NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Luke Walton (Second year)
Last Season: 26-56 (14th in Western Conference)
Notable Additions: Lonzo Ball (draft), Brook Lopez (trade), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (free agency)
Notable Subtractions: D’Angelo Russell (trade)
Vegas Over/Under: 33.5
Best-Case Scenario: Summer Lonzo and Regular-Season Lonzo are the exact same person, and he leads the Lakers to a surprising 8-seed in the West.
The Lakers being a polarizing franchise is one of the NBA’s true constants. Whether they’re playing for a ring or barely trying to win 20 games, they will always be a talking point, for avid fans and detractors alike. It’s why they’re still always on national-TV games. It’s mostly why they’re expected to be main players in the third iteration of the LeBron James Sweepstakes. It’s why their tampering means more than it would for another team.
On the court, the Lakers should be an automatic League Pass darling. Everyone will be watching Lonzo, but a stronger, more-refined Brandon Ingram is set to make a leap and a more-svelte Julius Randle has the potential to become a force on both ends of the floor. And how long will it take for the Staples Center crowd to fall for Brook Lopez? The lovable big man’s evolution into a serviceable 3-point shooter and his veteran presence have the potential to yield both lighthearted moments and positive results for a young team.
With Ball, a passing Picasso, at the helm of a far more skilled roster than he brought to life at summer league, Walton will be able to run an up-and-down system built on selfless passing and constant ball movement—something the Lakers badly need after finishing in the bottom-five of the league in assist percentage. It will be erratic and maybe even dysfunctional at times, but, man, is it going to be a blast. The Lakers aren’t back, but at least they’ll be fun.
Worst-Case Scenario: They win 20 games and concede the no. 3 overall pick to the Celtics, and LaVar blames Lonzo’s teammates (again).
The Lakers owned the worst defensive team in the league last season, and neither Ball nor Lopez is going to solve those problems. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a more-than-capable wing defender, could be a serviceable one-year Band-Aid, but he and his heavenly loaves can do only so much. And though they’re more talented than they’ve been in years on the offensive end, much still rests on the shot-making of 20-somethings and the playmaking of a 19-year-old rookie.
Ball will not be this team’s hero every night—most nights, even. It also remains to be seen how he—and maybe more importantly, his teammates—handle the media spotlight that figures to remain intense even if the wins don’t come. There’s still much to figure out on the fly in a conference as loaded as it’s been in years.
The harsh reality for this team is this season should be measured by individual improvement, not necessarily wins or accomplishments. They’ll still likely lose more than 50 games, but they’ll (hopefully) grow into something that will lay a more solid foundation for the team’s (potentially historic?) 2018-19 season.
TL;DR: Let’s hope there’s more fun fast-break sequences than LaVar Ball cutaways and interviews.