There is no way to downplay the dismal 2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers’ season which has seen the collapse of an entire franchise, marked by a profound failure at every level of the organization from the front office to the coaching staff to the players. The year has been terrible from start to finish, and the team is engulfed in negativity. The public perception is that the ownership is incompetent, the general manager a relic, and the coaching staff equal parts uninspiring and ineffective.
The lasting image from this year will be that of Kobe Bryant, whose bloated contract left the team with no cap space to sign quality players, taking a bow, smiling, and hugging opponents after every Lakers loss. It was not so much a circus as it was a Greek tragedy.
Nearly 70 years after the organization was founded, the Lakers will start the post-Bryant era at the nadir of their existence. The first step is an honest assessment of the few current assets. It is hard to be positive about any player’s performance this year, but still, some met expectations while others did not.
Among the players here are the winners and losers from the 2015-16 season. To be fair, Robert Sacre, Metta World Peace, Ryan Kelly, and Nick Young are not included in this assessment since they didn’t play much this season.
Winner: Julius Randle
Randle achieved his two primary goals this season, proving he could stay healthy and that he had, at least, one elite skill: rebounding. After arriving last season with lingering questions about a foot injury he suffered in college, and then breaking a leg in his first regular season game, Randle bounced back and showed he could withstand the rigors of a full NBA season. He grabbed double-digit rebounds, which was especially important on a team that featured anemic Roy Hibbert at center. Randle will work on his mid-range shot this summer, and if he masters that skill and learns to finish at the rim with his right hand, he has a bright future.
Loser: Roy Hibbert
Hibbert was expected to improve the team’s interior defense this year, but it did not happen. He had been an All-Star with the Indiana Pacers, and there was hope that a change of scenery could help resurrect his career. Instead, he averaged a miserable 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, well below his career averages. Hibbert proved to be as slow as advertised which made him ineffective on both ends of the court. Where Hibbert goes career-wise after this disastrous season is anyone’s guess.
Winner: Brandon Bass
Bass joined the Lakers this year after a workmanlike stint with the Boston Celtics. He did not play well at the start of the season but quietly emerged over time as one of their most consistent and productive players. In interviews, Bass was soft-spoken and unassuming, but on the court, he was a hard-working, blue-collar player who did what was expected of him. He blocked shots, rebounded, and scored around the rim. A true power forward, he was forced to play center this season but held his own against bigger opponents. Bass has an option to remain with the team next year, but given the state of the franchise, he may prefer to play elsewhere for a more stable organization.
Loser: Tarik Black
Black played with great energy in his rookie season last year, blocking shots, rebounding, and finishing with ferocity at the rim. He was expected to play a prominent role off the bench this season, but he never got the chance. His season was wasted on the bench where he was often in street clothes, even though Hibbert was terrible. For Black, it was a lost season, since he was never part of the rotation and never saw more than a few minutes here and there. The only explanation is that Byron Scott does not like him for reasons unknown. At this point, if Scott returns, Black should move on.
Winner: Larry Nance Jr.
Pundits snickered when the Lakers made Nance, Jr. the 27th pick in last summer’s draft. By midseason, however, he had emerged as the team’s most exciting player with a solid all-around game. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of a knee injury he suffered in college re-surfaced and he was forced to miss a number of games. When he returned, he was still in pain, so he sat again. When he finally resumed play he was not the same player. If Nance, Jr. develops a consistent mid-range shot and can stay healthy, he could emerge as a valuable long-range contributor on an improved squad.
Loser: Anthony Brown
Outside shooting and perimeter defense were question marks for the Lakers entering the season, and Anthony Brown was drafted to address those concerns. He was prominently featured in the preseason but barely played at all once the games counted. He finally got a chance in January when Kobe Bryant was hurt, but just when he was starting to feel more comfortable, Scott inexplicably benched him in favor of playing Young and World Peace. He was poised to play more this past month but suffered a season-ending injury. Brown is under contract for next year, but there is no telling if he is a real NBA player since, like Tarik Black, he was wasted this season.
Winner: Marcelo Huertas
Huertas joined the NBA last summer as a 32-year-old playmaking point guard with a solid resume in international competition. It took an entire season for the coaches to realize D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Lou Williams were only interested in scoring, which is why the Lakers ranked last in the NBA in assists. Out of desperation, with the year nearly over, Huertas finally got a chance to play, and he delivered. The ball actually started to move on offense. In a brief showcase Huertas proved he belongs in the NBA but whether that will be with the Lakers next season remains to be seen.
Loser: D’Angelo Russell
Russell has endured an excruciating rookie campaign. Many observers were openly critical when the team chose him over Jahlil Okafor in last summer’s draft. In the Summer League, he looked completely ill-prepared for the NBA. To save face, the Lakers had to make Russell a starter when the season began, but he was so awful that he was relegated to reserve status for much of the year. He had a small number of impressive performances, but for the most part, his play has been at best inconsistent and at worst underwhelming. With the season nearly over he secretly recorded a private conversation with a teammate, and the video was leaked online, for which he was publicly ridiculed. Russell is young and may one day become a star, but his reputation has taken a hit and based on the results of one full season his future is unclear.
Winner: Lou Williams
Williams came to the Lakers with a reputation as a volume shooter and on that front, he did not disappoint. There were times when he single-handedly kept the team in games when no one else could score. He also showed an uncanny ability to draw fouls. Enthusiasm for Williams must be tempered, however, because he was often a dreadful defender and while he took a lot of shots, that doesn’t mean he always scored. Overall he shot a below-average 41 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from behind the arc. Still, overall, Williams performed as advertised and did what was expected of him.
Loser: Jordan Clarkson
Much was expected of Clarkson this year, but he did not meet the lofty goals set for him. Most of his statistics were down from a season ago when he was one of the league’s top rookies. He often started games strong but contributed little in the second half. On defense, he was torched most nights by nearly every point guard he faced. Clarkson never got other players involved and seemed more intent on dribbling and shooting. He is a good player, but since he did not progress as expected, his ceiling does not look as high right now as it did at this time last season. By all appearances, he and Russell are more shooting guards than point guards, and with so many holes, it would not be a shock if the team traded one of them to fill a key need.