The knock – albeit earned – on the Lakers in recent years is for an inability to move on. They’re stuck in the dark ages. The analytics division is a graphing calculator. Shoot, even Byron Scott’s suits are from the 90s.
Thing is: quietly over this offseason, the Lakers have actually distanced themselves from a particularly successful identity. Despite all the recent criticism Phil Jackson’s triangle offense has taken at the hands of cheap shot artists like Frank Isola out there in the basketball’s “Mecca,” the Lakers enjoyed a few titles thanks to that system. None would’ve blamed them for sticking with that equation when they instead opted for Mike D’Antoni.
I’d even go a step further and put myself out onto a limb and say it angered a fan or two. Crazy, I know.
All that said, the Lakers could’ve easily fielded a roster almost designed for the Triangle with some pretty straightforward decisions starting with the draft. Had they taken Jahlil Okafor over D’Angelo Russell – as most had them doing – the former could’ve team up with Julius Randle to form an extremely skilled frontcourt. They could’ve owned the elbows as the Triangle Offense typically demands.
Jackson obviously isn’t going anywhere, but you can’t tell me he wouldn’t have been intrigued.
Instead, however, Mitch Kupchak opted for D’Angelo Russell, the uber-talented point guard from Ohio State in hopes of running more of a modern, run-and-gun kind of offense.
The Lakers were forced into the Roy Hibbert to a certain extent, as bigger names like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan opted for better overall situations, as they should have. But Hibbert is not the kind of center the Lakers have historically gone to. He is not very talented on the offensive end and when he’s at his absolute best, you’re still not looking for more than point totals in the high teens.
Roy Hibbert is not Shaquille O’Neal or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar .
Look at the other signings and acquisitions this summer. Robert Sacre is the only other Laker listed at seven feet tall, and by many accounts, the Lakers are trying to move him to shed salary. Everyone else on the roster is a small ball power forward or some kind of guard. Can’t imagine Phil would like that very much.
As with any organizational transition, the move can be slow. In the Lakers’ case it’s felt glacial. But they do deserve credit for what has taken place. We’ll see if it extends to Byron and those Bad Boys I suits. But we very well could see lineups for at least short stretches of Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Anthony Brown/Kobe Bryant (ideally, we’d see another free agent small forward pickup here), Larry Nance and Julius Randle. Sure, they couldn’t stop a nosebleed, but the uptempo playing style would be tremendous.
If that takes place, one would think the Lakers’ transition from Phil’s way of thinking. Since that fateful evening where we got notification Jim Buss had chosen D’Antoni over Jackson, the Lakers have been working to this place. We get to see how far they’ve come starting as soon as Friday, when most of those guys I mentioned earlier will take the court, for portions of games all as one unit.
As apparently rudderless as many have accused the Lakers of being recently (and I have to be careful not to play the result of this summer), Jim and Mitch have guided the Lakers to a scenario where one can make a very clear argument for the Lakers being the more interesting team over the next five years than their Los Angeles counterpart, who just lost the aforementioned Jordan with little to no means to replace him.
The risk as this organizational shift has been obvious. If it doesn’t work out, many throughout the franchise will be looking for jobs. Miraculously though, and I can’t believe I’m saying this after the basketball purgatory we’ve been through the last two seasons, the Lakers will be undeniably fun to watch.
Is it Friday evening yet?