After making eight consecutive playoff appearances, which included two NBA titles, the Los Angeles Lakers have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. What makes things worse for this storied franchise is the fact that the team’s win total has decreased in each of those seasons, from 27 wins in 2013-14 to 21 in 2014-15 and 17 last season. Last year featured Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour, taking some attention away from the caliber of the product on the Staples Center floor.
With Kobe now retired the Lakers will look to move forward with a young roster led by new head coach Luke Walton. Walton, who won two titles with the Lakers as a player, may not have much in the way of head coaching experience but he knows what it takes to win. He was an assistant to Steve Kerr with the Warriors the last two seasons, and for the early portion of the 2015-16 campaign he was acting head coach while Kerr was out with health issues.
Golden State’s “pace and space” form of attack had a significant impact on the NBA and basketball in general, and the hope in Los Angeles is that Walton can bring some of that to the Lakers. There’s talent, including guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, and forwards Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, but this is a young team. Veterans such as Luol Deng will be important in the locker room, helping the young players with all aspects of what it takes to be a successful professional. Expecting a playoff berth would be too much for the Lakers right now, but looking for the team to show signs of progress is not unreasonable.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
G: D’Angelo Russell (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg) Russell’s rookie season was best known for what occurred off the court (the Nick Young Snapchat controversy), but he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer and assists leader. Russell shot 41.0 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three, and he also averaged 2.5 turnovers per game. While making strides from a statistical standpoint will be important, Russell’s greatest need for growth (as is the case for many young point guards) will be in running a team.
G: Jordan Clarkson (15.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.4 apg) Clarkson was the Lakers’ second-leading scorer last season, and it didn’t take long for the franchise to move to lock him up this summer. The two sides agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract, with the Lakers operating under the belief that Clarkson is a building block for the future. Clarkson shot 43.3 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three last season, and he’s one player who could benefit from a system that values running the floor with good spacing and ball movement.
F: Luol Deng (12.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) Deng spent his last two seasons in Miami, where he was a solid contributor on a team that reached the second round of the playoffs in 2015-16. His role in L.A. will be a bit different, as he’ll be asked to not only be a key contributor but help teach the young talent as well. At some point, maybe even this season, Brandon Ingram could move into the starting lineup but for now look for the veteran Deng to have the job.
F: Julius Randle (11.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg) Somewhat overshadowed in last year’s Kobe Bryant retirement tour was the play of Randle, who averaged a double-double in his first full season after missing 2014-15 with a broken leg suffered in the season opener. The 6-foot-9 left-handed power forward shot 42.9 percent from the field, and that’s a mark that should improve as he gains more experience.
C: Timofey Mozgov (6.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg) Mozgov was the other major free agent acquisition made by the Lakers this summer, and while many scoffed at the price tag (four years, $64 million) he can help the Lakers in the post. Mozgov’s best years in the NBA came with the Nuggets, and he also averaged 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game with Cleveland during the 2014-15 season. What didn’t help Mozgov last season was rushing back from offseason knee surgery, and by the time the playoffs rolled around he’d fallen out of the Cavs’ rotation. He’ll be good to go for the Lakers.
Lakers Projected Bench
G: Louis Williams (15.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) Williams started 35 of the 67 games he played in last season, and he’ll be the first guard off the bench for the Lakers again this season. He got to the foul line at a higher clip (.612 free throw rate) than any other Laker, and only Huertas, Russell and Bryant had higher assist percentages than Williams (15.1).
G: Jose Calderon (7.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.2 apg) The backup point guard spot was something the Lakers needed to address this summer, and in signing Calderon to a one-year deal they may have done that. The 6-foot-3 Calderon, who made 72 starts for the Knicks last season, can help teach Russell while also giving the young point guard a break when needed.
F/G: Nick Young (7.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg) There’s no sugarcoating the season Young had in 2015-16, as he shot 33.9 percent from the floor. Young’s shot selection has never been “great,” but to see the drop in production from 2014-15 (13.4 ppg) to last season has to be a concern for the Lakers. With Ingram in the fold, Young could see even more of his minutes go to other options if he doesn’t turn things around.
F: Brandon Ingram (Rookie) The Lakers grabbed Ingram with the second pick in the NBA Draft, getting a slender 6-foot-10 wing who put together a very good freshman season at Duke. He struggled early last season, but once Ingram figured things out he was good to go. Having Deng to serve as a mentor should help Ingram get going, and while there has been talk about his build Ingram being skinny does not mean that he’s soft. He’ll definitely battle while on the court.
F: Larry Nance Jr. (5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) Nance was a crowd favorite as a rookie due to his athleticism and how hard he played while on the court. Nance played in 54 games last season, with some of that action coming despite dealing with discomfort in his right knee (Nance tore the ACL in that knee during his junior season at Wyoming). Nance should be part of the Lakers rotation when the regular season begins.
C/F: Tarik Black (3.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg) The Lakers re-signed Black to a two-year deal, with the second season not guaranteed, this summer and he gives them a physical presence in the paint. Black played well for the Lakers when joining them during the 2014-15 season, averaging 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 38 appearances (27 starts). It’ll be tough to get back to that level given the number of players competing for minutes at the four and five positions, but Black can be a productive option.
Other Players in Lakers Training Camp
G Marcelo Huertas
G Julian Jacobs
F Anthony Brown
F Metta World Peace
F Thomas Robinson
F Zach Auguste
F Travis Wear
C Ivica Zubac
Huertas, Brown and Zubac are all on guaranteed contracts this season, meaning that the Lakers go into camp with just one available roster spot. Huertas played just over 16 minutes per game at the point for the Lakers last season, but with the signing of Calderon the best he’s likely to do is grab the third PG spot. Jacobs, undrafted out of USC, will look to earn his way onto the roster but the Lakers do hold his D-League rights (L.A. Defenders).
Brown and World Peace both played sparingly for the Lakers last season, and the latter was a teammate of Walton’s with the Lakers. Zubac was drafted in the second round of this year’s draft and signed to a guaranteed deal, leaving an NBA veteran in Robinson to compete with Jianlian and two younger players in Auguste and Wear in the paint.
Lakers Coaching Staff
Head coach: Luke Walton (First season.)
Assistant coaches: Brian Shaw, Jesse Mermuys, Mark Madsen, Adam Keefe, Theo Robertson
UPDATE (10/12): The Lakers announced that they have waived Julian Jacobs, Zach Auguste and Travis Wear.
UPDATE (10/24): The Lakers announce that they have waived forwards Anthony Brown and Yi Jianlian.