NBA Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers, simply put, got a huge break at the draft lottery. Had their pick fallen out of the top 3, this season would have been a disaster. With the No. 2 pick, their season-long Kobe Bryant farewell tour, while it didn’t do enough to develop the future, is much more palatable. Mitch Kupchak can simply select the player the 76ers do not and begin their rebuild in earnest.

Both Simmons and Ingram fit the Lakers’ roster fairly well. Simmons would likely be a little more difficult to integrate because it’s hard to imagine him playing with Julius Randle or Larry Nance Jr., but there’s plenty of time to let things develop.

They’ve made a big bet that Luke Walton is the man to aid that development. Walton showed he was unafraid of the big chair going 39-4 in Steve Kerr’s absence and is likely to be a great fit with the super-young Lakers. His laid-back attitude and former player mindset will be a great asset to D’Angelo Russell and the rest of the core. Russell, Randle, Nance, Jordan Clarkson, Simmons/Ingram and Walton-there are definitely the beginnings of an intriguing team.

L.A. does have an interesting decision to make with Clarkson. Clarkson became a steal of a second round pick with his play as a rookie, but didn’t show a whole lot more in year two. His three-point shooting improved slightly and he adjusted adequately to playing off the ball more, but he remained a very poor defender. Still, he’s a very talented young player the Lakers are likely more than happy to have in their core.

He is subject to the Gilbert Arenas provision so any offer to him will be limited. Los Angeles probably can’t afford to lose him and likely won’t, but it may be hard to pay him what a team desperate for a point guard will try to pay him, especially if the Lakers aren’t sure he can and Russell can succeed together down the line. Something to monitor, at least.

The Lakers will also almost certainly make a push for a star. DeMar DeRozan is a California native and could desire a homecoming. They may even get a meeting with Kevin Durant. Neither of those players is likely to come and LA may be stuck overpaying players in the tier below them. Kupchak throwing a max contract at Harrison Barnes is a pretty safe bet.

Regardless, the Lakers are unlikely to find their next transcendent player this summer and they need to be careful not to overcommit to a player who isn’t the answer. Another season without a playoff appearance could be a bitter pill for one of the league’s most storied franchises, but it might be necessary. Philly again has the rights to the Lakers’ pick if it falls outside of the top 3. It’s likely that the Buss family may send a playoffs-or-bust mandate down from on high. That could sent the franchise even further back. This year’s free agent class simply isn’t deep enough for the Lakers to reload quickly and compete in a tight Western Conference. Kupchak, and the fans, should be aware that the best play might be aiming to be in the exact same spot the Lakers were in 2016.

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