Kobe Bryant era is officially over for the boys in Purple and Gold, and moving on from him isn't going to be an easy task. Not to say Bryant was a key contributor over his last few seasons, but the current uneasiness in the Lakers locker room as a result of the Nick Young/D'Angelo Russell "tape". Lack of holding their own first round selection also hurts, though, tons of cap space remains available at their disposal.
FRONT OFFICE: Mitch Kupchak has shown over the years that he can build a winning team, and he isn't afraid to gamble, as shown by the Dwight Howard & Steve Nash trades that ultimately backfired. At the time, they were supposed to be the perfect pieces to give Bryant a well deserved last hurrah, but hindsight is only 20/20. Keeping him in his role is a no brainer.
The coaching staff is quite the contrary, as Byron Scott leaves a lot to be desired. And by a lot, I mean everything to be desired. First step is to fire him, and not even look back. A replacement is needed, and the team would have a good amount of options, including guys like Mark Jackson, Jeff Hornacek, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeu and David Blatt. However, I'd go with Scott Brooks, for various reasons. The Lakers have aspirations to acquire Kevin Durant via free agency, and ESPN's Ian Begley speculated about the Knicks hiring Brooks and how it would help persuade Durant to consider New York.
However true that may be, Brooks is a solid players coach that can come in and help Russell and Julius Randle further develop into one of the league's best combinations. Trying to lure someone like John Lucas in to be an assistant would work wonders for team chemistry, which is going to be a need with Russell's actions involving Young.
DRAFT NIGHT: Assuming nothing changes, the Lakers will hold the second overall selection. However, if the lottery works against Los Angeles' favor, and two teams are to leapfrog the Purple and Gold, they will be left without a first round selection. They will hold the 32nd overall selection despite lottery results, however. If no changes occur, the Lakers will owe the Philadelphia 76ers their 2017 first round selection instead, assuming it does not fall into the top three.
For the sake of this blog, we will assume no changes take place, leaving Los Angeles with the second pick. Ben Simmons from Louisiana State is the highly projected first selection, leaving the Lakers with the great consolation prize of Brandon Ingram from Duke University. I wouldn't consider moving down unless a mind blowing offer comes through, which will be doubtful.
With the 32nd selection, I hope Diamond Stone falls to me. However, chances are I'm just going to have to settle taking a gamble on Damian Jones from Vanderbilt. Jones is a solid defender, that has a decent touch around the basket. Could possibly work to be a good fit with Randle up front.
TRADES / FREE AGENCY: Let's work under the assumption that the Russell incident makes major free agents weary of joining Los Angeles, to go along with the lack of a set roster. Keeping Jordan Clarkson will be important, though, not a deal breaker if someone does offer him near the $15 million max he is eligible for on a four year contract. With his birds, the Lakers should look to fill out the roster elsewhere.
First thing's first, I'd contact the Philadelphia 76ers and see if they would be interested in taking Nick Young in exchange for the protection on the 2017 first round pick going from top three to top two, giving the 76ers a slightly better chance of acquiring another top pick to go with their youth. In exchange, Philadelphia sends a 2019 Top 55 Protected second round selection, and a traded player exception, which is renounced as the Lakers already have cap space. The move clears up about an additional five million for Kupchak to work with.
Next is an All-In bid for Kevin Durant. With the Oklahoma City Thunder sure to offer him a super-max as soon as possible, same with the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards and a plethora of other teams, the Lakers will definitely be at the door step at 12:01 AM. However good a bid the Lakers may be able to put together, Durant decides to sign elsewhere. Andre Drummond would be another player to chase, though being restricted would ultimately lead to Detroit matching any offer.
After being turned down by Hassan Whiteside as well, Kupchak puts together an offer Al Horford can not refuse, giving him the full max for four seasons, snagging him away from the Atlanta Hawks. Joining Horford, Kupchak tosses Nicolas Batum a two year deal valued at $30 million to be the stop-gap small forward, until Ingram is ready to go.
The Lakers continue adding free agents, bringing in Ian Mahinmi to do the dirty work off the bench, with a three year deal valued at around $32 million, while bringing back Matt Barnes to provide more veteran depth at the wings. Mirza Teletovic is given a two year deal valued at $18.5 million to be a stretch four off the bench. A need of an emergency point guard, the Lakers take a flyer on Mario Chalmers on returning from injury, and bring back Roy Hibbert on a minimum deal for insurance purposes. Marcelo Huertas is also retained for one more season, as is Tarik Black.
In the meantime, Clarkson waited for the Lakers to make such moves and decided to sign a three year maximum offer sheet with the Philadelphia 76ers (or whatever team), which the Lakers match in a heartbeat.
DEPTH CHART: CE: Al Horford - Ian Mahinmi - Roy Hibbert PF: Julius Randle - Mirza Teletovic - Tarik Black SF: Nicolas Batum - Brandon Ingram - Matt Barnes SG: Jordan Clarkson - Louis Williams - Anthony Brown PG: D'Angelo Russell - Mario Chalmers - Marcelo Huertas
While that may not be a contending right off the bat roster, with the right development from the young three (Russell, Randle, Clarkson), coaching and chemistry they can battle for the fifth seed, potentially pull some upsets. Everyone on the starting unit can handle the rock, and switching on picks shouldn't be an issue. The bench has some solid vets in Huertas, Hibbert, Chalmers and Mahinmi, sprinkled with a ton of versatility. Teletovic can provide spacing, while Williams can come in and drop 30. Barnes and Mahinmi can form the NBA's version of the Bash Brothers.
May not be what Laker fans are hoping/expecting, but with two future firsts potentially being at limbo, needing to build a playoff team is imminent.