They sold out venues in the Summer League and preseason. Los Angeles Lakers fans came out in hordes and cheered as if they were in playoff games. There seems to be something about the 2017-18 Lakers team that’s driving their fans back.
The Los Angeles Lakers have missed the playoffs in the last four seasons and reached rock bottom in 2015-16 with a franchise-worst 17 wins. But all the disappointment of the past four years were seemingly erased when Kobe Bryant erupted for 60 points in his final NBA game, at the Staples Center and in a come from behind win over the Utah Jazz. That was just the beginning.
The Lakers were the biggest winners in the NBA Draft lottery. No, they didn’t bag the top pick they dreamed of but they got the number they needed. Los Angeles would’ve forfeited the pick in favor of Philadelphia, had it fallen out of the Top 3. They got the No. 2 pick and ended up picking up UCLA guard Lonzo Ball.
A week before the draft, the Lakers traded point guard D’Angelo Russell and big man Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. Part of the reason Russell was moved because the Lakers were picking Ball. On the other hand, Mozgov was shipped to dump his $16M per year salary in preparation for the summer of 2018.
Drafting Ball & Kuzma
Adding Lopez was an excellent move not only because he is the better big man than Mozgov but because he is on an expiring contract. This gives Los Angeles more financial flexibility next summer. Not only that, the 27th pick became Kyle Kuzma, who many believe is the steal of the 2017 NBA draft.
Kuzma and Ball teamed up to help the Lakers win their first ever Summer League title. Ball was named as Summer League MVP but Kuzma shone in his absence by winning the Summer League Finals MVP award. Not only that, Kuzma continued to impress during the preseason when he led the team in scoring at 17.0 points per game.
Aside from getting these two promising rookies, the Lakers are also high on sophomore forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the Lakers’ 2nd overall pick in 2016 and after a slow start to his rookie season, Ingram picked up the slack after the All-Star break and showed plenty of promise.
Ingram And The Young Core
After a summer where he dedicated countless hours in the gym working not just on his game but on his body, the expectations are high for Ingram this season. Sure, we saw Ingram struggle mightily in his first four preseason games. But after plenty of encouragement from Luke Walton and Magic Johnson, the former Duke Blue Devil left a strong impression during the Lakers’ final preseason game, a victory over their cross-town rival Clippers.
No, we’re not saying that Ingram’s going to average 20 points as Magic predicts. But he’s no flash in the pan either. As Luke Walton said, Brandon Ingram tried to do too much early on. But like last season, he will eventually settle down and he’s going to be the focal point of the Lakers offense.
Julius Randle also played well during the preseason. Coming off the bench, Randle was the second most consistent Laker next to Kuzma. Randle averaged 13.0 points and 7.4 rebounds in five preseason games and showed remarkable improvement from his first three seasons in the NBA.
The Excitement Is Back
Aside from Ingram and Randle, the likes of Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac also showed development during the preseason. With veterans like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Corey Brewer, the Lakers have a solid cast heading into the 2017-18 season. This team may not be ready to compete with the Warriors and the Cavs yet but this clearly an upgrade from what they had last season.
These Lakers are literally years away from another NBA title. Oddsmakers say they are a gargantuan +10,000 underdog (according to Betway) to win the 2018 NBA title. Jeff Van Gundy says they won’t even make the playoffs this year. Charles Barkley agrees with Van Gundy and says ‘hell no’ on the Lakers’ chances of reaching the postseason in 2018. But then so what? They are moving towards the right direction.
There has never been this much excitement about the team since Kobe’s championship years. There is so much optimism about the young talent on the team and the prospect of adding two superstars next summer. That’s something no critic can take away from any Lakers fan.