The Los Angeles Lakers have gone through massive changes this offseason, and will be looking to work out their kinks when training camp officially opens on September 27 in Santa Barbara.
Los Angeles is coming off its worst season in franchise history, posting a 17-65 record for just a.207 winning percentage. The Lakers have 65 victories in the past three seasons, and have not made the playoffs since the 2012-13 campaign.
Head coach Luke Walton will be guiding a team that will be without Kobe Bryant for the first time since the 1996-1997 season. This is Walton’s first official head coaching gig, though he led the Golden State Warriors to 39-4 record while serving as the interim head coach last season. The 36-year-old was named the Western Conference Coach of the Month for October/November as the Warriors started the season 19-0. He is the 26th head coach in Lakers’ history.
Walton, a former Laker player, has been working tirelessly since being named head coach on April 29. One thing Walton has focused on is building relationships with his players according to Real GM.
“We’ve started building relationships with our players. I think that is a big key to coaching,” Walton said. “We’ve made it a fun and enjoyable place for them to come work out, train and get better. I think that is a big reason why, even though it is optional, a lot of guys are coming in.”
Walton will be aided by associate head coach Brian Shaw as well as assistants Jud Buechler, Mark Madsen, Jesse Murmeys, Theo Robertson, Brian Keefe, Tracy Murray, Clay Moser, James Worthy and Casey Owens.
Los Angeles Times reports that Walton hopes to infuse the Lakers’ offense with the same unselfishness and quick ball movement he helped teach with the Warriors. That may be a little difficult at least at first with all the Lakers’ transactions and their relatively youthful roster. Los Angeles has added eight players this offseason, and they have 10 players that are under the age of 25 years old.
The Lakers have a full training camp roster, with 14 of the 20 players possessing fully guaranteed deals. The breakdown of the roster includes four point guards (D’Angelo Russell, Jose Calderon, Marcelo Huertas, Julian Jacobs), two shooting guards (Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams), five small forward ( Nick Young, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Anthony Brown, Metta World Peace), seven power forwards (Tarik Black, Yi Jianlian, Larry Nance Jr., Zach Auguste, Travis Wear, Julius Randle, Thomas Robinson) and two centers (Timofey Mozgov, Ivica Zubic). Deng, Black, Jianlain, Russell, World Peace, Randle, and Robinson have the ability to play multiple positions. Jianlian, Robinson, Auguste, Jacobs, World Peace, and Wear possess non-guaranteed deals.
The rest of the article will look at the the five things to watch during training camp.
1.Will Nick Young be with the Lakers on opening night?
That seems to be the million dollar question. Young has been rumored to be gone since early this summer. However, here he is at training camp.
Young has two years left on his contract, with next season being a player option. He is due $5.44 million this year and $5.6 million next season. The problem is there are chemistry issues if Young ends up on the team and he doesn’t add much on floor production, besides being a volume scorer.
Harrison Faigen and Anthony Irwin said on the Silver Screen And Roll podcast that Young along with Auguste, Jacobs, Wear, World Peace and Robinson are likely fighting for the final 15th spot on the roster. Anthony Brown also could be in that situation, which means there may be two open spots. Faigen and Irwin added that the Lakers could decide to carry just 14 players on their opening day roster. as has been the case in the past.
Auguste, Jacobs, and Wear will probably end up in the D-League to start the team. Robinson may as well, if he doesn’t make the team.
The Lakers are over the salary cap, but they are far from the luxury tax. That is good news, as they do not have the ability to amnesty Young (i.e. spread the cap hit over a period of a few seasons), having previously used the provision on World Peace.
2. The development of Brandon Ingram
Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old is highly skilled and is an excellent shooter. He also can create off the dribble and has demonstrated shown some playmaking along with defensive ability. There are a couple of areas of concerns, which are his strength and durability to handle the rigors of the season.
Ingram had a up-and-down summer league campaign. Ingram tallied double-figures in three of his five games with best performance coming against the Utah Jazz in the Lakers last Las Vegas Summer League game. He finished the five-game summer league campaign averaging 12.2 points along with 4.8 caroms and 1.8 assists while shooting 41.2 percent from the field.
Walton initially said that Ingram would come off the bench, but he changed his tune a little during media day per Spectrum SN.
“If he’s the best player on the court, he’s gonna start,” Luke Walton said of Brandon Ingram
3. Can Yi Jianlian make a meaningful impact?
Yi is back in the NBA after a four-year hiatus. The former lottery pick has played in 272 career NBA games, producing 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game while shooting 40.4 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. He played in his native China while away from the NBA.
Yi could end up with a major role as Timofey Mozgov’s backup at center. He can stretch the floor with his shooting and sets excellent screens which makes him very valuable in pick-n-pop situations. The 7-footer also has good defensive fundamentals, though he does not provide much rim protection and is not a great defensive rebounder.
Yi’s biggest issues are his mechanical shot and slow release, the fact he doesn’t have a pull-up game — meaning when he goes off the dribble he goes all the way to basket, and has limited post moves.
4. Can Russell parlay his strong summer into an all-star type season?
Russell made mistakes as as a rookie last season, both on and off the court. Now, the team is his, and the biggest question is whether he can become a franchise-type player that was envisioned when he was selected with the No. 3 overall pick.
Russell finished last season strong, producing 15.1 points on 38.1 percent shooting on his three-point attempts in 27 games post-all-star break. The Second Team All-NBA selection averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 28.2 minutes per game.
The six-foot-five point guard then continued his development during the summer league campaign. In four games in Las Vegas, Russell averaged a very impressive 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, four assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
5. Position battles to watch
The Lakers’ starting lineup appears almost set with Russell and Clarkson in the backcourt, Deng at small forward and Mozgov at center. Power forward is the only position in the starting lineup that is up for grabs, and the competition is between Randle and Nance Jr.
Randle has the edge heading into camp after having a solid first season, compiling 34 double-doubles and one triple-double. The 21-year-old is an effective scorer with either hand in the paint and a terrific defensive rebounder, though he needs to improve on defense overall. Nance is extremely athletic and is a better shooter as well as defender than Randle, which will get him on the court a ton this season.
Other camp battles, besides the fight for the last roster spots, include backup point guard and backup center. Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas will fight for playing time behind Russell. Calderon is the better shooter, which will likely give him the edge in the competition, while Huertas is the better playmaker. Both are bad defensively.
The backup center job most likely will go to Yi though Tarik Black should see quite a bit of time at both power forward and center. Black is rugged and plays within his limits. The 24-year-old is an effective scorer around the basket and good rebounder.
Zubic is also in the mix. The 19-year-old lacks high-level experience, but showed enough promise during summer league play to be in the conversation. It is possible the 7-footer also spends sometime with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the D-League.
[Feature Image by Nik Ut/ AP Photo]