Five years ago this past Wedensday, the Los Angeles Lakers capped off arguably one of the biggest wins in team history by beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
How the mighty have fallen.
Now, the Lakers are debating who to take with the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, their second consecutive appearance in the NBA Draft Lottery. Long gone are the days of Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher, having been replaced with Carlos Boozer, Wesley Johnson, Robert Sacre, and Jeremy Lin.
Quite simply, the Lakers are devoid of talent, evidenced by their 21-61 record. No one is going to argue that. Actively playing Robert Sacre rotation minutes alongside Ronnie Price screams talentless, with all due respect to those players.
But there is some hope for the future. We saw glimmers of it this season. Aside from Julius Randle’s electric summer league and pre-season play before his devastating injury, we saw the likes of Jordan Clarkson light up the league, earning First-Team All-Rookie honors. We saw various role players like Tarik Black and Jabari Brown play their way likely onto the 2015-16 version of the Lakers.
Pair that trio with the likely trio of draft picks the Lakers will add to the roster in one week and suddenly, the Lakers’ core is bright. Six players within the first two years of their NBA careers is as young and solid a core as you could ask for.
Which brings up the fact that the Lakers need to get this draft right. With next year’s pick all but guaranteed to go to Philadelphia and a fanbase growing impatient, signs of growth need to be seen. The tanking is done.
It’s not an understatement to say the Lakers’ future will be determined in the next month. If the Lakers hit some home runs in the draft and come away with three solid draft picks, that’s a big step in the right direction.
Even more, though, is that the Lakers also have a critical free agency upcoming. With the cap set to spike, a max contract deal this off-season will look like a mid-level exception in a couple years. While I’m not imploring the Lakers to spend money for the sake of spending money, I am imploring them to both not be stingy and not swing for the fences.
If they go into the off-season looking for the top-tier free agents and ignore the younger options, this could be another terrible off-season in the free agent market. With a summer of young talent like Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler, and Draymond Green available, the Lakers can’t fool themselves by going after Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, or Rajon Rondo.
In a perfect summer, the Lakers head into the fall and next season with a young roster, ready to take the torch from Kobe Bryant after this season, and also primed for even more cap room and an intriguing roster to land the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, or even Anthony Davis in the coming off-seasons.
Get it wrong and the Lakers continue down a dark path and serious questions will start to be asked of the jobs of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
Let’s hope for the former, not the latter.