Lakers: The New Era in Los Angeles Has Begun

Jun 21, 2016; El Segunda, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers new head coach Luke Walton talks to the media during a press conference at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 21, 2016; El Segunda, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers new head coach Luke Walton talks to the media during a press conference at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The Lakers front office has made it clear so far this offseason that the post-Kobe Bryant era will emphasize youth.

If Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss had created a checklist of off-season moves they hoped to make with the Los Angeles Lakers, the first three items would look something like this: Sign a new, fresh coach who could communicate well with the team’s young players, secure a top-3 draft pick in the lottery, draft a college star at No. 2 with tremendous potential to take the roster spot of the retired Kobe Bryant. You can put a check next to each of those.

And when you add those checkmarks to the fact that the Lakers have so far made no trades, it’s easy to conclude that the front office wisely plans to build around its young core. In particular, the emphasis will be on their three top-10 picks from the last three drafts: Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle.

In addition, as of right now, those three studs will have support with players taken later in those last three drafts in Jordan Clarkson (a restricted free agent), Larry Nance Jr and Anthony Brown last year, and then Ivica Zubac in the second round this year.

That’s seven players with two years or less of NBA experience. And to guide them forward, the Lakers hired a rookie head coach, Luke Walton, who is outwardly brimming with excitement at the challenges ahead.

What other boxes remain on the checklist? To begin with, Kupchak has publicly stated a desire to bring in some veterans, and has oodles of money to spend on free agents. With just six players left under contract, there are plenty of other options in free agency that the Lakers need to pursue:

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  • Re-sign Clarkson: The front office invited him along with the four other young Lakers to join Ingram in a pre-draft dinner. This is a clearly a strong sign that the team intends to bring him back and he has publicly stated he wants to stay in LA.
  • Sign a free-agent center: Reports indicate that Zubac has NBA talent, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to step right into a starting role. Instead, the Lakers will likely turn to someone older and more experienced. Recent rumors say the team intends to pursue both Al Horford and Hassan Whiteside. Fallback options include Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, or a host of others.
  • Sign another (relatively) big-name free agent: It seems impossible that the Lakers can sign either Kevin Durant or LeBron James. The next-best non-center free agents include, DeMar Derozan, Mike Conley, Dwyane Wade , Bradley Beal, and Harrison Barnes (all of the latter three are restricted), all seem likely headed elsewhere. That leaves more viable Laker candidates in Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parsons, Luol Deng, Kent Bazemore and Aaron Afflalo.
  • Re-sign Tarik Black: He provides great energy off the bench at either center or power forward and is only 24. He had a positive relationship with Walton when Luke was an assistant coach for a semester at the University of Memphis and, since he’s a restricted free agent, the Lakers can match any offers.
  • Add a back-up point guard: Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin are possibilities, as is re-signing Marcelo Huertas or bringing back a former Laker like Jeremy Lin, Jordan Farmar, or Ramon Sessions.

For other bench spots, they might consider undrafted 6-10 rookie Zach Auguste or former Marquette forward Jamil Wilson, both of whom will be on their Summer League roster. There are also any of last year’s final cuts, Jabari Brown, Michael Frazier, or even Jonathan Holmes.

And of course there’s also a certain veteran who provided unexpected mentorship last season, a fan favorite named Metta World Peace. He could return as either a deep bench reserve or an assistant coach.

At this point a year ago, few would have predicted the Lakers would acquire Lou Williams, Brandon Bass or Roy Hibbert. So Kupchak may have another surprise or two up his sleeve, including a possible trade.

Next: WATCH: Russell Dominates Pro-Am, Wins MVP Honors

But right now, regardless of what boxes get checked and which players the front office obtains to fill out the roster, it appears that most of the primary pieces for the upcoming season are already in place. The message is clear: Youth will indeed be served.