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.

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.

Rapid reactions from the Lakers front office upheaval

About an hour ago, the Lakers announced that general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Vice President Jim Buss were both relieved of their duties. They were replaced, at least in the interim, by franchise legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. I could repeat gripes that I’ve had about the team under Buss’ stewardship. Instead, I’d like to focus on what this means for one of the most recognizable brand names in sports.

All of what follows is filtered through the following prism: The good news for Lakers fans is not that Johnson is in, but that Buss is out. Why?

1) Magic would likely make a horrible GM, so the future of the franchise rests on his pick to run player personnel decisions.

It is an educated guess that Johnson would not be ideal to build a Lakers roster for two reasons. One, often in the NBA, successful coaches have significant say in building good rosters. Johnson served rather poorly as an interim coach.

Two, the greatest players in the game are often lacking in scouting talent. For every Larry Bird success story in Indiana, there is Michael Jordan’s mismanagement of the Charlotte Bobcats, and pretty much everything Isaiah Thomas has run in retirement.

Magic has a hit-and-miss record in his post-playing career. His hits have been incredible, such as owning the Dodgers. How terrifying are his mistakes? Aw, man. You really wanna know?

2) Please, Magic, do not make your first phone call to Kobe Bryant, which was suggested in news reports. See above. Because Bryant has been known to miss the mark badly, too. How terrifying? Aw, man. You really wanna know?

3) It does not matter that this move came two days before the NBA trading deadline. The NBA trading deadline features very few blockbusters. Baseball’s deadline does. Besides, unless the Lakers want to break up their alleged “future talent,” they have scant pieces to trade away. Reserve guard Lou Williams is pretty much it.

So what could Magic Johnson do to restore the Lakers?

1) Remind the players and management of their identity. No, I don’t mean wave a purple and gold flag around like a male cheerleader. The Lakers had a formula that worked for decades, only it was abandoned because Jim Buss made a series of impulsive, foolhardy decisions. First, they were going to be a defensive power under coach Mike Brown. Then they were going to return to the 1980s Showtime era with Mike D’Antoni. Now, they want to be a version of the Golden State Warriors and none of it worked because they simply can’t shoot.

This is a team without an identity. Fortunately, it had one for decades — the inside/out game. In the 1960s, inside to Wilt Chamberlain, out to Jerry West. In the 1980s, inside to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, out to Johnson. In the 2000s, in to Shaquille O’Neal, out to Bryant.

Maybe the team has the “out” in D’Angelo Russell. The Lakers need to do whatever it takes to find the inside game.

2) If that means trading Julius Randle or Brandon Ingram, so be it.

3) Support coach Luke Walton publicly, but privately inform him that this roster needs to follow a specific growth plan. For far too often this season, Walton has believed that in order for the Lakers to grow somebody in the younger core needs to step up. Be the leader. Demand the ball. That sort of thing.

At this point, Russell, Randle or Ingram have not answered that call.

That leaves it up to you, coach. You have to pick. Pick wisely. Pick now.

Roberts: The Dodgers micromanager

Common sense tells you there’s no such thing as magic, but there are times in life that we are willing to suspend our disbelief — a good show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, or the pursuit of something historical in nature.

Consider what happened to end the seventh inning during Rich Hill’s bid for a perfect game at Marlins Park on Saturday. Yasiel Puig, derided for years over a perceived lack of hustle, made this supernatural catch of a Martin Prado drive. Hill threw his arms up in the air. The Dodgers bench erupted with joy, congratulated Puig and the team returned to the dugout. Because it was good fortune. Enchanted, perhaps.

They didn’t congratulate Hill, by the way, because baseball players are superstitious by nature. Who wants to jinx a perfect game? To do so, perhaps that would be the baseball equivalent of black magic.

Magic, humanity’s feeble attempt to comprehend moments in the joy we witness.

But as we’ve come to expect from the micromanagers running the Dodgers — who ironically enough are owned by a guy named Magic — there shall be no joy in Chavez Ravine. There shall only be strict adherence to the mathematical equation.

Manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill aside and told him his quest to pitch Major League Baseball’s 24th perfect game was over. Hill had some redness and heat on his finger, a blister could possibly form. Thanks for helping the team. Hit the showers. Make it a cold shower, while you’re at it.

I was at Marlins Park last night, Tweeting and posting live updates of this incredible effort from five rows behind the dugout. When the bottom of the eighth inning was about to start, I was looking up the history of Dodgers no-hitters and perfect games. They had two no-hitters in 2014. It was 51 years, one day from the only perfect game in Dodgers history, pitched by Sandy Koufax and documented by a man far classier than I.

What I couldn’t see in the dugout was how angry Hill was, as well he should. I realize it’s no consolation, but that anger was magnified by my fellow Dodgers fans that I could see.

What happened at Marlins Park last night was the latest in an ever-increasing list of Dodgers decisions that illustrate the shortcomings of analytics-exclusive front office decisions. To recap, analytics in sports — as popularized in the excellent Michael Lewis book “Moneyball” — is a tool to help teams without wealth and resources to stay competitive.

Only the Dodgers do have wealth and resources.

So the front office personnel consult the numbers and sign/trade for the affordable injury-prone: such as Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Bud Norris, Scott Kazmir, Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy … are you starting to get the point? The otherwise durable Zack Greinke was let go in the process. No worry. We were told. We’ll make adjustments on defense for something called “run prevention.”

Pulling Hill from a historic quest was simply “asset protection,” for he, too, has a history of injuries. Wouldn’t want to risk another guy getting injured six outs away from a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

Had the Dodgers chosen to retain Greinke instead of acquire a stable of injury-prone pitchers, Hill would likely be a No. 3 starter, at best. As such, Roberts likely believed him to be the only reliable pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw.

This is how important baseball history actually is: Curt Schilling became a national hero for pitching a game where he eventually started to bleed through his sock. Hill? Maybe he has a blister. Maybe, but doggone it, can’t be too careful.

Of course, the front office wouldn’t have to worry about asset protection if it studied injury reports with the same vigor it does spreadsheets. 

You almost have to wonder what prior Dodgers managers would have decided. Actually, you don’t. Tommy Lasorda would have kept him in. Every Dodgers manager prior would have likely done the same. Don Mattingly, who leads the Marlins after the Dodgers cut him loose last year, I haven’t seen his comments. He probably didn’t make one.

As such, it was not Rich Hill who made history, it was Roberts and the Dodgers front office. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that no pitcher had been removed in the quest for a perfect game that late in the game, at least not since 1900.

After the game, Roberts told reporters that the decision actually made a 5-0 Dodgers victory feel like a loss.

That is ironic, because that is precisely what I was saying outside of Marlins Park while I cursed the Dodgers front office in the mist.