One week ago, Laker fans were rushing to YouTube and Vine looking for all the no-look passes from D’Angelo Russell, posterizing dunks from Larry Nance Jr., and three-point bombs from Anthony Brown they could find. For the first time in a long time, the Lakers had a young core they could build around.
Jordan Clarkson was (and still is) coming off an All-Rookie First Team season, talk of Julius Randle looking to be in tremendous shape was swirling, and the Lakers appeared to have a future. We had refused to surrender our assets to bring in DeMarcus Cousins, and fans were jubilant.
The Lakers were going to be exciting again. There was a reason for optimism.
Then free agency came around, and somehow, Lakers fans lost the plot.
Mitch Kupchak and company were somewhat oddly granted the first meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, who will be 30 by next season and isn’t a great fit for the Lakers. Insistent on not playing center, Aldridge didn’t fill the Lakers’ biggest need: a rim protector.
Still, saying “no thanks” to potential talent is not a sound business strategy, so the Lakers met with Aldridge. And all hell broke loose.
Early reports of the meeting slammed the Lakers for their lack of analytics (maybe rightfully so). Kobe Bryant was apparently a hindrance to the Lakers’ pitch. Suddenly, less than one week after joining the NBA’s small ball revolution by selecting Russell, the Lakers were a franchise stuck living in the past.
And most importantly, Lakers fans completely forgot where the franchise was. After pursuing arguably the three biggest available big men (not counting Kevin Love) in Aldridge, Greg Monroe, and DeAndre Jordan, the Lakers sat back and waited on their decisions. Around them, the likes of Ed Davis, Robin Lopez, and Tyson Chandler committed to contracts with other teams, eliminating the options for rim protectors for the Lakers.
The options at small forward, a position of great weakness for the Lakers since Ron Artest’s first season, also rapidly began to fly off of the board. Fans lost focus, choosing to bash the front office from their desks or chairs behind their computers, unaware of how the front office was handling free agents.
I won’t pretend I have some insider information. I don’t know the Lakers front office in terms of negotiations. But I’m also not throwing jabs at them.
The Lakers are not trying to shortcut their rebuild. Fact is, there will likely be eight guys on the opening night roster who are in their first or second year in the league. There aren’t many free agents on the back end of their prime that will want to join that type of roster.
Take Robin Lopez for example. The Knicks will be paying him $54 million over the next four years. The Lakers, meanwhile, have the most talented undrafted free agents in Robert Upshaw. There are a dozen red flags with him, but if he’s focused – and that’s a massive, massive if – he’s a lottery talent. Is the tradeoff of paying Lopez $12-$13 in rebuilding years worth not giving playing time to Tarik Black or Upshaw or other Laker bigs?
It’s easy to sit back and bash the Lakers right now, and nearly every media outlet and blogger has done it. But this is not some sort of “new low” for the Lakers. Losing out on a 30-year old free agent when your team is early in a rebuild should not come as a shock.
As I said to a friend last night, the Lakers aren’t going into these meetings with Aldridge, Monroe, or Jordan with the hope that they can shortcut the rebuild.
Instead, they are hoping for the best. If Aldridge requested a meeting with the Lakers, should they have simply turned it down?
The Lakers have a plan. They proved that when they refused to move their pick and other assets for Cousins.
Don’t lose patience, Lakers fans. This will take multiple seasons, but it will pay off. Don’t lose the plot.