Despite notching their first win of the season Friday night, the Lakers front office continues to make questionable decisions.
The Lakers opened the season with four straight losses, none of which have come against teams expected to make the playoffs in this year’s tough Western Conference. However, the fact that the Lakers are losing to mediocre teams is not the most troubling thing about the beginning of the Lakers season.
Through the team’s first three games, Byron Scott stuck with a rigid rotation, which fared rather poorly. The interesting thing about this is, for a team supposedly devoting itself to a youth movement, there was shockingly little actual youth in the rotation.
In Byron Scott’s set rotation for the first three games, the Lakers played ten players in meaningful minutes. Of these ten players, only three were first or second year players. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell were the only three young players to get real NBA minutes in the Lakers first games. The rest of the players were veterans, players like Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass, and Nick Young, none who can be considered long-term Lakers’ assets.
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The Lakers should be devoting this year to collecting players who could have a long-term impact on the organization, rather than once again favoring current production over future assets.
The Lakers are in desperate need of assets, with this year’s first round pick most likely heading to the Philadelphia 76ers, and few tradable players that the Lakers would be willing to part with.
However, in this preseason the Lakers acted as if they were a team on the verge of contention, who could be affected by the smallest drop in production caused by younger players. This mindset led to players like Robert Upshaw, a lottery talent with personal struggles, being cut in favor of Robert Sacre, a mediocre big with virtually no potential for future improvement.
Another example of the Lakers throwing away assets was the release of Jabari Brown, an undrafted player who had played quite well for the Lakers at the end of last season. The Lakers opted to cut Jabari Brown over Metta World Peace and Robert Sacre. To make matters worse, the Lakers were unable to even secure him for their D-League team, as Brown has opted to play overseas.
These decisions would be perfectly acceptable for a team like the Spurs, who can legitimately say they are trying to win now. Players like Sacre and World Peace definitely have value to a team like that, who could need them to play important spot minutes.
However, for the Lakers, it makes little sense to cut young players and keep veterans.
World Peace does provide important leadership and player development, but if the Lakers planned to keep him, the player cut should not have been Brown. While MWP’s value is important, the Lakers also should have prioritized the young talent that Brown brought to the team, possibly by making a cut somewhere else, or by not signing certain players in the first place.
The Lakers window of contention is still far away, assuming the Lakers’ young trio fully develops. For this reason, players like Jabari Brown, who is young, talented, and has a deep connection with Jordan Clarkson, would have made sense for the team. Brown possessed the potential to be an effective bench scorer for the Lakers in the future, and could have developed into much more. The worst part of the decision to cut him is the fact that he was one of the few positives to come out of a bleak season.
Upshaw, a young shot-blocker whose strengths almost perfectly compliment Julius Randle, is another player who could develop into either a part of the Lakers young core, or a valuable asset in the trade market. Fortunately, he has atleast been kept close to the team, as he signed with the Lakers D-league affiliate in recent weeks.
These decisions cannot simply be ignored any longer, as the Lakers have consistently stunted the development of their team with similar choices. The decision to let young players like Kent Bazemore or Kendall Marshall walk in free agency has hurt the Lakers. The most recent example of this is Ed Davis, who played very well for the Lakers, and was not made a priority in free agency. Instead he was replaced by Brandon Bass, who is five years older and not nearly as talented.
These decisions, while small on their own, can cripple a franchise in the long run. They also reveal the true problem with the Lakers. The Lakers refuse to accept that they are a rebuilding team. Instead they consistently sign players who will get empty wins for the team in the short-term, while playing no part in the Lakers long-term plan.
Byron Scott openly admitted this baffling mindset when he said in a recent interview that he would prioritize wins over developing players.
Fans were not surprised at Scott’s comments however, as Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown had received zero minutes to open the season. Even D’Angelo Russell has been benched repeatedly, while Tarik Black has received very limited playing time. The ironic part of the story is that the young players would probably give the Lakers a better chance to win. Tarik Black is currently more productive than Brandon Bass, and Nance Jr. most likely would have easily out-produced Ryan Kelly in these first few games.
This strategy has done nothing but slow the Lakers rebuild, and will continue to do the same as long as it is used. The organization needs to accept that they are not championship contenders, and that winning a few more games is not worth benching young players. The front office needs to realize that a truly strong team comes from letting their young players grow, and adding more talented youth around them.
Fortunately, the Lakers made some adjustments against the Brooklyn Nets. Inserting Nance Jr. and World Peace injected some life into the Lakers defense, while giving Black the backup center minutes drastically improved the Lakers rebounding. Hopefully this trend will continue, with Anthony Brown still in need of minutes.
Byron Scott showed signs of relying on his younger players last game against the Brooklyn Nets and it resulted in Los Angeles’ first win of the season. Whether he continues to coach this way, fans will have to wait and see.
What do you think about the Lakers’ current direction? What moves would you have made if you were GM of the Lakers? Let us know in the comments below.