“Trust the process,” says Joel Embiid, the seven-foot center from the Philadelphia 76ers.
As Lakers fans will tell you, trusting the process comes with lots of frustration as the historic franchise attempts to regain the power it once had. It has been four long years since the Lakers’ last appearance in the playoffs and, from the looks of it, they are on course to make it five, extending the longest playoff drought in the history of the franchise.
However, four years and four lottery picks later, the Los Angeles Lakers have built a young core that has the hunger and the potential to compete with the best in the NBA. Of course, only three of those players currently play for the team, as the Lakers shipped away point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Nets in the offseason in return for the 27th pick in this past year’s draft and center Brook Lopez.
The three others are Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball. Randle has been on an absolute tear as of late, and Ingram has had a total turnaround season from his rookie year. Ball, who struggled with his shot early in the season, has improved since coming back from injury and injects life into this Lakers team with his energy on both ends of the court. If you ever watch Lonzo play, he demonstrates an outstanding amount pace and energy that is contagious throughout the group.
With the aforementioned 27th draft pick from the Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers selected the steal of the draft in Utah State’s Kyle Kuzma. That young fellow can ball out as he presents such a unique skill set in a young player. Kuzma can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court,inside or outside.
Only three picks after Kuzma, the Lakers selected Josh Hart who has had a solid rookie season as well. After splitting time with the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers G-League affiliate, in the beginning of the season, he has become a pivotal part of the young core. Unfortunately, a fractured hand during practice most likely puts him out for the rest of the season.
So the question is how do the Lakers judge success?
With a 29–36 record going into Sunday’s matchup against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers technically still have a chance to make the playoffs as they sit seven games behind of the eighth seed in the West. But with 17 games remaining, the young Lakers need an absolutely incredible run of wins to even have a chance at that last playoff spot.
As a Lakers fan myself, I will always believe in the slightest of chances the team has to make the playoffs. False hope or not, this season has been, by far, the most promising in recent years as the young core of the team has begun to figure things out. Like all sports fans, and especially as a fan of the Lakers, the only way to say it has been a successful season is finishing with a championship to end the season. But that likely won’t be the case this year, seeing as the young but promising team has much to improve on.
First off, the Lakers are back to playing entertaining basketball and are perhaps one of the most entertaining teams in the league because of the fast pace they play at. Unfortunately, the entertainment part has not translated to more wins. However, the fact that the young core has been able to compete with the best in the NBA and not simply get blown out — like in recent years — is a good sign.
For example, in the three matchups against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers have lost two in overtime and the third by 7. In both overtime games, the Lakers had the last shot to earn the win but failed on both occasions.
One flaw that has remained consistent in many losses this year for the team is its inability to close out games. There have been countless games that the Lakers held the lead with only a few minutes remaining in the game, but somehow found themselves unable to score a bucket when it mattered most. Closing out games has been the Achilles’ heel of this young Lakers team.
But over all that, we have seen Randle and Ingram become two legitimate problems for their opponents, finally coming into their own this season. Randle has always possessed the energy and hunger to become a big part of the team on both ends of the court, but this season, his attitude has changed and he really has become one of the Lakers’ best and most consistent players.
In his timid rookie year, Ingram showed flashes here and there but could not find his style of play and consistently struggled with shooting. However, this year he has been an absolute monster, and you could notice the self-confidence he has this time around. From the start of the season, Ingram has driven into the lane relentlessly and successfully due in part to his lengthy frame. Whether it be pulling up from mid-range or driving in for a layup, Ingram has become the Lakers go-to player for much of the season.
In terms of Randle, his rookie contract expires at the end of this season and I think, with the way he has been playing this year, there is no way the Lakers want to resign the man. Obviously, he would take up more cap space, but I still think he should remain a Laker or else he will be beating us up down the line with another team.
So is this a successful season?
In terms of winning, no. But, to say there has not been a change in the culture and no improvement in the way the team plays that would be a huge understatement.
As a Lakers fan, you should definitely be on the lookout for this young team to do some real damage in the coming years.
This offseason, with two max contracts in the air, we should expect someone will be coming to Los Angeles to help restore the championship pedigree to the team. Who knows who it will be? But it will be a fun summer, to say the least.