The Los Angeles Lakers are not in rebuild mode, but they would love for the rest of the NBA to think so. The role of favorites are gone, but the underdog moniker may fit the 2016 team like a glove. How far can the Lakers go will depend on one thing, maturity?
While the rest of the league is focused on super teams and high price free agents, the Lakers headed into the offseason to fill gaps. They were in dire need of veteran leadership, so they went and offered money to a 13-year vet, Luol Deng, to help the young wings, and it doesn’t hurt that Deng can still produce. He averaged 12 points and six rebounds off 10 shots per for the Miami Heat last season, he’s just what the Lakers need.
The other coup this offseason was the addition of Center, Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov may not be a 20 point pivot man but he does bring championship winning experience to a team that is in desperate need of a change of attitude. The team is not that far off from serious contention and while experts are willing to give the Lakers a year or two to show progress, I will do no such thing. The Lakers will make the playoff in 2016, here’s why.
While a few teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs have improved, there are teams like the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks that either stayed the same or took a dive towards the bottom. Yes, the Lakers will start four players under 30 but this is where they will have an advantage over most teams.
Those players were not bench riders last season, each played a huge role in 2015 but last year was not about them, it was all Kobe Bryant. Kobe is gone and the leadership mantle must be passed, but this is not a group of players that’s taking the handoff from Andrew Bynum, these young guys got to see up close in practice and games how one of the All-Time greats prepared himself for every game and scrimmage.
There will be no more Bryon Scott and his different lineups ruining any kind of chemistry the players tried to build. You think it’s weird to see a starting PG in the Summer League? D’Angelo Russell was showing everyone that he’s ready to take on a bigger role. Jordan Clarkson, the Kobe successor has stated he wouldn’t mind coming off the bench, that shows the maturity there. Newcomer Brandon Ingram has the skills to either start or contend for 6th Man of the Year, the Lakers have options now.
But how can a team that won 17 games make it to the top eight? For every reason that I mentioned above and more. The Phoenix Suns will have a decent core but it’s a crowded backcourt and there are rumblings of trades already. Their front office may not have the patience and will be looking to upgrade, thus resulting in another down year. The Sacramento Kings are a complete mess, the Pelicans and Nuggets are too injury prone, and while the Timberwolves have the potential there is still something missing there.
With the Mavericks still leaning on Dirk and a hobbled Deron Williams, they will still fall under the 8th seed giving way for either the Lakers or Jazz to claim a spot. The Rockets, seemingly caving to the Harden rule, just let one of the premier low post defensive players go and signed a Harden-type clone in Eric Gordon. While those playoffs teams stock fell, the Lakers rose.
Last season in the West, 41 wins got you in and it may take the same this season but with the Lakers youth, the decline of the Thunder, Rockets, and Mavericks there is a chance and with the injury history of the Suns, Grizzlies, and Pelicans, who’s to say that the Lakers can’t and won’t be able to take advantage of the situation?