The 2015-2016 Lakers season has come to a merciful end with the franchise setting a record for losses in a single season. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.
On the bright side, Kobe Bryant had perhaps the greatest farewell game of all time when he dropped 60 points on Utah and led the Lakers to a win, but the feel-good vibes from that historic game are already starting to dissipate.
Now it’s time to get to work.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss will focus on finding a coach to replace Byron Scott. They will also send roughly a billion prayers to the basketball gods in the hopes that the NBA Draft Lottery is kind to them on May 17th.
In addition, they will analyze the season, taking a look at who found success and who didn’t. With that in mind, last week I handed out grades to the Lakers front court, basing their marks on the expectations for them heading into the season.
Today, it’s the backcourt’s turn. Let’s take a look and see which players will have to beat their parents to the mailbox.
CONTRACT STATUS: Under contract for the next two seasons, team option in the second seasonThe Lakers grabbed Anthony Brown with the 34th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and the fit seemed to be perfect. Brown, a senior out of Stanford, is a prototypical 3 and D player, which the Lakers were in desperate need of.
Unfortunately, while his defensive chops lived up to expectations Brown’s offensive game was a major disappointment. He often looked overwhelmed on that end of the floor, and only shot 28 percent from three-point range.
Brown was a complete non-factor offensively, but he understands where he needs to improve in order to make a mark in the league. He’s already a good defender, and if he can turn into a consistent threat from deep, then he will have a place in the league.
CONTRACT STATUS: Expiring contract (retired)What can we say about Kobe Bryant’s swan song that hasn’t already been said? For twenty years Bryant was basketball in LA, captivating millions of fans with his superhuman ability to will himself and his team to victories.
Father Time eventually caught up with Bryant, and mercilessly ravaged the aging guard with one injury after another. As a result, he was playing terrible basketball to start the year. Kobe couldn’t get his legs under him, and ended up hoisting an uncomfortable number of embarrassing air balls.
His percentages improved as time went on, but that’s beside the point. For Kobe it wasn’t about the numbers, it was about the moments. Now and then there would be brief flashes–a no-look pass here, a picture-perfect fade away there– where Bryant looked like a young man again.
That’s all fans asked for; just one more chance to cheer for their hero. At the end, when it was time to say goodbye, Bryant exhausted every last ounce of basketball left in his body to give the NBA one final unforgettable night.
60 points, a rare win, and a storybook ending for the greatest Laker ever. Can’t complain about that.
CONTRACT STATUS: Restricted Free AgentThe Lakers stole Jordan Clarkson from the Washington Wizards in the 2nd round of the 2014 NBA Draft for $1.8 million, believing that his combination of size for his position and athleticism would allow him to find success.
Their gamble turned out to be a great one, as Clarkson ended up being named to the All-Rookie team in his first year. He has proven to be a hard worker, spending the offseason fixing the holes in his game. Last summer he worked on his three-point shot, and as a result, he raised his average from 31 percent as a rookie to 35 percent in his sophomore campaign.
If Clarkson can improve his defense this summer (as he has said he will) then he has a chance to be a very good player. As a restricted free agent the Lakers hold the cards in regards to his future, and all signs point to them locking up Clarkson long-term.
He has a bright career ahead of him, and the Lakers want to make sure that he spends it in Los Angeles.
CONTRACT STATUS: Free AgentThe Lakers signed Marcelo Huertas, a 32-year-old “rookie”, to be a battle-tested backup to D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. After spending his career overseas, Huertas was eager to test his skills in the top league in the world.
During the preseason, Huertas made a name for himself as a passing wizard, with his high-level dishes wowing crowds. In some ways, he reminded of Steve Nash.
Unfortunately, by the time the season began the word was out on Huertas: he can’t shoot. As a 26 percent shooter from downtown on average, teams played far off of him to disrupt his passing game. That, combined with his poor defense, proved to be damning. Huertas was relegated to the bench for much of the season.
While his shooting didn’t improve much as the season went on, Coach Byron Scott did turn Huertas loose over the final two months of the season, and the results were encouraging. He racked up an average of 5 assists per game during that time, and the Lakers offense became much more active off the ball whenever Huertas was on the floor.
He is a master at running the pick and roll, which makes him an ideal tutor for the Lakers’ young guards. He’s also the only player in recent memory to hide behind an opposing coach to sneak up behind a player and steal the ball, so he’s got that going for him.
However, Huertas will be turning 33 this summer, and with his shooting and defensive woes, his impact is limited. It isn’t clear whether or not the Lakers will look to bring him back next year (or if he wants to return), but during his time in Los Angeles Marcelo Huertas certainly provided some entertaining moments.
CONTRACT STATUS: Under contract for three more seasons, team option on last two. Will be a restricted free agent if Lakers tender a qualifying offer in 2019.The 2014-2015 Los Angeles Lakers set a team record for most losses since moving to Los Angeles. The silver lining was that all of those losses allowed them to not only retain their top-5 protected draft pick but also move up to pick number two, which they used to take Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell.
On the surface, Russell has just about everything you could ask for in a potential star guard. He runs the pick and roll well, can shoot from deep, has a knack for throwing incredible passes, and isn’t lacking in confidence.
Russell’s athleticism was the major knock on him coming out of college, but as the season went on he learned to use his body to keep defenders at bay. At 6’5” he also discovered how to post up smaller defenders, which gave the Lakers another weapon to employ in the half court.
Still, growing pains were evident, which was to be expected considering how new he is to the point guard position. Russell struggled with turnovers, sometimes forcing passes that weren’t there. He averaged just 3.3 assists per game as he tried to balance his role between scorer and creator.
Of course, he also got into hot water near the end of the season when a video he took of teammate Nick Young discussing his personal life was leaked to the internet. Russell felt a backlash from teammates, and his play on the court suffered. He can recover from this mistake, but it’s something that will take time.
There were enough flashes of brilliance over the course of the season to give Lakers fans hope that D’Angelo Russell will be something special, but it’s going to require some patience.
CONTRACT STATUS: Two years remaining under contractWhen the Lakers missed out on their top targets in free agency, they set their sights on value acquisitions, ultimately signing reigning sixth man of the year Louis Williams to a three-year deal.
While Williams somewhat duplicated the skillset of Nick Young, he proved to be much more efficient in all areas of the game. Williams has a well-defined role in the league as a scorer off the bench, and there are few better at it than he is.
He takes (and makes) tough shots, and Sweet Lou’s ability to draw fouls is elite. He consistently tricks even the best defenders into reaching in, which translated into a whopping 6.3 free throws per game.
While he isn’t the best defender and is essentially a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, Williams proved to be a solid addition to the Lakers this season. Every team needs a player like him that can be instant offense off the bench, and in that role, Lou certainly didn’t disappoint.
Metta World Peace
CONTRACT STATUS: Free AgentAfter spending a year out of the NBA, Metta World Peace played his way onto the Lakers during training camp. He had spent the summer mentoring de facto rookie Julius Randle, using his strength and legendary defense to put the young man through the wringer, and the hope was he could continue to do the same during the season.
The fact that a past-his-prime MWP made the team was a bit of a surprise, but his tutelage turned out to be a positive for the young Lakers. It was a bit ironic given Metta’s rocky past, but as it turned out he filled the role of a mentor just fine.
He only appeared in 35 games this season and his stats weren’t impressive, but World Peace wasn’t brought in to put up numbers. It’s doubtful that he gets another roster spot next season, but his work with the youngsters might warrant a position as a special assistant down the line.
CONTRACT STATUS: Two years left under contract with a player option in the final yearThe Lakers signed Nick Young to a 4 year deal two seasons ago, and since then the swag that he showed in his contract year has disappeared. To be fair, Young did go from playing in Mike D’Antoni’s open offense to Byron Scott’s in that span, which is a massive leap to make.
That said, Young’s calling card in the NBA is as a tough-shot maker, but this season he shot a career-worst 34 percent from the field. He contributes shockingly little elsewhere (1.8 rebounds, .6 assists), which means that if his shot isn’t falling there isn’t much reason to put him on the floor.
Accordingly, Young only played in 54 games this past season. With two years left under contract (it doesn’t appear that he will decline his option) the Lakers will look to trade Young this summer, and may be forced to waive him and stretch his contract if they need more money to throw at a free agent.
Either way, it appears as though Young’s time in LA may be at an end.