With rebuild under way, Lakers have playoff potential

December 9, 2017 — by Siva Sambasivam

Besides the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers are probably the most iconic franchise in basketball history. They have 16 championships, the most NBA finals appearances with 31, and the most postseason wins with upwards of 400.

The team has been the home to all-time greats including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West.

But the Lakers haven’t seen the playoffs the last four years, leaving many fans bolting for the bandwagons. To put it in perspective, in their previous 70-year history, the Lakers missed the playoffs only four times.

Lakers brass was under immense pressure to restore the winning culture, but with continuous mistakes in contract negotiation and drafting, the Lakers have stayed at the bottom of an ultra competitive Western Conference and never made that one move that could possibly turn them into a contender for playoffs.

Then, finally, this past summer the Lakers hired Magic Johnson as their general manager. Johnson, already a part-owner of the franchise and widely respected within the organization, led the Lakers to five championships during his tenure as a player.

He vowed to return the Lakers back into the NBA elite as perennial championship contenders and immediately got to work.

Johnson was able revamp the entire roster in one summer, getting rid of erroneous contracts from the previous front office and moving around assets to prepare for the future.

At the 2017 draft, Johnson made two decisions that put the franchise back on track. With the second pick, he chose UCLA standout Lonzo Ball, considered to be an immediate impact player at point guard. The second move was to trade up for forward Kyle Kuzma, a bona fide scorer, whose talents would mesh well with the Lakers’ system.

These two players were put front and center at the Las Vegas Summer League. They led the Lakers to the Summer League title, with Ball taking honors as the Summer League MVP.

The Lakers started the regular season with a 5-5 record, and although it doesn’t figure to mean much in the big picture, for a team that has won 27, 21, 17 and 26 games over the last four seasons — a 5-5 start is significant improvement.

After that, the Lakers lost 10 of their next 13 games. They had trouble closing out games, especially at home, and their defense, which was ranked third in the league after their impressive start, dropped to 12th.

But despite their 8-13 record, the Lakers are three games out of the playoffs and their aspirations are far from dead. The silver lining in their rough stretch is that they have seen great development in many of their young players, most noticeably second-year forward Brandon Ingram.

A year removed after being drafted second overall, Ingram has broken out this year, averaging close to 18 points and six rebounds per game after struggling through his rookie year.

Kuzma has also been performing well, with a stat line of 17 points and seven boards a game. However, the success of the Lakers truly depends on Ball.

Ball has had numerous struggles early on, shooting a historically bad percentage, with a lack of aggression needed to be a good point guard. Despite his flashes of excellence, his overall play has even led to him being benched during the fourth quarter of two close games.

But Ball isn’t a bust like many claim. With all the outside pressure and expectations the 19-year-old  also has the highest upside of any of the Lakers young stars. He is a rookie point guard expected to win immediately, playing for a boss who is considered to be one of the best ballplayers to ever grace the court.

Even with his struggles, Ball has collected wide praise from current and former NBA stars, calling him a once-in-a generation passer, capable of being amazing in this league.  He has shown flashes of great play in games, and his consistency will come along with experience.

In one summer, the Lakers went from being the second worse in the league to a playoff contender with a reinvigorated and passionate fan base.

The Lakers now have a solid young core to build around with talent at every position and a widely respected head coach, Luke Walton, at the helm. Thanks to the ingenious moves of Magic Johnson and the new Lakers front office, one thing is for certain: The Lakers won’t be tanking again anytime soon.