Thursday, July 31, 2014

There's a lot to be excited about next year

As bad as the Lakers were last year (and they were terrible last year, finishing with the second worst
Win/Loss percentage in franchise history with an awful 32.9%), there were still flashes of excitement here and there, mostly in the beginning of the season, where they were 13-13 at one point, believe it or not. The team had a horrific run of injuries; only 3 players played over 70 games last year, and the team's most important player only played 6 largely ineffective games due to an Achilles tear the year before. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Pau Gasol miss significant time with injuries, which really helped derail last year. The run of injuries was so bad, the Lakers had 19 total players suit up for the team last year; most teams have around 15 players suit up, as they have 12 active players ready to play, and 3 waiting on the bench in case of injury. The Lakers way surpassed that limit and quickly had to put together a team full of sub-par players who wouldn't have cracked the team otherwise. The injuries to the starters did have one positive effect, however, as it made other players step up.

Last season, we saw the likes of Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly and (especially) Jodie Meeks really step it up last year and carry the Lakers' for long periods of time. The bench unit was particularly good, as they were second in points per game last year with an astonishing 42.3 points per game. The bench usually helped keep the team in the game, and they really made the most of the opportunities they got with the massive amount of injuries the team had last year.

Why am I excited about a team who was the second worst in franchise history last year? Because of the return of the Great One. Because of the cost effective, and really smart moves Mitch Kupchak has done this off-season. Because Mike D'Antoni's reign of terror is over and Byron Scott gets to take over in his place. Because Byron Scott will probably give Jordan Hill the minutes he deserves. Because there's no possible way the team could be as bad as they were last year.

It might be a bit delusional on my part, but I'm excited because I really like what this team had done so far. They went out and traded for Jeremy Lin (and a first rounder, to boot). I'm not a big fan of Lin, but Mitch went out and got a starter caliber point guard for a team that desperately needed a starter caliber point guard who isn't 40 and extremely injury prone. Mitch went and got the freshly amnestied Carlos Boozer for a cool 3.2 million (yes, Boozer is definitely worth that) to help replace the departed Pau Gasol. The Lakers also signed the young Ed Davis for 2 years, 1.9 million dollars, which is really cheap for a guy who will probably crack the rotation. Mitch also managed to keep the core of the bench unit by re-signing Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry. All this without mentioning the 7th overall pick in the draft, Julius Randle (more on him later).

I'm not saying this team will make the playoffs, they will be fringe contenders/late season spoilers, at best, or a few games better than they were last year, at worst. There's no possible way this team even comes realistically close to making the playoffs next year, especially not in the loaded Western Conference. And yet, I still get pretty excited to see what this team can do. A healthy Kobe Bryant could really make things difficult for a lot of teams. Maybe Randle becomes a terror on the low-block and maybe Jordan Hill leads the league in rebounding next year. Maybe the bench stays extremely productive, but instead of having broken down Pau Gasol leading an abysmal starting unit, we get a middle of the pack starting unit anchored by Kobe Bryant and we get a playoff push in March?

Whatever happens, this season should be about 1000 times better and more captivating than last year, if not for the return of Kobe, then because Lakers fans finally have a young, talented player to look forward to. It's been nearly 10 years since Lakers fans had a young lottery pick to cheer for and it's hard not to be excited about Randle; the last two lottery pick players the Lakers acquired were pretty successful, for the most part, though Andrew Bynum has had a rough past 2 seasons, but I'd say that gets overlooked because Kobe has been one of the league's best for about 15 years now.

It's still going to be a hard season, but it leaves us a lot to look forward for next year. It will be the end of Steve Nash's terrible contract and it will be a year closer to ending Kobe's albatross deal. The bench is kept together with really cheap, affordable deals and it wouldn't surprise me if most of these guys returned next year on similar deals. Julius Randle may develop into a monster on the low block, and the Lakers will have more money to spend in Free Agency to possibly bring in an impact player in his prime. And, we can always hope the Rockets somehow miss the playoffs, inadvertently giving us a lottery pick. Things are slowly looking up and, with some good luck, it might not be that long before the Lakers can eye the playoffs as a realistic goal to end a season.

Oh, and if we're terrible next year too (it's likely we will be), the Lakers at least do have their own draft pick and could get a Top-5 pick, should we have the worst case scenario happen for us. The situation seems a lot better than it was just one year ago, all things considered.