The Los Angeles Lakers 2015-2016 season isn’t off to a great start.
With a 2-12 record and coming off a brutal route that saw the Golden State Warriors improve to an NBA-best 16-0 (better than any team in history), things are bleak in Los Angeles.
The team has played terrible, aging star Kobe Bryant has been a shell of his former self, and head coach Byron Scott has appeared out of touch.
And yet, this Thanksgiving, there is still much for Lakers supporters to feel thankful for. As we celebrate the holiday with food and family, let’s step back and reflect on everything that fans of the purple and gold can appreciate.
Over the past three seasons, the Lakers have lost more games to injury than any other franchise. From Dwight Howard’s back, Steve Nash’s luggage, Kobe Bryant’s everything, and of course Julius Randle’s leg, the injury bug has been particularly ravenous when it comes to Lakers players. Two years ago, they had to rely on a little-known rule that allowed Robert Sacre to continue playing after a sixth foul because they ran out of healthy bodies. Last season concluded with two D-League call ups, Vander Blue and Jabari Brown, having to play all 48 minutes because they were the only guards on the team still standing.
Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case this season (knock on wood). Sure, Kobe has missed a number of games with various ailments, but that comes with the territory when a body has that many miles on it. Marcelo Huertas lost a few games in the preseason to a hamstring injury, but otherwise the injury report has been surprisingly clean.
There is still a long ways to go, but the fact that the bench hasn’t been littered with tall guys in suits is a good thing.
Youth Is Developing
Lakers coach Byron Scott has received a mountain of criticism from the passionate fan base, and some of it deservedly so. The blame for the team’s failures has to fall somewhere, and with his odd lineups and antiquated notions (better defense simply requires “manning up”), Scott is as good of a target as any.
Scott has also taken quite a bit of flak for his handling of rookie D’Angelo Russell, and again from the outside, some of it does appear warranted. However, regardless of how you view Scott’s strategy with tutelage of the young talent adorning the roster, the fact of the matter is that development is happening.
Jordan Clarkson, who barely saw the floor until January last season after being selected with the 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, has now become the most consistent scorer and is locked into the starting lineup. Furthermore, Clarkson’s biggest weakness last season — three point shooting — has become a strength.
Julius Randle was a question mark coming into the season, with concerns regarding his ability to overcome injury, his jump shot, defense, and ability to adapt to the pro game. While many of those areas still need work, Randle has quieted any doubts of whether or not he can hack it as a pro. His athleticism is far beyond what anyone expected, and his ability to handle the ball in transition has been a major weapon. Julius Randle is for real, and he has a very bright future in the league.
Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell hasn’t lived up to expectations as the No. 2 pick, but he has steadily improved game by game and is now starting to show flashes of why he was taken so high. Coach Scott has been stingy with Russell’s minutes, but the young guard has steadily improved and is looking more comfortable with every outing.
Even role players like Larry Nance Jr. have exceeded expectations with his agility and defensive capabilities, while Anthony Brown has the potential to develop into the three-and-D wing of the future.
It may not be happening as fast as fans would like, but the youth are forging the path forward.
Cap Space Awaits
How does a $65 million spending spree sound? Based on their current contracts, that’s roughly how much money the Lakers will have at their disposal to chase free agents next summer, which is the most of any team in the league. Of course, that’s before they have to shell out some cash to re-sign Clarkson and potentially Roy Hibbert, but it’s still an impressive chunk of change to work with.
Unfortunately, the 2016 free agency crop isn’t looking particularly strong aside from veterans who will be looking to win now, like Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Mike Conley. There are a few players that would fit well with the Lakers young core, with Hassan Whiteside and Nicolas Batum being the most notable, but competition for them will be fierce.
The good news is that cap space can be used in ways beyond just signing players, and we should see LA active on the trade market as they look to add talent or absorb salaries in exchange for assets.
Cap space means flexibility and the ability to buy change, and given the struggles, change is a good thing.
Draft Pick Just Might Stay in L.A.
The 2016 draft pick will be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers unless it falls in the top three spots. Here are the odds of the Lakers keeping the pick in based on where they finish in league standings:
The Lakers currently sit at 29th in the league, which means that their chances are slightly better than a coin flip to keep their pick. Not great, but if the team can get a little lottery luck, then the rebuild could get a major shot in the arm.
It’s still very early in the season, and tanking shouldn’t be part of the discussion (yet), but if there is any silver lining to the abysmal start to the season, it’s that there is still a real chance of the Lakers landing a top talent in the draft to add to their young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle.
Specifically, there is this kid named Ben Simmons at LSU that is already looking good in purple and gold…
Happy Thanksgiving, Lakers Nation!