It was about halfway through February when the Los Angeles Lakers became the face of tanking. The Philadelphia 76ers may have given birth to the modern rebuild, but the Lakers adopted it and took it to glamorous new heights.
Their pro-tanking contingent gained such a strong presence on social media that it was often difficult to sift through the satire and the genuine desire for historical futility. When they won three games in a row in late February, you would have thought the Buss’ had decided to move the franchise to Las Vegas with the level of discontent being expressed. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed.
For a fanbase whose heart beat is so rhythmically timed with the success of their team, they demonstrated something even more powerful than unity rooted in winning; they remained united in disdain.
So, when the second pick of this year’s NBA Draft fell into their lap, the outburst of pleasure was palpable. Sure, it wasn’t the first overall pick, but they had defied the odds, and witnessed their rivals in tanking — the 76ers and Knicks — get punished by the basketball gods for their overtly terrible play. Things were finally looking up.
On June 25th, when they selected D’Angelo Russell with their highest draft pick since taking James Worthy at No. 1 in 1982 , a clear message was being sent to fans and foes alike; we, the Lakers, have no doubt we can get one of the high-profile power forwards in free agency.
But, then something funny happened as this year’s free agency period began; players weren’t as drawn to the magnetic pull of Tinseltown as the Lakers had anticipated.
Kevin Love re-signed with the Cavs, DeAndre Jordan inked with the Mavericks and LaMarcus Aldridge returned to his Texas-roots and joined forces with the mighty Spurs. But, it was Greg Monroe who dealt the biggest blow to the fans’ desire for a quick return to glory when he decided to take his back-to-the basket style to the league’s fifth-smallest market in Milwaukee.
Turns out size might not matter as much as they counted on. Winning matters after all. Maybe that’s why the basketball portion of the Lakers’ pitch to Aldridge left much to be desired.
But, as the immediate sting of the rejection from big-name free agents began to dissipate, the Lakers brass began to do something I’m not accustomed to from them; make real-life, wise basketball decisions.
Should the trade go through, Roy Hibbert may be one of the most ridiculed players in the league, but mostly by fans who don’t actually watch him play the game of basketball. He will go a long way toward solidifying the Lakers’ ability to protect the rim. Among players who played more than 20 minutes and defended more than four attempts at the rim per game, only Andrew Bogut, Rudy Gobert and Serge Ibaka held their opponents to a lower field goal percentage.
Say what you will about his perceived softness, holding opponents to a 42 percent field-goal percentage at the rim is something that every team should want from their big-man.
Brandon Bass is definitely not an exciting player. He has languished in anonymity for years, but over his 10-year career, he has also quietly been one of the most solid backup bigs in the league. His career per-36 minute averages (14.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) put him on par with the likes of Taj Gibson (13.5ppg, 9.1rpg), Markieff Morris (16.2ppg, 7.7rpg) and Nene (15.4ppg, 8.3rpb). That’s not terrible company by any means.
And Lou Williams has hip-hop songs dedicated to him for god sakes. The man has been one of the best sixth men in the league for years, and was finally recognized for his contributions last year when he received the Sixth Man of the Year award. He may have some characteristics to his game that closely resemble Nick Young’s, and that certainly raises questions about Swaggy P’s future with the Lakers, but when you can add explosive players, with proven track-records of offensive dominance to your bench, you do it.
These three signings may not move the needle this season, although I do think we will see a vastly improved Lakers team on the floor, but they do indicate a modified thought-process by the Lakers’ front office.
They aren’t the scrap-heaps they picked up off the top of the NBA’s garbage bin last season. These are high-quality NBA players who have the potential to help stabilize this team’s rickety foundation over the next few years, while still allowing them the flexibility they need entering next year’s historically unprecedented free agency frenzy.
Some people will wonder how winning 10-15 more games will be beneficial for the Lakers rebuilding process, and I have sympathy for that perspective, but you have to remember that any moves made this offseason are essentially being made with funny money.
Money will not be a factor next summer, as every team will have nearly unlimited funds at their disposal. What will matter to free agents next summer, as is increasingly becoming the new trend, is the chance at becoming part of a contending team.
What do contending teams all have in common? Players like these three occupying roster spots.
This isn’t the end-game for the Lakers. They will continue to round out their roster with high-impact, low-investment type of players, all with an eye towards improving their odds of adding the new face of Los Angeles next summer. It’s really a wise strategy when you consider what will be at stake a year from now.
Until then, I’ll just continue to enjoy the amusing antics of rabid Laker fans, rooting for another high draft pick at all costs. The NBA is fun when the Lakers are on center stage.