During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Los Angeles Lakers Season
Giving D’Angelo Russell More Freedom
Last season, D’Angelo Russell had a confusing and intriguing rookie campaign. After having off-court issues and receiving less playing time than expected in 2015-16, Russell will look to have a better season this time around. Playing 28 minutes per game is a good number for most rookies, but many Lakers fans believed that the No. 2 overall pick should have seen more time on the court.
This season is a great opportunity to give Russell full starter minutes. Expected to start at point guard, Russell will not only play more, but also develop into a leader for this young Lakers team. More minutes can and probably will lead to Russell becoming the predominant ball handler for the Lakers.
Russell is one of the Lakers’ most promising players. If the young guard is given the necessary freedom to grow into an All-Star caliber player, then not only will Russell benefit, but the team as well. New head coach Luke Walton will look to get the most out Russell in his second year. The sophomore season is key for any player, and Russell’s could be more pivotal than most.
We, as NBA fans, normally know what what we’re getting from a player after his rookie year. But due to the fact the Russell had a few issues and only started in 48 games, we really don’t know if the former No. 2 overall pick is the future in Los Angeles. Russell averaged 13.2 points per game last season and has shown promise. But he has a big personality, which could potentially get in the way of basketball.
Free Agency Must Pay Off
This off-season, the Lakers spent money, just as they wanted and planned. But it’s where they put that money that has had people talking. They signed center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year deal worth $64 million — a deal that had many NBA fans scratching their heads. Veteran forward Luol Deng was also signed to a big money deal, his worth $72 million over four years. But the Lakers’ best piece of business was the re-signing of guard Jordan Clarkson. They signed Clarkson to a very sensible four-year, $50 million deal.
Mozgov’s situation is difficult to evaluate. Many believe that Mozgov was overpaid, but others see the big man as useful and necessary. Mozgov will be seen as a key player for this year’s Lakers team. Going into the season, Mozgov will be relied upon as a glass-cleaning center. Not only is rebounding key, but overall performance is equally important for the big man.
The biggest contract handed out by the Lakers this off-season went to Deng. The veteran offers solid wing play and a strong defensive mindset. Deng is set to begin the season as a starter, ahead of Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Deng has something that the Lakers lacked last season: defense. Deng provides an attitude on defense from which the younger Lakers can benefit.
Spending a total of $186 million on three separate four-year deals means that the Lakers have added some talent, but maybe not enough to make a playoff push. So with the team adding and retaining talent, the Lakers look set for an improvement this season. Whether or not that talent comes through and produces for the team is something that we’ll have to wait and see. Because for a team that won just 17 games last season, it really is key to get value for your money in today’s NBA.