Coming into the year, there was one word on the mind of Lakers’ fans: improvement. There was no way to know how internal growth, a change in head coaches, and the absence of an old and ineffective Kobe Bryant would affect the team. However, there was consensus among fans, that there should be some quantifiable growth from the Purple and Gold.
So far this season, that has rung true. To the surprise of even the most delusional fans, the Lakers have accumulated an 8-9 record about 20 percent of the way through the season. That has come against a tough schedule that has included many playoff teams. It has also included a recent stretch where the Lakers have been without D’Angelo Russell, and at times, Julius Randle and Nick Young, three of their top players.
Even with this overachieving on the court, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Lakers. Chief among them is the oft-discussed timeline: will Lakers’ executive vice president of basketball operations, Jim Buss, be pushed aside by his sister Jeanie, if the Lakers are not contending for a title soon?
That is an uncertainty. The Lakers are far away from that goal but they have demonstrated more than enough improvement to vindicate Jim Buss.
But for as much external discussion as there is about the timeline – and Phil Jackson’s role in the entire story – it does not seem to be much of a discussion internally, at this stage.
Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak recently spoke to USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and maintained that he is only looking for the team to grow as the season continues:
“I want the basketball to be fun for our players and for our fans, something that’s fun and exciting to watch,” Kupchak said. “And I want the team to get better as the year progresses. I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but if we’re a better team a month from now, or three months from now, or five months from now, than we are today, and we’re fun to watch, I think our fans, our partners, will be on board, and I think we’d have something to build on. And once again, I don’t know how many wins that is. I really don’t.”
This is a huge change of tone from recent seasons during which, even with lackluster rosters, Lakers’ management set the standard at playoffs or bust. This coaching staff has had an impact on the front office as well – or perhaps, the change in mindset led to the hiring of Luke Walton and company – where development comes before wins.
This is a great start to what has been a surprising and effective rebuild process.