The glory days of the Los Angeles Lakers are in the past as the direction of my childhood team has become somewhat unclear. Not even Magic Johnson, who was just hired as president of basketball operations to makeover the Lakers’ front office , and his Hollywood smile could automatically alter the direction in which this franchise is headed. The firing of Jim Buss was needed for this team to move forward and become a contender. The Lakers have always been and always will be the glamour franchise of the NBA, but they need to win in order to have a solid chance of luring top free agents in and to eventually bring the Lakers back into playoff contention. The hiring of Luke Walton was a much needed move for the franchise. Early into the season, when the Lakers’ record was 10-10, it seemed that their young core had an outside chance of competing for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. However, reality quickly set in and the team now has the third worst record in the league and is looking to retain the first round pick they possess should it be a top three selection. The rights to a first round draft pick are automatically traded to Philadelphia if it falls outside of the top three selections due to the Dwight Howard trade, which in itself was a maneuver that set the Lakers franchise back at least a couple of years.
In an effort to keep the draft pick and to create more playing time to allow Luke Walton to evaluate his younger core, the Lakers traded their leading scorer and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams. The one thing the Lakers have going for them is this core, which is filled with guys who possess extreme athleticism and untapped potential. This team needs the likes of Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. to develop as attractive pieces that free agents would want to play with. Russell and Ingram clearly have the highest ceilings and have shown flashes of brilliance, but are plagued by stretches of inconsistency. The Lakers’ future depends on the development of this core, and the question then arises as to whether the organization should trade part of its young core for an established star on the trade market such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler. I firmly believe that a quick-fix approach of trading for a star is not the right move. While I am not saying that the team’s young core is completely untouchable, the organization needs to make sure to make the right deal, and not give up too many pieces. The quick-fix approach is what hampered the progress of the Lakers in the first place, as the draft picks dealt in the separate acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash proved to be quite costly since Howard did not pan out and bolted to Houston after one season and Nash was far out of his prime.
Speaking of young talent, Lakers fans are anxiously awaiting the results of the NBA Draft Lottery to see if the team will in fact be able to retain its pick. With players such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, Kansas’ Josh Jackson, and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball available, teams at the top of the draft board are salivating at the chance of adding one of these players into next season’s rotation. If the Lakers were lucky enough to grab a top three selection, the team’s progress towards playoff contention would be jumpstarted and it would additionally make them an even more lucrative NBA destination.
While the Lakers are ultimately headed in the right direction, the only way that they can end their somber four-year skid of being a lottery team is if they can add a playmaker or wing to pair with Brandon Ingram in free agency and the draft. The player that the Lakers should pursue is Paul George, who was born in the Los Angeles area and whose contract with the Pacers expires in the summer of 2018. The hiring of Rob Pelinka, Kobe Bryant’s agent, is another maneuver by Jeannie Buss that should be applauded. The prior head-butting between Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and other members of the front office did not promote stability within the franchise, which is essential to the success of any sports team.
Look for the Lakers to make the necessary moves this offseason and next offseason to solidify themselves as not only playoff contenders, but championship contenders, as the most successful NBA franchise in history begins its route towards reclaiming greatness.