Lakers have a glut of otherwise undistinguished lottery players. They’ve been inconsistent at best. The question for each player becomes: Is that from growing pains or are they just simply unreliable?

Trades for Paul George? Sure, I’ve read the rumors. Doing so would create a forward glut unless you send Ingram and/or Randle and/or Russell to Indiana. And George doesn’t fare well at power forward. So does that make Ingram the target to go? And by me saying that, is your immediate reaction But wait! Ingram’s got real potential here!

As you can see, that discussion alone leads to a headache.

So yeah, two answers are simple. Trade Russell if they take Ball. Save free agent money for the better group of players available next year.

But add at least 15 wins next season.

This is the job, Magic. I don’t have to tell you that.

One arrogant PS opinion: Being realistic here, the best starting five the Lakers can accomplish next year is Ball at the point, Dion Waiters as a shooting guard free agent signing if not one gained from a Russell trade, Ingram, George, Ivica Zubac. I can see that team push for 40 wins next year.