After the worst two season stretch in Lakers history resulting in a total of 37 wins, the Lakers are desperate for an entire franchise overhaul. With a few quality foundation pieces already in place (Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Larry Nance Jr.), the Lakers transformation to relevance needs to stem from the top, with the front office. Let’s take a look at all the steps the Lakers must complete this summer to make their way back to playoff contender.
Trade Nick Young
The situation in Los Angeles went from toxic to nuclear when the Nick Young-D’Angelo Russell scandal hit. Without diving into the details, the bottom line is that these two cannot co-exist on the same team anymore. The obvious decision is to dispose of Young and keep Russell. D’Angelo still has tremendous upside and just finished a (slightly) disappointing season where he was still able to display why he was worthy of being picked second overall. Russell is under a team control for at least three more seasons, and while gaining the trust of his teammates may be a struggle, the situation is not unfixable, and the first step is to dump Young. Swaggy P perfectly embodied everything that was wrong with the Lakers over the last two seasons, overhyped, under producing, atrocious on defense, and perfectly ok with the results because of previous decisions made regarding draft picks. If the Lakers can’t find a taker for Nick Young, they need to buy him out before training camp begins to avoid any sort of controversy.
Win the draft lottery, or at least keep their pick.
Everything else on this list the Lakers can actively pursue. The one action the Lakers do not get to decide is whether they keep their draft pick they so beautiful tanked for this season. The Lakers have a 55.8% chance to keep their pick, which is absolutely no guarantee! Lakers management should be terrified that after suffering through the worst season in franchise history, they may not be able to keep their coveted high pick if the lottery balls don’t fall in their favor. Ideally, their 19.9% chance to win the lottery jumps them up a slot and management gets their choice of either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, both super prospects and potential franchise changing type players.
Jeanie Buss takes a back seat in basketball operations
Jeanie Buss has assumed the role of Lakers President after the passage of her father, the great Dr. Jerry Buss, as well as being the face of the ownership group for the team. She has the most power in the entire organization but for the greater good of the Lakers franchise, she must remove herself from personnel decisions. This may be the toughest pill to swallow for Jeanie and the Lakers, but what more harm can be done by taking a back seat and letting someone with a vision take full control of basketball operations? Results have been increasingly worse since Jeanie has been running the show. Time to let someone else have final say in the organization.
Fire Byron Scott immediately and Hire Luke Walton
Byron Scott has been an abomination since taking over the Lakers head coaching job. Going into this 2015-16 season, it was believed that at the very least the young guys would get lots of time to figure out the NBA game, this was not the case. Scott has proven himself to be neither a win-now, nor a developmental type of coach, so what is his coaching philosophy? His connections in the league have allowed him to remain employed after disastrous runs in Cleveland and part of his tenure as the Hornets head coach. Even with Kobe no longer on the roster in 2016-17, Scott would manage to continue to run out his low-upside veterans in an effort to win meaningless games in lieu of developing their stars of the future. The answer? Let Scott go and offer Luke Walton a godfather type contract that he simply cannot refuse. Walton is as close to a proven commodity as someone who technically has no wins as an NBA coach. The Lakers need a coach who is on board for a long term rebuild, and the first step is to let the young guys already on the roster learn the game on an NBA floor, regardless of results.
Fire Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak+ hire a real GM
Put the pitchforks down, Lakers fans. Kupchak had proven to be a competent GM under the tutelage of Dr. Jerry Buss. But now, given free range from Jeanie and Jim, Kupchak has shown the flaws in his philosophical approach to winning in the NBA. Kupchak banked too much on the allure of Los Angeles as a market and didn’t invest in the draft and creating a desirable team for free agents to join. The Lakers need to look outside their immediate family for their next GM, someone who fan stare the Buss family in the face, be bold, and be allowed to pursue their vision. I’m not suggesting bringing in Sam Hinkie, but making a massive offer to someone like Bob Myers should be on their list of things to do in the offseason. Other intriguing names include Travis Schlenk, an assistant in the front office in Golden State, Troy Weaver, who has been working under Sam Presti of the Thunder, or Jeff Weltman of the Raptors front office. If the Lakers want to swing the pendulum entirely in the opposite direction they can hire an analytics based GM and pursue Mike Zarren of the Celtics or Gersson Rossas of the Rockets. Both the Rockets and Celtics have found major success using an unconventional formula, and maybe it’s time for the Lakers to admit their previous model for winning is obsolete.
Keep Jordan Clarkson for under the max
Keeping Clarkson for anything less than a max contract may be the least important bullet point on this list, but they need to keep him, no matter the price. Clarkson has shown he was a steal on draft night, and although he is already 23 and close to his ceiling, he has proven to be a quality starter. Bottom line, match any external offer Clarkson receives, consistency is important, especially for developing young talent, and Russell needs his running mate.
Plan A+B for Free Agency
Free agency is where the Lakers like to flex their muscle in terms of pull in the NBA. Of late, the Lakers have epically struck out, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back to vintage form this summer. An ideal offseason would look something like signing DeMar Derozan, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside, all for under the max. Derozan has ties to LA and will likely leave Toronto if they don’t make a deep playoff run this postseason, and Horford is as good as gone from Atlanta and can be had for a decent price, but the Lakers may need pay a premium to secure his services. Then there’s the conundrum of Whiteside. Is he worth the max? Probably not. But he is clearly going to sign with whoever offers him the most this summer, he’s been in the league for 4 years and barely made $3 million. Again, the Lakers may need to pay a premium to land him, and he may simply being playing out of his mind in his contract year and regress closer to his averages with long term security, but Whiteside would be a smart risk for the Lakers to gamble on.
Back up plan for free agency: Nicolas Batum, Ryan Anderson, and Joakim Noah. All three are veterans who would bring much needed depth an experience to an otherwise veteran bare roster.
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