Since the breakup of the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers “super team” — which I put in air quotes since the Nash/Bryant/Peace/Gasol/D. Howard team ended up being a train wreck of a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs — the team has been in rebuild mode.
Collect draft picks and draft a core that you can build around in the future. That was the name of the game.
Sure, Jim Buss did sign some players to crazy contracts in an effort to keep the team competitive and keep his job, but even through his incompetence a core was built.
And when I talk about the young core, I mean the players on the Lakers’ roster that were drafted by the team and are under the age of 25.
Those players are: Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Ivica Zubac.
Each player has shown a great deal of talent and all would be key pieces to a playoff team. The only problem is, the Lakers have the second worst record in the league this season.
I am all for patience and letting young guys grow, but I’m tired of being okay with the Lakers losing games since it helps the chances of them getting a higher draft pick. Now that Magic Johnson is running basketball operations, it is time for the Lakers to cash in on their assets and build a team worthy of playing under 16 championship banners.
And let’s face it, the Lakers are not signing any big free agents anytime soon. The only player who has expressed any interest in signing with the Lakers recently is Paul George, and he is not an unrestricted free agent for another two years.
If the Lakers are to convince big name free agents to sign with them, they’ll need to start building a team that can win now. And the only way they can do that is to trade for star players.
I like these players. I have watched them grow and I feel a connection with each of them. But I feel a closer connection to the Lakers. So, here is a list of players I believe the Lakers should keep and trade.
1) Brandon Ingram
A lot of Lakers fans have been pretty hard on Ingram. They expected him to be Kevin Durant in his first season because a few writers made the comparison, and that has been unfair. The reality of the situation is that the kid just needs to grow. He’s still very skinny, but so were a lot of great players when they first came to the league. And not only does he have the scoring touch, but his long arms and quick feet are tools he could use to be a great defender one day. With four years and roughly $20 million left on his contract, it is well worth it to keep Ingram and see what kind of player he can become.
2) Ivica Zubac
I may be biased here since I saw Zubac kill it at the very first Las Vegas Summer League I ever went to. In a league where the traditional big man is becoming an archaic part of the current NBA’s style, Zubac has found a way to adapt to the league. He can protect the rim and hit a mid-range shot, giving coaches the spacing they all want now. He has even shown the ability to hit three pointers pretty consistently if a coach will every give him the opportunity to. Plus, he is making a little over $1 million a year for the next three years, so it’s well worth it to see what he can be in the future.
3) Larry Nance Jr.
The Lakers always seem to have a high energy guy who comes off the bench for them. This season, that player is Larry Nance Jr. He goes for the big dunks, hustles down the floor every time and is an in-your-face defender that players hate to face. Whether he is assigned to a wing player or a seven-footer, Nance is able to stay in front of whoever he is guarding. He wants to win every game and leaves everything he has out on the court. He is the type of player I want in the locker room and when the Lakers become a playoff team, they will need versatile defenders like Nance to match up with other teams.
1) D’Angelo Russell
Russell is a great scorer and I have always had a soft-spot for left-handed players like him. But the truth of the matter is, point guard is the deepest position in the league. In this offseason alone, talented point guards like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jeff Teague will all be free agents. I’m not saying that the Lakers will be able to sign any of them, but if the Lakers find a team that is willing to offer a good trade for a young scorer like Russell, it would not be too difficult to replace him with someone who could hold down that position.
2) Julius Randle
Randle is extremely talented. He is a great rebounder and can dribble well, making the Lakers a major threat for fast-breaks. But the fact that he does not have a consistent mid-range shot worries me. He can not spread the floor, so putting him in small-ball lineups won’t work. Although he is listed at 6’9, he seems to be smaller than most of the power forwards that he guards, so I’m not sure where his future stands in traditional lineups. I think he is a great player, but I am not sure if he can be a member of a championship team core. And with only about $10 million left on his contract over two years, the Lakers can easily add him into a trade package for a star to sweeten the deal.
3) Jordan Clarkson
This one breaks my heart (if you could’t tell from my previous blog post) because I was always a huge fan of Clarkson. But in his third year in the NBA, Clarkson has not improved to the point that I was hoping he would. He a good player and would be a great bench scorer for a playoff team, but I think other teams like what he can do and would be willing to trade a great player for a package that included him. I thought the Lakers could have traded him to the 76ers, who desperately need guards, for Nerlens Noel, who they ended up trading to Dallas. Hopefully the Lakers don’t let an opportunity like that pass up again.