The Lakers Puzzle and Making the Pieces Fit

After an embarrassingly abysmal season for the Lakers, the auspicious franchise is striving to rebrand the once revered dynasty. Once a beacon of greatness, the team is now the laughing stock of the league. It really is true that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. But things are starting to look up – kind of. Crowning Luke Walton as head coach, drafting budding, high-caliber players – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. – and nabbing a number two pick in the draft, the privy Lakers GM, Mitch Kupchak, is shining bright.

The greatest long-term investment is the former Lakers player – Luke Walton.

The Warriors assistant coach led the championship team to a 24-0 start as an interim head coach in Steve Kerr’s absence, and Walton has proven himself to be a great asset to the Warriors.

The greatest tank commander since Patton, Byron Scott is now gone, a godsend from the basketball Gods themselves. It is a tall task to rebuild the tarnished franchise with only a few promising players on rookie contracts, but Walton seems to fit perfectly into the optimistic puzzle Kupchak has been constructing for the past couple of years. He is not only an asset on the floor, but his media presence will calm antsy Lakers fans who have inured mediocrity for long enough.

Scott was also a Laker as well, but the perfunctory, emotionally driven coach showed little talent as a coach. He was merely a conduit and scapegoat for the city of Los Angeles to channel all their frustration and hate, and it worked like a charm.

Now it is time for the team to get serious and forget the throwaway season. And now since the Lakers bagged the second pick in the draft, the team has its sights on two highly prospected college graduates: LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram.

Simmons is seen as the greatest asset. Simmons is a player with Lamar Odom’s playmaking skills and basketball IQ in the body of a young LeBron James. He is a true physical specimen that will undoubtedly have a perennial career in the NBA. However, the man cannot shoot a midrange or a 3-pointer to save his own life. All of his highlights come from mind-numbing dunks that shake the rim so hard that the rattle of the rim reaches up to the rafters. But shooting can be taught.

Brandon Ingram’s talents, on the other hand, are evenly distributed across the board. He can handle the ball on a fast-paced break, shoot the ball with a quick release on the 3-point arc, and finish in the paint with contact. Even with his lanky 6’9” frame packing on a mere 195 pounds, his athleticism and power is deceptive. His Duke highlights show him posterizing big men, leaping from the low block to soar his wiry arms above the rim. Either rookie will enhance the Lakers squad, but Ben Simmons, even if he is not drafted to stay on the team, will be profitable as a trading chip in the near future.

Free agency is approaching, and there are many benefits to joining the Lakers: Russell, a passing savant, young players who hustle like Charles Barkley to get rebounds, and team recognition. These are parts of the equation to propel the team from the bottom of the barrel to the cream of the crop. Instead of signing roster fillers like Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, the team can now focus on free agents with Kobe Bryant’s cap space of $25 million, the highest guaranteed salary last year, and Los Angeles’s luxury tax of thank-you-for-five-championships, opening up. Without considering re-signing and waiving players, the Lakers will now have the biggest cap in the league.

The Lakers biggest mission will be to attract a high-volume scorer and a center that can replace the horror that plagued the Lakers, Dwight Howard. Al Horford, the stretch 4 and dominant 5, looks to be the greatest asset despite his nagging injuries: a great defender with high basketball IQ, Horford is a semi-reliable offensive player. The team needs to build its front court to make the paint a no-fly zone, and Al Horford dictates the baseline like it is the DMZ. The caveat with Horford, however, will be not being able to carry on as many offensive responsibilities, but this lights a fire under players such as Russell, Clarkson, and Randle to cultivate their offensive game.

Another player many are looking to is DeMar DeRozan, but his inefficient offense will mar the team into a statistical nightmare. The Lakers will be bidders with other teams, including the Raptors, for his services.

Free agency and the upcoming 2016 draft are two-fold challenges the Lakers must tackle with meticulous precision. Mitch Kupchak seems to be giving everything he has in his tank to help the Lakers prosper from the bottom rung of the league’s ladder. There are only speculations and rumors at this point, but it finally looks like a toddler is not running the front office anymore. The future looks bright and the painful tanking will eventually be sweptunder the rug.

photo via llananba