Sunday, March 1, 2015

AN UNKNOWN FUTURE FOR THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS

By: Connor Glowacki

     Last Sunday (February 22), the Los Angeles Lakers ended a seven game losing streak by defeating the Boston Celtics in overtime by a final score of 118-111, but the real news came after the game had finished. While Lakers guard Jeremy Lin was being interviewed after leading all scores with 25 points in the victory, several of his teammates bombarded the interview with declarations that the Lakers 'were back'.
     Guard Nick Young and forwards Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer suddenly appeared on camera and were excessively celebrating a victory that brought the Lakers to a pedestrian 14-41 record. Young,  infamously known by his nickname 'Swaggy P', starts to joyously yell into the camera, "We back in the building. Ya'll thought we was gone!"
   
     *Below is part of the post game interview.  


*(Video belongs to the NBA)
   
     This highlight ended up making its way to Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who had just undergone season ending surgery to his right shoulder. While on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bryant looked utterly disgusted when Kimmel showed him the video and couldn't even bring himself to words. The video ended up showcasing how some players on the team act without their driven guard in the locker room to keep them in check. It was an utterly embarrassing moment for a legendary franchise that has fallen on some rough times in recent years.
   
Injured Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's initial
reaction after watching the 'celebration'
video on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live'.
Photo courtesy of Huffington Post.
     WIN NOW MODE

     Ever since Los Angeles won back to back titles in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers franchise has slowly trended downward. And looking back in retrospect, it appears clear that this trend ultimately started before the 2012-2013 season.
     After losing in the Conference Semifinals for the second straight year back in 2012, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss decided that they had to make moves in order to become an immediate championship contender. And it looked like that had a chance of happening when the Lakers were on the edge of acquiring point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in a trade. But the NBA and former commissioner David Stern famously called off a trade that could've realistically brought Bryant another championship.
Point guard Steve Nash.
Photo courtesy of USA Today.
     If the Lakers had acquired Paul, who was only 27 at the time, Bryant could've been given the opportunity to focus simply on fulfilling his role as a scorer and it could've lengthened his career by an extra year or two. And the Lakers, at the time, still had all star forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum on the roster. Gasol and Bynum were still productive in 2011-2012 and played pivotal roles in the Lakers two championship runs just a few years earlier.
   
     PLAN B (BUT STILL WIN NOW)
   
     Instead, the organization went to Plan B and acquired a 38 year old former two time MVP point guard, in Steve Nash, from the Phoenix Suns. Over the last few years with the Suns, Nash's production had begun to decline. But he did average 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game in 2011 and the Lakers obviously felt that he could be the guy to take pressure off of Bryant in the backcourt and be the floor manager and facilitator that they desperately needed.
     The organization then pulled an even more surprising move to trade a disgruntled Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and acquire all star center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. For years in Orlando, Howard had grown increasingly frustrated with head coach Stan Van Gundy and with management. There were also numerous reports that he wanted to play in a bigger market with other marquee talent. So when a trade to the Brooklyn Nets to play with guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson never materialized, Howard took the Lakers offer to play in Hollywood.
Former Lakers center Dwight Howard,
now a member of the Houston Rockets.
Photo courtesy of fansided.com.
     At this point of his career, at age 26, Howard was a three time defensive player of the year and had averaged 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds and over two blocks per game with the Orlando Magic back in 2011-2012. The Lakers organization had believed that not only had they put together a dynamic roster that could be a championship contender for the next years, but that they had found their next superstar to build the future around, in Dwight Howard, after Kobe Bryant's eventual retirement.

   
PROMISE TURNED INTO DISASTER

     Yet the 2012-2013 season for the Los Angeles Lakers turned out to be a complete disaster that quickly played out in the public eye. Howard actually had back surgery in April 2012 and the Lakers believed that he would be able to start playing productive minutes around December.
     But with new head coach Mike Brown trying to implement a new offense, the Princeton offense, there were inevitably going to be struggles for all of the players to learn. Especially for Howard, who would be practicing later than everybody else on the team.
     But even with that, expectations were sky high for that year's team as their five starters (Nash, Bryant, forward Metta World Peace, Gasol, and Howard) had a combined 33 all star appearances and the roster had a league high $100 million payroll. Los Angeles began that year with three straight losses, the first time that had happened since 1978. And when they reached a 1-4 record, Brown was suddenly fired by the team.
Coach Mike D'Antoni
Photo courtesy of foxsports.com.
     Lakers fans wanted the team to bring back legendary head coach Phil Jackson, who had won five of his 11 championships coaching the Lakers. They instead hired former coach Mike D'Antoni, who had coached Nash for several years in Phoenix. Unlike the slower Princeton style offense under Brown, D'Antoni wanted to spread the floor and turn the Lakers into a high-octane offensive juggernaut.
     That turned out to be an even worse decision. Nash and Howard would end up fighting injuries all season, Howard and Gasol had trouble getting the ball and getting involved in D'Antoni's perimeter style offense and Howard and Bryant were constantly feuding off the court due to the belief that Howard wasn't as interested as Bryant was in winning.
     Chemistry issues and further injuries, including a season ending Achilles injury to Bryant, ruined a promising season and the Lakers ended up being swept out in the first round of the playoffs.

     THE CURRENT STATE OF THE LAKERS

     The past two seasons have been even worse for Laker nation. The team finished with a 27-55 record in 2014 and are currently 16-41 this season. Dwight Howard left in 2013 after just one season with the Lakers and is currently on the Houston Rockets. Pau Gasol left after the 2014 season and is currently enjoying a career resurgent year with the Chicago Bulls. Steve Nash is still on the roster, but has only played in 15 games this season and is averaging just 6.8 points and 5.7 assists in those games. And with Kobe Bryant out for the remainder of the season, what do the Lakers have exactly?

Guard Nick Young
Photo courtesy of Bleacherreport.
    Nick Young currently leads the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game, but is only shooting 36 percent from the field and averaging just one assist a game. Carlos Boozer, a free agent pickup from the Bulls, is averaging just 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Jordan Hill is averaging 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and Jeremy Lin is averaging 10.7 points and 4.5 assists per game, after having to be inserted as the new starting point guard.
Forward Jordan Hill
Photo courtesy of lakernation.com.
     These are the four 'best' players currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and none of them are players that a professional team can consistently win with or try to build around. Boozer is heading towards the end of his NBA career, Lin has been on three teams in the last four seasons, and Young and Hill are only being paid long term contracts because the Lakers couldn't get anybody better this past free agency.
     Lakers management swung and completely whiffed on trying to acquire star NBA talents like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and many others to try and pair them with Bryant for one last championship run. Very few players in the league now want to play with Bryant and his $20+ million per year contract makes it impossible to be able to sign other stars around him and make a viable team.

     AN UNKNOWN FUTURE

     Kobe Bryant has one year remaining on his contract and it appears more and more apparent that next season will be his last in the NBA. But will next season even be a good season for him to go out and retire on? His reaction on Jimmy Kimmel Live showcased the frustration that he has with the mediocre talent that is remaining on the roster and how the younger players are joking around after one overtime victory, against an equally bad team, has them still well under a .500 record.

Guard Jordan Clarkson
Phoro courtesy of lakeshowlife.com.
     Where does this legendary franchise go after Bryant retires? It seems that throughout the years that the Los Angeles Lakers have been able to have one superstar pass the proverbial torch to another.  From Wilt Chamberlain to Jerry West to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Shaquille O'Neal to Bryant, the Lakers have benefited from having some of the NBA's historically great players. But where do they go from here and who do they build around? The organization again hoped it would be Howard, but that didn't turn out to manifest itself.
Forward Julius Randle
Photo courtesy of The LA Times.
     Guard Jordan Clarkson is a promising second round talent from the 2014 draft and is averaging 8.4 points and over two assists per game off the bench in his rookie season. But he's not a guy yet that you can even think about building around.  The Lakers also drafted Kentucky forward Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, but after just 14 minutes into his NBA debut, Randle fractured his leg and has missed his entire rookie campaign.
     Randle and Clarkson could end up being solid talent, but the cupboard is VERY dry outside of these two players. The Lakers are stuck with a four year/ $21.5 million contract with Nick Young and a two year/ $18 million contract with Jordan Hill. If this is what you're going to have soon WITHOUT Kobe Bryant, this organization might soon be years and years away from even being relevant.

     The only thing that the Los Angeles Lakers have going for them is that they could end up with another high draft pick for this year's draft in June. And with the Lakers currently having the fourth worst record in the NBA, their chances of landing a very high draft pick look promising. Especially when this year's draft class is loaded with immediate NBA talent, such as Duke center Jhalil Okafor, Kentucky forward Karl Anthony Towns, and Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell. But once again with the Lakers, even that is not a guarantee.
     Due to the trade for Steve Nash back in 2012, the Lakers owe the Phoenix Suns a 2015 first round draft pick. However, that pick is top 5 protected. This means that if the Los Angeles Lakers end up with a top five draft pick this year, they get to keep the pick. If it falls out of the top five, that pick automatically goes to Phoenix.
     We won't know what pick the Lakers will have until the NBA draft lottery in May. And even though the Lakers have the fourth worst record in the league right now, that could change if the team begins to win more games or if the lottery balls place the Lakers outside of the top five anyway.

The 2015 season will most likely
be Bryant's last NBA season.
Photo courtesy of Business Insider.
"THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGING"

     It kind of comes back full-circle in a way. The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in 2012 to make the team an instant championship contender. Instead, everything has gone downhill since. Jerry Buss unfortunately passed away during the 2012-2013 season and Jim Buss has struggled mightily in his father's footsteps as the new owner. Bryant will most likely retire after next season and the future of this organization is truly up in the air.
     The Los Angeles Clippers, the team that successfully acquired Chris Paul, is the new marquee team in Hollywood. Even though the Clippers will never match the mystique of the Lakers, there is no doubt that the Lakers have hit hard times.
     Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and future draft picks could be the keys in at least bringing back respectability to the Lakers organization. But there is no certainty that the Los Angeles Lakers are going to be relevant anytime soon.


What do YOU think the Lakers can do to rebuild and restore itself to prominence? Should they rely on the draft or should they go after marquee free agents? Leave a comment below or tweet me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.



   

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