This means, at least in my eyes, taking a long, hard look at three players.
Julius Randle is the obvious choice here. He’s the highest pick the Lakers have had in 30 years and the young piece with the most potential currently on the roster. The thought is that he can develop into an All-Star caliber player over the course of his career, becoming a strong addition for a long time. However, on a team that is packed with frontcourt players (the addition of Carlos Boozer only further extenuates the logjam), Randle might have trouble finding consistent playing time if he struggles. Randle’s playing time will depend entirely on the team’s goals for the season and whoever the coach ends up being. If, for instance, the new coach gets the word from management that he’s going to have a long leash and is free to use this season to develop talent like Randle for the future, he’ll get more and more minutes regardless of how he performs. But, if it’s a coach who’s already fighting for his job, Randle’s leash will likely be shorter than that of the new boss.
I’ll state, purely for the record, that I think Randle will be free to work through the difficulties of life as a rookie NBAer at his leisure.
One of the best things that can happen for the Lakers’ future is another long, tough season. The team’s first round draft pick belongs to Phoenix unless they land in the top five of the lottery, something they didn’t even pull off after last year’s historically disheartening campaign. So, conceivably, that’s a bit of a longshot. Plus, the team’s roster is without question more talented than it was a year ago, meaning that even if they wanted to fall into one of the top five slots in the draft, they might have some difficulty pulling it off.
Welcome to basketball purgatory.
Still, going back to my previous point, there’s something beneficial about being a struggling team without a chance at a title. The benefit would be the knowledge that there’s nothing to lose other than a few more games. But, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not that big of a deal if those minutes spent losing become minutes spent learning and growing.
Take a look at last season. Specifically at Ryan Kelly.
As the 48th pick in the draft, Kelly was a mere afterthought. Most fans figured he was someone the Lakers picked purely because they had to pick somebody and, hey what the hell why not this guy? In almost any other Laker season, Kelly would have found himself developing a beautifully charming long-term relationship with the bench. Eventually, as tends to happen in these situations, the bench would get very clingy and throw a fit whenever he left it. By the end of the season it would be far too late for a divorce, let alone an annulment. To avoid the lame simile, Kelly simply wouldn’t have had the chance to showcase what he’s able to do.
For many rookies in the league, especially those taken in the second round, the opportunities to prove oneself are scarce. Because of this, when the opportunity does arise, nerves tend to take over a bit and there are growing pains. They know they don’t have the leniency that a top pick will get to fight through those growing pains and develop more confidence in their abilities, ultimately making them better players. This can become a sickening downward spiral as increased struggles leads to decreased confidence and an even further decreased amount of time spent on the court.
Eventually they flame out and move on to a different career.
No offense to Ryan Kelly, but that was likely the direction he was heading. But, due to the team’s struggles last season he was able to stay on the floor, fight through some of his development issues and regain some confidence in himself and his abilities on the court. By the end of the season he was a staple in the rotation and (seemingly) a valuable rotation player for the future.
And, with a championship out of the question this year, the team should attempt this same strategy in 2014-15 with Randle, Kelly (again), and another new addition, Jordan Clarkson.
Will all three of those guys still be on the roster the next time the Lakers hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else to be gained by seeing what they can do and maximizing their abilities.
Let’s consider one possible route for one second. We’ll use Clarkson purely for the sake of the situation, not because of any basis in reality or even my own predictions.
In 2014, the team struggles but allows Clarkson to gain confidence and become a solid rotation player. Due to his growth on the court, he becomes a player with some value that is seen around the league as a promising, young asset. He becomes valuable, not only in his on-court abilities, but as a possible trade asset to bring in a larger, perhaps more superstar-esque piece.
The point is that rookies struggle. Why? They’re rookies. That’s what they do. Kobe Bryant averaged 7.6 points his rookie season. Kevin Garnett averaged 10.4. Anthony Bennett, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, averaged just 4.2. Bryant and Garnett were both allowed to work through their struggles with continued playing time and ultimately develop, and at one point in each of their careers was considered the best player in the league. We’ll wait and see with Anthony Bennett, who certainly doesn’t look to be a future KG/Kobe, but that’s not really my argument here. For the Lakers, let the young guns go out there and learn what it means to be successful at an NBA level. Give them the reassurance that regardless of their struggles, and there will be struggles, they will get the chances they need to prove whether or not they can hack it in the bigs.
It’s going to be a tough season for the Lakers. Even if everything goes perfectly according to plan and the team performs at it’s absolute peak, it’s difficult to see them advancing past the first round of the postseason.
But that shouldn’t be the focal point of things for this team.
There are opportunities within each difficult season to help better prepare yourself for the future. The Lakers do have the opportunity to do that in 2015. It’s just up to them to make sure they do.
Lakers Waive Kendall Marshall, Sign Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson