NBA Future Power Rankings: 11. Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers: After 20 seasons, the Kobe Bryant era has come to an end, marking the beginning of the Lakers youth movement. The Lakers are coming off the two worst seasons in franchise history and find themselves in a rare rebuilding mode. Don’t expect the Lakers to leap into contention this season, but they do have one of the more promising young cores in the league. The two most promising pieces in LA are D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, the 2nd overall picks of the previous two drafts. As a rookie, Russell was one of the most talked about players in the league, and it was often for the wrong reasons. In the beginning of the season former coach Byron Scott called him out for his immaturity and refused to start him for an extended portion of the season. Russell’s image may be permanently damaged after the whole cell phone incident with Nick Young, a situation that caused most of his teammates to lose trust in him. All of these factors led many to believe that Russell was on the trading block and had already worn out his welcome with the purple and gold. Despite the adversity, the Lakers wisely held onto the promising talent. Russell should flourish in his sophomore campaign without Kobe Bryant in the way, and under a new coach in Luke Walton. Russell finished his rookie season as one of the most impressive players in a very strong rookie class. Russell clearly has some growing up to do, but I still believe he will become an All-Star caliber player. The Lakers may have another future All-Star in rookie Brandon Ingram. Ingram is incredibly skilled and athletic and an elite three-point shooter. Ingram’s biggest concern is his slim frame. In the past decade there have been many players including Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Nerlens Noel to be questioned coming out of college due to their weight, and many of them still managed to have an immediate impact. Ingram might end up being another one of these young players to overcome these questions, but it is still concerning to have a player standing at 6’9” and weighing just 190 pounds. Ingram is just 18 years old, so he should gain some much needed size and muscle as he ages, but for now it could be a problem matching up against grown men. The Lakers also have some intriguing young big men in the fold. Larry Nance Jr. (27th overall in 2015) and Ivica Zubac (32nd overall in 2016) have impressed in the summer league, and Julius Randle looks poised to build on an impressive “rookie year”. Randle is a bit undersized as a power forward, but he is incredibly skilled. Randle is one of the few big men who can lead a fast break, and was one of just 13 players to average a double double last season. The final main cog of the Lakers promising young core is Jordan Clarkson, who just re-signed with LA for 4-years $50 Million. Clarkson has been a total steal his first two seasons in the NBA. Anytime you can find a player with the 46th pick that can average 14 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists right out the gate, you know you are getting great value. Russell and Clarkson are a tremendous fit in the backcourt since neither player is a true point guard, but both are capable of bringing the ball up the floor. This allows the two players two split the ball handling duties, and both bring great size to the backcourt. Russell and Clarkson’s size is especially important since the Lakers third guard is the diminutive scoring machine, Lou Williams. The Lakers two big free additions were Timofey Mozgov (4-year $64 Million) and Luol Deng (4-year $72 Million). The 30-year old Timofey Mozgov has had a very up and down 6 year NBA career. Two seasons ago Mozgov was acquired by the Cavaliers near the trade deadline and played a big role in Cleveland advancing to the finals. Once Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were both injured, it could have been argued that Mozgov was the Cavs second best player in the 2014-15 Finals after LeBron. At the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, Mozgov rushed back from offseason knee surgery and didn’t ever quite look himself. By the end of the year, once the Cavs acquired Channing Frye and inserted Ty Lue as coach, Mozgov had completely fallen out of the rotation. Mozgov’s stock couldn’t be any lower, which made it shocking that the Lakers gave such a lucrative deal to Mozgov in the first hours of free agency. It is clear that the Lakers targeted Mozgov to fill a huge need at center from the get-go of free agency, but it is unclear whom they were bidding against. Even with huge rise in the cap, no one expected Mozgov to be paid so handsomely. Almost all experts and fans alike agree that the Lakers overpaid for the Russian center, but at least he won't need to do too much to be an upgrade over the departed Roy Hibbert. Luol Deng has been one of the most reliable and consistent players since entering the league, and appeared to be a great fit for a contender. Signing with the Lakers was an interesting move for both Deng and the Lakers. Its obvious that Deng went with the highest bidder given the size of his contract, but it is surprising that the 31 year old veteran didn’t prioritize signing with a more proven roster. In many ways I understand the Lakers acquisition of the two-time All-Star. With so many young players and off the court distractions in LA, it was smart for the Lakers to add a veteran that leads by example, is good in the locker room, and provides plenty of playoff experience. Deng is getting older, but he is still a very effective player on both ends of the floor. After Chris Bosh went out, Deng was extremely effective as a small-ball power forward, a position the Lakers should try using him at. On the other hand, the Deng contract doesn’t make sense for many reasons. The Lakers are paying Deng a starters salary and he is still a starting caliber player. However, starting Deng would mean moving either Ingram or Randle to the bench, a move that could hinder their development. In addition Deng’s prime does not lineup with the rest of the young roster and he has a lot wear and tear. Deng was always Tom Thibodeau’s favorite player with the Bulls as seen by his heavy usage. Thibs ran Deng into the ground with a lot of minutes. Deng even led the league in minutes played per game in both 2011-12 and 2012-13. Now that Deng is on the wrong side of 30 and towards the latter part of his career, don’t be surprised if he breaks down sooner than expected. The Lakers won't be good this season, but they do have a lot going for them. Even with the recent free agent failures, the Lakers will always be the Lakers. They will always be able to sell the history of wearing purple and gold and playing in LA to players, and they now have a very good young core to add into their free agent pitch. The Lakers will really need to score in future free agencies since the 76ers own their top-3 protected 2017 1st rounder and the Magic own their 2019 1st rounder. With the Black Mamba retired, this season marks the beginning of a new and promising era in the Lakers history.