With preseason basketball finishing up this week, Lakers fans across the globe got their first glimpse at the new-look 2016/17 Los Angeles Lakers squad. After the Lakers 103-84 preseason victory over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night, hopes are high in Los Angeles. With a high profile coaching change, several veteran free agent signings, and an influx of international talent, there will be many new faces around Staples Center this season.
Foreign born players were a hot commodity for Lakers management this off season, as the Lakers nabbed Calderon (Spain), Deng (Sudan), and Mozgov (Russia). With so many talented young draft picks already on the roster, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak decided to invest in some proven veterans in Mozgov and Deng to provide leadership and experience to the locker room.
In what many draft analysts called “the two man draft,” the Los Angeles Lakers selected Duke product Brandon Ingram, second overall. Ingram will need to get used to constantly being compared to first overall selection Ben Simmons (who is already off to a rocky start with a significant foot injury), and the spotlight will shine brightly, as he is now the favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Ingram and Croatian big man Ivica Zubac showed intriguing flashes during 2016 Las Vegas Summer league, and both young players will get opportunities throughout the year to show Lakers fans that they are ready for the big stage.
As with every year, several familiar players have moved on to other opportunities. Long time superstar and Los Angeles icon Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball this past season, after two decades of dominance. The future hall of famer will be sorely missed by players, coaches, and fans across the world.
Despite the loss of a franchise player in
Hibbert Bryant, there is a fresh and new buzz around Lakers basketball that has been missing for years. While Kobe’s swan song was compelling in 2015/16, the youth movement in Los Angeles was held back by veterans getting substantial minutes. The Lakers management will look to play their younger, high ceiling prospects consistently this season, which is what the fan base has been clamoring for.
Byron Scott (head coach) Paul Pressey (assistant coach)
After several disappointing seasons, Lakers brass made the easy decision to fire embattled coach Byron Scott. It is widely believed among Lakers fans that Scott’s “old school” mentality, questionable lineup decisions, and poorly executed offensive system contributed greatly to the lack of success in the wins column.
Scott and budding Lakers star D’Angelo Russell got along poorly during the 2015/16 season, and it was clear that Scott had lost control and influence over the locker room by season’s end. The end of the Scott era coinciding with Kobe Bryant’s retirement was almost inevitable, as Bryant’s relationship with Scott was one of the main reasons he was originally hired.
When the Lakers won the Luke Walton sweepstakes this offseason, the franchise added more than just a first year head coach with a championship resume. A disciple of Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Walton has had both the experience of learning under Kerr as an assistant and leading as a de facto head coach in Kerr’s extended absences due to back/health issues. Kerr sends his state of the art offensive system (and possibly his rumored “little black book” of secret personal notes on each team in the league) with Walton, and the new head coach will look to install a cutting edge, winning culture for the Lakers this season.
Key returning players
Though much attention has been paid to the coaching change, Lakers fans will look to the established young core from last season to bring Walton’s plans into fruition on the court. Talented sophomore point guard, and presumptive franchise player in the making, D’angelo Russell will be the focal point of the offense. With an increase in responsibility and freedom to play his own way, Russell will have the opportunity to show off his phenomenal court vision and passing skills, while leading the defense as the point of attack.
Power forward Julius Randle returns this season fully healthy and ready to prove himself to the fan base. Having spent the off-season working on developing his right hand drive and shooting range, Randle is poised for a breakout season to silence the ever increasing section of the fan base that has been critical of his game.
Jordan Clarkson’s focus on developing his perimeter and post defense makes him an intriguing player in Walton’s system. Clarkson’s potential is directly tied to his ability to use his athleticism to improve his play on the defensive end. If he develops into a two way player this season, Clarkson suddenly enters the all-star conversation in the Western Conference.
Larry Nance Jr. will continue to play important minutes as a reserve forward/center, and will most likely be part of several of Walton’s starting lineups throughout the year as well. After a strong summer league performance, Nance Jr. has become a fan favorite, and seems to be a perfect fit for the new Lakers offense.
Well Lakers fans, while a few cuts will reduce the current camp roster, the 2016/17 Lakers squad appears to be greatly improved, and the electricity is back in the building at Staples Center this season.