While this season was a fifth in a row that the Los Angeles Lakers were not part of the NBA Playoffs, there still were encouraging signs of development thanks to a young core comprised of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle.
With the possible exception of Randle who is a restricted free agent, they represent building blocks that the franchise intends to build around in the years ahead. Despite inexperience throughout the roster, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson is eager to return to the playoffs.
As the regular season was winding to a close and during the respective exit interviews, several players said they felt the Lakers could have reached the playoffs if injuries didn’t keep Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma sidelined for prolonged stretches.
Despite the Lakers not making the playoffs, Kuzma explained on the “In The Zone With Chris Broussard” podcast that he’s kept a keen eye on the games so as to learn from them:
“I don’t think you can watch the game as a fan anymore, once you’re a player. You’re just so into getting better and improving, that you’re locked into the game with a coaching mindset. For me, watching the playoffs has been a big experience. I’m learning so much from the game. It’s a completely different game from the regular season to the playoffs.”
In terms of the NBA Finals, Kuzma’s predicted the Golden State Warriors would hoist the Larry O’Brien for a third time in the past fourth year. But the Lakers rookie cautioned against counting out LeBron James and in that same breath said James, not Kobe Bryant was the best player of his generation.
It stands to reason the Lakers are in primed position to end the fourth-longest active playoff drought next season. That’s independent of the team potentially signing LeBron James or Paul George, or acquiring a marquee star via trade.
One rival general manager estimated the Lakers could win around 40-45 games simply by returning their roster and counting on players to continue developing.