• Nick Fay

WHAT THE F&@K ARE THE LAKERS DOING? Part 1


*Photo USA Today

For the second year in a row, whether they admit it or not, the Lakers are tanking. They have a threadbare roster, rendered even more helpless by the injuries to Kobe Bryant, and their reward for last year’s tank, Julius Randle. While Randle’s injury history is cause for concern, an injured big sitting out the first year to observe has been beneficial in the past and seems to be the developing case with Nerlens Noel’s as indicated by his post-All-Star break growth as well[1]. As long as Randle’s learning more than how to do this from Carlos Boozer while he sits.

LAST TIME THEY WERE HERE

The Lakers don’t often miss the playoffs. In fact, it’s been nearly 40 years since they’ve missed them back to back[2]. So while this Lakers situation is somewhat unprecedented, they have faced certain aspects before. In their rebuild a decade ago, they were able to retool the roster in several ways: through the draft with the Andrew Bynum lottery pick; through trades for Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza; and the key free agent signing of Derek Fisher. Combined with incumbent leaders Bryant and Odom, along with a roster built with steady second round picks like Farmar, Vujacic and Walton, the retooling from the top up was a viable solution.

As has been recently chronicled, the Lakers don’t exactly adhere to the new NBA. With the predominant team-building styles being either the Spurs-Thunder model (building through the draft, and shrewd reclamation projects), or the Rockets-Sixers variation (building assets through the draft, and flipping them to hit a homerun, rather than focusing on player development). The third style- Superteam- has already started losing in league-wide estimation. This was perfected by the Heat, and is being attempted by the Cavs, but the Lakers were the grandfather (along with the Celtics) that invented it.

Though the crown jewel that netted them their last titles, Pau Gasol, was acquired in an ironically far fairer deal than what the Rocket’s traded for MVP front-runner, Harden, based on the Rocket’s cost-analysis based acquired assets, the Lakers still prefer to do things the old fashioned way.In fact, this is a similar philosophy that helped their construction of the early 2000’s Lakers title teams, (the Kobe draft, the Shaq signing, the Rice trade). And perhaps even as far back as the great teams of the 80’s (The Magic/Worthy drafts, the Kareen trade, and the Norm Nixon signing). It stands to reason that what has worked before is what they hope will work again, CBA and analytics changing landscape be damned.

Assuming the intended goal is to continue their well trodden path, and pull another coup to restructure the roster quickly through trades, a couple high draft pieces, and key free agents, who are moving the parts that fill in the philosophy?

CURRENT ROSTER EXPECTATIONS

Looking at players that may move forward with the team, there doesn’t seem to a be a foundational talent among the organization, though there may be some gems that fill in the middle part of a roster on a contender.

The highest Laker in terms of RPM is Jeremy Lin, who clocks in a 135th, with another Laker with a season injury, Ronnie Price, right behind him[3]. In fact Robert Sacre is the only other player coming out on the positive side. But this team wasn’t built to win. It was built to compete with strong effort, while losing ferociously.

Despite not factoring into these rankings, or coming out highest in WAR, the most intriguing pieces to fill into the “Bench Mob” of the future are Jordan Clarkson, and Ed Davis. Though neither exactly fit the bill as homegrown Lakers draft products, they along Sacre (a former Lakers second round pick), form a viable and reliable group that can be further developed together as nucleus. Ryan Kelly may fit in here as well, but Kupchak can easily comb for possibilities in the Houston pick they own this year (assuming it falls outside the lottery), or if they retain their own second rounder. Clarkson’s dynamism, and Davis’s efficiency play[4] have been among the few bright spots this season. Keeping these affordable pieces moving forward to shore up the remade roster is surely their intention.

[1] TS% has grown from 47% to 55%, while offensive and defensive rating have improved by a point, per NBA.com

[2] 1975-76 season, per Basketball-reference.com

[3] 0.22 and 0.19 Real Plus Minus, respectively, per ESPN.com.

[4] 19.7 PER (53rd in the league), 13% offensive rebounding percentage (7th in the league) via ESPN.com.

*Part 2 will be posted tomorrow

-By Michael Sutherland


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