NBA Players such as Mike Conley Jr. have hit the jackpot this summer, but will the teams that paid them roll snake eyes when it’s all said and done?
When you step into the Staples Center there is a definite aura that surrounds the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have 16 NBA Champions which are the second most in league history, while no franchise has made more trips to the NBA Finals (31) than them. The Lakers have had an array of Hall of Famers such as Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Shaquille O’Neal play for them and when it comes to free agency, the purple and gold have never had to beg the top players in the NBA to suit up for them. However things have changed as the last three years have seen the Lakers go 65-181 which is by far their worst stretch in franchise history. The Lakers were clinging to an aging Kobe Bryant as their franchise player, while other superstars around the NBA were reluctant to play with him as nobody wanted to take a back seat to the Black Mamba. The Lakers have had four different head coaches over the last four years with another one in Luke Walton just beginning his tenure. The Lakers have found themselves picking early in the NBA Draft while they have also missed out in free agency which is unheard of for them. The Lakers had a snowball’s chance in hell of signing small forward Kevin Durant this summer as he ultimately decided to join the Golden State Warriors. But Los Angeles missed out on second and third-tier free agents as well which means that their best option for the immediate future is to concentrate on drafting and developing players which is unheard of for this franchise.
The Lakers are coming off of a 17-65 season which was their worst in franchise history. But that didn’t ensure the Lakers of the having the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as that went the way of the Philadelphia 76ers which ended their hopes of drafting small forward Ben Simmons. The Lakers did have the second overall pick in the draft which they used on small forward Brandon Ingram. The Lakers intend to team Ingram with guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, along with power forward Julius Randle as this is expected to be the core that will get things turned around for the franchise.
But things have gotten so bad for the Lakers that they found themselves agreeing to a four-year, $64 million deal with center Timofey Mozgov when free agency began last week. In six NBA seasons, Mozgov has only averaged 6.9 points and 5 rebounds as his two greatest claims to fame have been being a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers championship team last month, and getting dunked on by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin a few years ago as a member of the New York Knicks. Now Mozgov is getting paid big-time money by the Lakers to do nothing more than fill a roster spot.
Walton will be able to add some life to the Lakers as he will look to implement the triangle offense that the organization enjoyed tremendous success in when it was orchestrated by former head coach Phil Jackson. But the triangle and Walton’s winning attitude won’t be enough to make the Lakers a playoff contender right away as he must teach the youngsters how to win in the NBA which is not an easy task as the blow could have been cushioned if Los Angeles were able to lure a quality veteran player there that could teach the youngsters what it takes to succeed.
25 years ago the Lakers saw the dynasty of the 1980’s and early 1990’s begin to fade when Johnson was forced to retire after contracting the HIV virus. The Lakers found themselves missing the playoffs in 1994, but they quickly were able to get back to the postseason in 1995 as they were led by youngsters in shooting guard Eddie Jones and point guard Nick Van Exel. This was the groundwork for what the Lakers were to become as in 1996, they signed O’Neal in free agency, and acquired Bryant via a trade from the Charlotte Hornets. But the maestro at the center of all of that was Jerry West who served as the Lakers general manager for more than two decades. West left the Lakers in 2002 and he currently works in the front office of the Golden State Warriors. And the Lakers have yet to find someone with his wizardry to build a team. But there is the possibility that Ingram, Randle, Russell, and Clarkson could be the foundation for a Lakers turnaround as there is now pressure on the youngsters and Walton to do just that.