Well, this is awkward. Or at least it might be for some of you. Some of you might recognize my name. Others will simply read that sentence and assume I’m pompous. Neither one is wrong. Regardless, as someone that spent many sleepless nights on this site in a previous life, it’s fun to spend some of my current one on it, too. Now that the strange “wait, you again?” part of the article is over, let’s get to what you care about.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the Lakers and the future. In this town a lot of people want a quick answer, a fast and easy solution to a very difficult question. For Los Angeles, the NBA season is generally viewed as championship or bust. So when the team doesn’t appear to have a championship-caliber roster, it’s hard to compromise and realize that lesser goals are necessary to accept.
So here’s where we go from here.
In the movie Rounders, poker renaissance man Matt Damon talks about keeping yourself out of trouble at the table by folding a hand you know doesn’t have a chance. “Throw away your cards the moment you know they can’t win,” the narrator (Damon) tells the viewer. Live to play another hand. Fight another day. Pick your cliche. This is the line I’ve referenced to the Laker fans that have tried to figure out just what to make of this current team and this upcoming season.
The Lakers do not have a championship roster. I don’t think that’s an outlandish thing to say. I believe if you asked Mitch Kupchak, Jimmy Buss, or any of the other Laker brass they would tell you the same thing. Building a championship-level team is a long, difficult process – the Lakers have just done a damn good job of making it look easy for the past 60 years. The point is, the Lakers don’t have a team that can win it all this season. And, in a town that demands titles, that means the season will be considered a disappointment. So, if you’re the Lakers, you fold the hand and start working towards the next one. The one that you know will win the pot. In Los Angeles, it’s championship or bust, so the second you know that a title isn’t in the works for this season, begin building for the next championship.
That brings me to my main point here.
In 2014, the credo for the Lakers and the main point of emphasis should be one thing; develop Julius Randle (and Ryan Kelly/Jordan Clarkson).
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Spurs (and trust me we’ve learned a lot more than one thing) it’s that home grown, developed talent is a very useful thing. This hasn’t always been something the Lakers have looked to as the core of their success, but there’s no doubt that even when the team was winning championships, they did it with a collection of acquired free agents as well as home grown guys that they knew fit their system. When the team went on their run from 2000-02, they had key role players like Devean George, Derek Fisher and Tyronn Lue. Even though those aren’t names that jump out on a stat sheet, each contributed at key points throughout those years and helped the team become champions.
The point here is that not every player on a championship roster is a superstar. While having those superstar players is important, there are many pieces in a title-winning puzzle. While the Lakers wait on the cornerstone pieces, presumably to be filled later, they can still work towards their next title by making sure some of the smaller pieces are there when those bigger assets come along at a later date.
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