Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Los Angeles Lakers. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
FLANNERY: Kobe and Byron Scott are gone, Luke Walton's coming, and the kids are finally on their own. This is a big year for the Lakers' pups to start earning their blue and gold stripes. Given their young ages, I don't know how ready they are for that, but it's definitely time.
In the big picture they weathered the end of the Kobe era and the Philly pick situation as well as they possibly could, resulting in high lottery picks from Julius Randle to D'Angelo Russell to Brandon Ingram.
My question: How good is this core? Honestly, I have some concerns.
ZILLER: I believe in Russell primarily because he showed a strong growth curve last season despite trying circumstances — a superstar fading to black and a hostile coach. We've seen point guards blow up in their sophomore seasons before, and I do think Russell is well-poised for that. We'll see about Ingram. I'm not convinced one way or the other on Randle, though his floor seems to be high-energy rim-runner, which isn't bad.
I'm curious about the patience level from Lakers Nation ... including Jeanie Buss. The Lakers have been atrocious for three years already. The three most exciting players on the team have a combined two years of NBA experience. Given the high-value 2017 draft class, it's actually in L.A.'s interest to be the worst or second-worst team in the league again. (They keep the pick if it's in the top three, like last year.) But can this franchise actually take more failure without combusting?
FLANNERY: That's the key question. This still isn't a good team and the free agent moves were ... curious. The thing that concerns me about the young core is I don't see a franchise player in the mix. I'm taking a wait-and-see approach with Russell, and I think Ingram will be a good player for years to come. Randle will be fine, probably. It would absolutely be in their best interest to get another high pick, especially if the 2017 draft is as deep as most say.
In a normal market you'd take your losses, build up minutes for the kids and hope for more lottery luck, but this isn't a normal market and the ownership situation is far from stable. Fans can be patient if you give them reason for hope and optimism. They have that now, especially with Walton on the bench. But Jeanie's the one that matters.
Silver Screen and Roll season preview
Silver Screen and Roll season preview
ZILLER: Jeanie matters, and Phil Jackson looms. It's unfair to Mitch Kupchak and to the Knicks to connect these dots every offseason, but ... well? Jackson can reportedly opt out of his deal in New York next summer. Next summer also happens to be Jeanie's deadline for the Lakers to return to contention in order for Jim Buss to remain in control. The Lakers look to be far enough away from that for Jeanie to have a strong case to take over control of basketball operations from Jim and then invite her fiancée (who also happens to be a Lakers legend and who might not be a great GM) to take the hoops reins while she continues to ace the business side.
Jeanie matters a lot, and she's bound to matter even more now that L.A. has struck out on another round of top-level free agents. The good news for Walton is that he can't really lose. Kupchak and Jim Buss hired him, but Jackson loves him, too. He's going to get his two years minimum, barring a fistfight with Matt Barnes or something.
FLANNERY: Luke Walton is the safest Laker in all of Lakerland at the moment. He has universal support from all corners and factions. Short of a 15-67 debacle marred by infighting and inappropriate social media videos, he'll be around through whatever twists and turns this soap opera takes.
Hey, so we've come this far and haven't really talked about Kobe. You miss him yet?
ZILLER: I miss him like D'Angelo Russell misses Byron Scott.