So, I’m a huge Laker fan. I love basketball, love the NBA, but I’ll always love the Lakers. But here, I’m speaking as fan, non-biased basketball lover, and concerned citizen.
I don’t need to tell you that the pass few years have been tough for the storied franchise. They began making their descent after Kobe tore his achilles a few years back, the Dwight Howard situation went sour, and problems began arising in the front office. So what happens when you’re star is no longer a star (soon retires) and everyone on the team is a scrub? You rebuild of course.
And that’s just what the Lakers have done. Whether it was by accident or not, they ended up with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and opted with Julius Randle. The year after that, D’angelo Russell. The most recent draft: Brandon Ingram. Those aren’t the only young guys on the squad though. In fact, most of the team is under 25 years old, including very promising players Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. With all of this young talent, it would seem the Lakers would have no where to go but up. But fans have been pretty disappointed and frustrated with their beloved franchise in recent years despite the supposedly well-off rebuilding period.
THE PROBLEM WITH REBUILDING THROUGH THE DRAFT
A very awkward thing happens to teams that are rebuilding moving forward. They tank a few seasons, get good draft picks, but then find themselves in a weird limbo. Because now the team is full of young, highly potential talent, but the fans now want to see some upside from the tanked seasons. You can’t tank any more because you don’t need or want any more young prospects, and you can’t win because everyone of the team is too young to do so, and all of the league’s elite talent and veterans want to be on playoff teams in championship contention. So now you’re stuck. And on top of it all, you don’t know if any of the prospective talent on the team will be worth the thrown away seasons, because there have always been more busts from the draft than stars.
I made the subheading for these paragraphs “The Problem With Rebuilding Through The Draft”, but I should’ve entitled them, “Where Teams Go Wrong With Rebuilding Through The Draft”, because it’s never the drafts fault for the above mentioned issues. It’s the teams that try to please the fans with wins too early that have problems. They have these one or two year players, try to surround them with veterans or even a star, and hope for the best. That’s exactly what the Lakers have done.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE LAKERS THUS FAR
Once the Lakers drafted their prospects, they felt they could restore the franchise to elite status right away. They hired coaches that know how to run and implement effective offensive systems. They gave boat loads of money away to vets who no doubt if money wasn’t a factor would rather be supporting pieces on a team closer to making it to the finals. But why? With what purpose? The Lakers are too young to win and are now already too young for the draft. They’re in that awkward limbo, but not because of the draft, but because they keep putting themselves there due to efforts to rush the process and please fans. And now the team is just there, without a leader, without any of the current players knowing what they’re capable of. Everyone says they need a star, but we don’t know if the star is already on the team. The rushed process has stunted their growth, the organization is wishing and praying that one of the young players will just bloom into a superstar one day but it doesn’t work like that.
WHAT THE LAKERS NEED TO DO
With a team full of prospects, those who are rebuilding shouldn’t prioritize wins. It shouldn’t prioritize the draft either. There should be only one thing on the mind of the entire franchise: Development. This has been my biggest problem with recent head coaches of the team, particularly current head coach Luke Walton. Luke runs a great system and is a player’s coach. But this is hurting them. Why implement amongst a bunch of young guys a winning brand of basketball when they haven’t been around long enough to even know what they can do? Tap the players’ potential first. Yes, you want them in a good system which can teach them the basics and fundamentals of team work and chemistry, but implementing it too early prevents the players from seeing what they can do.
In Luke’s system in particular, for example, passing and finding the open man on offense is emphasized. That works beautifully with players who know who and what they are, fully development players like the ones he coached on the Golden State Warriors. But this ain’t Golden State. Shared play equals less shots per player, which essentially translates to less self-discovery. When Phil Jackson had a new player out the draft, he ran plays for them back to back, over and over again. He knew that playing time with ball in hand, and making mistakes, was essential to growth.
So I’m not saying Luke is wrong for teaching them to play in a system. But a system, especially one like his, requires that each player knows their role and what they’re capable of. What the Lakers need before they start trying to win games, is to be pushed to the max. They need to be pressured and beat down every practice on an individual level. Luke needs to put the wins aside, and tell Russell to have 20 assists per game, tell Randle to score 100 points, tell Ingram to come away with 20 blocks, and he needs to make them believe that they can do it. Now’s the time for this young Laker squad to see what they’re made of, to be refined, developed, and produced into the super stars we hope for them to be. Focus on players first, on an intense, individual level, and then on their game as a team.
What do you think? What direction do you think the Lakers should/will go in? Leave you comments below!