After a busy offseason for the Los Angeles Lakers the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here. Despite once again fielding a team that is not expected to make the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference, there is plenty for Lakers fans to be excited for.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 storylines to keep an eye on this season.
Wheeling and Dealing
The Lakers are all-in on next summer’s free agency class, when players like LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins will hit the market. They hope to sign two major stars, but as of now, only have enough cap space for one of them.
That means that we should expect to see Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka burning up phone lines as the trade deadline nears. They will look to shed long-term salaries and potentially get value for anyone not in their long-term plans, though it won’t be an easy task.
Make Or Break For Julius Randle
Julius Randle’s rookie deal is expiring at the end of the season, which means that the Lakers could be parting ways with the bruising power forward. With his next deal on the line, Randle spent the summer getting into phenomenal shape and working on his jumper.
If he can prove that he can bring defensive intensity on a nightly basis and expand his range Randle could find a big new contract, but if he doesn’t show serious growth this year he could struggle to find a deal of his liking in next summer’s down market.
Brandon Ingram Steps Into The Spotlight
The Lakers have been searching for a star, and while all eyes will be focused on Lonzo Ball, it may actually be the soft-spoken Brandon Ingram who becomes an impact player this season. After a difficult rookie campaign, Ingram spent the summer building muscle and refining his game.
Johnson made Ingram off-limits in trade discussions over the summer, and on a Lakers team lacking in scoring options, he will be given every opportunity to prove that he is a star in the making. The preseason wasn’t kind to him, but the potential is still there for Ingram to have a big year.
Run Lonzo, Run
The Lakers were fortunate to hang onto their top-three protected pick in the draft lottery, which they used on Lonzo Ball. At each previous stop, Ball has proven to be a transformative player whose passing becomes contagious. With him in the fold, the hope is that the Lakers can return to the run-and-gun, Showtime style that put them on the map in the 1980s.
It will take time for Ball to adapt to the NBA, but the Lakers are clearly all-in on their new point guard. With a reality show, a rap single, a personal shoe, and a featured role on the most popular basketball team in the world, expect Ball to be making headlines for the foreseeable future.
Luke Walton’s Second Season
When the Lakers hired head coach Luke Walton during the summer of 2016 he brought in a wave of optimism. Not only was Walton coming from the highly successful Golden State Warriors system, but he also possessed intangible qualities that allowed him to connect with young players and get them to buy into his system.
Walton wasn’t able to manufacture many wins last year thanks to a roster lacking in talent, but with expectations always high in Los Angeles, the pressure will be on to show real growth.
The Crowded Front Court
The Lakers, like most NBA teams, enjoy having competition for minutes at each spot, and the place where that’s most evident is the frontcourt. With Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma, Luol Deng, Brook Lopez, Ivica Zubac, Andrew Bogut, and Thomas Bryant on board, more than half of the team’s full-time roster will be able to take on minutes at either power forward or center.
This gives Walton plenty of options to mix-and-match, and which players get the lion’s share of the minutes will be something to keep an eye on all season. With so many choices and skillsets, Walton has an answer for any style he wants to play.
Will Jordan Clarkson Play Well Enough To Leave L.A.?
The Lakers unquestionably found a steal when they acquired the second-round pick used to select Jordan Clarkson in 2014. As a young combo guard, Clarkson surprised everyone when he played well enough to make First Team All-Rookie. Since then, however, Clarkson has somewhat stagnated, and given the Lakers desire to have as much cap space as possible next season, he would appear to be an ideal candidate to be traded mid-season.
On his current contract, which pays him nearly $38 million over the next two seasons, Clarkson’s trade value isn’t clear. If he can take a step forward on both ends of the floor and insert himself into the Sixth Man Of The Year race, as Johnson has challenged him to, then Los Angeles could perhaps get some value in return.
This has been the slogan for this year’s Lakers training camp. The idea is that the team needs to bring back the old Lakers mystique and attitude, something that told opposing teams they would be in for a game every time they squared off with the purple and gold.
Johnson’s Showtime teams had this quality, as did the Shaq-Kobe teams, and even the Kobe-Pau squads had the mojo for a brief time. While this year’s Lakers won’t have that kind of star power, the mindset and determination needs to be instilled now.
Kyle Kuzma Is The Real Deal
The Lakers made a controversial trade prior to the draft, shipping out D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft. That pick was used to select Kyle Kuzma, who has quickly become one of the most promising young players in the NBA.
In a league desperate for versatility, Kuzma can do it all. He switches easily on defense, hits the boards, can handle the ball, pass, score in isolation, and shoot from the outside. Perhaps even more importantly, he developed instant chemistry with Ball thanks to his ability to run like hell in transition. If he can keep his shot falling, Kuzma will be a major asset this season.
The Tank Is Dead
I’ve written this for the last few seasons only to be proven wrong, but this time, the tank is really, truly dead. The Lakers 2018 first-round pick will finally convey to either the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers as payment for the Steve Nash trade way back in 2012. As a result, the Lakers will not benefit in the slightest by losing games this season.
In fact, given their desire to be a free agent destination next summer, it behooves them to do everything they can to win games all season long. Moreover, fans will no longer be torn, wanting to see wins but knowing that losing is better for the long-term. This year, finally, every Lakers win is something to be celebrated again.