Laker Land will be without the services of Kobe Bryant for the first time in 20 years, as the five time NBA Champion finally announced his retirement from the game that consumed much of his life. Unable to defeat father time, the Lakers looked to move forward from #8/24 and had much reason to be optimistic coming into the offseason.
First off, the Lakers had the second best chances at winning the draft lottery, which is great in itself. However, as a result of the Steve Nash failed acquisition, Laker fans were nervous while Adam Silver revealed the lottery order, as they only would maintain the selection if they weren't leapfrogged by two teams and remained in the top three. Team with the exceptional amount of cap space, everything seemed good. Let's take a quick look at how Mitch Kupchack navigated the waters without Bryant, for the first time in his GM career.
DRAFT NIGHT: The Lakers hung on to their pick, as nothing changed during the lottery, giving them the second pick in what was touted as a two player draft between Louisiana State's Benjamin Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram. Simmons is touted as the better player, so it was no surprise Philadelphia took him at number one, giving Ingram to the Lakers. A break, in my opinion, as I view Ingram as the better prospect of the two, due to his scoring prowess. Simmons may have a higher ceiling, that isn't to be debated, however, Ingram has a much higher floor.
With the second pick in the first round, the Lakers also had the second pick in the second round, number 32 overall. Ivica Zubac, a 7-foot Croatian was the selection higher, ahead of guys like Cheick Diallo, Chinanu Onuako, Diamond Stone, Stephen Zimmerman and Zhou Qi, who were projected before Zubac as far as big men go. A swing by Kupchack here, and I like it. Zubac is pretty agile for his height, and has the intelligence to stick around in the NBA. Would've liked to see Kupchack deal down, however, and add another second rounder while keeping Zubac.
FREE AGENCY: Tons of cap space. Glamour of playing in Los Angeles. A chance to replace Bryant, continue the Laker legacy. All seem like a recipe to acquiring stars via free agency. Well, Kevin Durant refused to even meet with the Lakers. A big deflation in the bubble for Kupchack and company.
Los Angeles had one thing going for them though, the first announced signing, intriguing to Laker and NBA fans everywhere. Until it was revealed that Kupchack had signed Timofey Mozgov to a 4 year deal valued at $64 million. Yes, I said $64 million. The first domino fell in players being grossly overpaid, and it isn't like Mozgov was even a top target anywhere. The Russian big man, who's key moment in the NBA is being posterized by Blake Griffin, fell out of the rotation of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as Cleveland won the title. It wouldn't have been as horrible had Mozgov been a late signing, as opposed to the first. It isn't even known if Mitch attempted to bring Al Horford or Hassan Whiteside to the Purple & Gold prior to settling for the Russian.
Jordan Clarkson was hitting free agency, and was expected to be courted by many teams. A key part of the Lakers scoring punch the last few seasons, Clarkson agreed to a deal relatively quickly, agreeing to a four year deal valued at $50 million. Not a bad contract for a combo guard that still has room to grow. How he works with D'Angelo Russell, the Lakers top pick a year prior will be something to keep an eye on.
Luol Deng was another head scratching signing, as the small forward will be swapping coasts, coming over from the Miami Heat, coming over on a four year deal valued over $71 million. A solid veteran to teach Ingram is what Deng may very well be, but at that price, the Lakers would've been better off aiming for better players. Deng is expected to spend a good amount of time as a small ball four for Los Angeles, which should be fun to watch. Aiming back on their own free agents, Mitch kept Marcelo Huertas and Tarik Black on two year deals, with the second being non-guaranteed. Solid vets to keep the end of the bench warm and spot time whenever needed.
To wrap it up, Kupchack made his best move of the summer, outside of drafting Ingram of course. The New York Knicks were strapped for space, needing to clear a bit to complete the Derrick Rose acquisition, thus making them a superteam, according to Rose. So Kupchack got on the phone with his old coach, Phil Jackson, and the Lakers received two second round picks, along with the rights to some guy who will never see any sort of playing time, to take Calderon's expiring contract. Jose shouldn't get to see much playing time, but provides solid veteran leadership.
With the season fast approaching, Luke Walton has his work cut out for him as he takes over the reigns in Los Angeles, and a tough task is ahead of him. The Lakers aren't expected to make the playoffs, but are in the same boat, as they will only maintain their first round pick if it falls into the top three, otherwise, the Philadelphia 76ers will benefit, once again. I can't see them being bad enough to end up as one of the worst in the league, but far from good enough from competing for the 8th slot in the West.