Life is always interesting in the world of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even during rebuilding years, it seems that there is always something happening to captivate fans. A fresh rumor, a promising rookie, or a trade keeps things exciting when the product on the floor isn’t quite there yet.
As we say goodbye to 2017, here’s a look back at the top five Lakers stories from a year that saw the team take the next steps in their rebuilding process.
Everything was leading up to this moment and so much as on the line. The Lakers’ 2017 first-round pick would fall into the clutches of the Philadelphia 76ers unless it landed in the top three, which only had a 46.9 percent chance of happening.
The pick was a long-deferred payment of the ill-fated Steve Nash trade, but due to NBA rules regarding trading future draft picks, a second first-round pick was also on the line. Should their 2017 pick go to Philadelphia, the Lakers’ 2019 first round pick would then become property of the Orlando Magic as a result of the similarly ill-fated Dwight Howard trade.
Should they keep their 2017 first round pick, however, the pick owed to Orlando would instead convert to two second rounders, a much more tolerable price.
The Lakers were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the basketball Gods smiled upon them and delivered the second overall pick. Magic Johnson, on stage as the team’s representative, unleashed his trademark ear-to-ear grin.
The rebuilding process will still be daunting, but losing this pick would have turned an already steep mountain into Everest.
Having draft picks is great, but the real challenge is using them correctly. Throughout NBA history teams have been set back years and even decades because they made the wrong choice on draft night.
Imagine if the Detroit Pistons had selected Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic, if the Portland Trail Blazers had taken Kevin Durant instead of Greg Oden, or the mother of all what-ifs, if the Trail Blazers had selected Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie.
While we still have a lot to learn about the players selected in the 2017 NBA Draft, so far it appears as though the Lakers did phenomenally well.
Despite early shooting struggles, second overall pick Lonzo Ball has been brilliant in some areas of his game, with his defense in particular being much better than advertised. Kyle Kuzma, selected 27th, has been the steal of the draft and an absolute revelation at power forward, and 30th pick, Josh Hart, is already looking like a high-level role player and pesky wing defender.
Even the Lakers’ 42nd pick, Thomas Bryant, who has spent most of the season in the G League, is looking like a keeper thanks to his 43 percent shooting from three, which is incredibly impressive for a 6’11” big man who can also protect the rim.
Development doesn’t happen overnight, but the Lakers undoubtedly sped up their rebuild by nailing their picks in last summer’s draft.
Ok, Summer League games ultimately don’t mean much. No one is hanging Summer League banners in the rafters, after all.
Still, seeing the Lakers win again sure felt good. Brandon Ingram only played in one game but looked like the best player in Las Vegas. Lonzo Ball sat out the championship but was so good prior to that that he was named league MVP. Kyle Kuzma’s ridiculously hot shooting from three netted him the MVP award in the championship game.
There were some bumps along the way, but for the most part the Lakers owned the Las Vegas Summer League and treated the scores of fans in attendance to a wonderful display.
As a rookie who has excelled at picking up assists and rebounds, Ball getting a triple-double at some point this season seemed inevitable. The only question is how soon he would do it, and that question got answered on Veteran’s Day against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers ultimately lost 98-90, but Ball’s stat line of 10 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists meant that he is now the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double.
In Ball’s introductory press conference Magic Johnson spoke about him breaking records but even he couldn’t have imagined that it would happen this soon.
After spending two decades in purple and gold and bringing home five championships, there was never any doubt that Kobe Bryant’s jersey would hang in the rafters at the Staples Center.
The only real question was which number, 8 or 24, would be the one that the team retired. Ultimately, they decided to retire two jerseys for Bryant, which was the right decision. After all, no one was going to dare wear one of Bryant’s numbers again anyway.
On Dec. 18, fans were treated to a delightful ceremony that included Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” poem, a who’s who of former teammates in attendance, a few tears from Jeanie Buss, and the man himself taking center stage one more time to thank everyone for their support.
It was a fitting retirement ceremony for a man who, in many ways, is still synonymous with basketball in Los Angeles.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERSNATION FORUM CLUB