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.