Remember when the Lakers used to be good? Like really, really good - the best. Well, those days are long gone. Last year they hit what they surely hope was the rock bottom - just 21 wins. It was a year in which nothing went right. Star rookie Julius Randle broke his leg in the very first game he played and was lost for the year. Kobe Bryant was selfish in his effort to pass Michael Jordan and become the league's third highest all-time scorer - and the highest-scoring Phil Jackson star - early in the year, and then he was hurt and gone with his third straight season-ending injury.
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Holes in the roster - a nice way of saying that there was a total lack of talent - were consistently a problem. Byron Scott didn't exactly redefine coaching in his first season at the helm - he continued a dubious streak of four straight fifth-place divisional showings, and he made it harder than ever to figure out why people keep giving him jobs. All in all, it was ugly. Really, really ugly. Unwatchable. So, is this year going to be any better? The short answer is probably but not dramatically. It will take a world of patience to be a Lakers fan - not something fans of the team have ever really had to deal with.
2015 Los Angeles Lakers Betting Story Lines
You obviously have to talk about Kobe. There's no avoiding it. So, we might as well be honest. He's not very good anymore - certainly not an asset to the team. He is still the best all-around offensive force they have. The problem is that he knows it and uses that knowledge to justify his feeling that he should do it all. He's selfish but not efficient enough to justify that anymore. He also certainly doesn't seem to be the definition of a good teammate. He doesn't seem to have a lot - any, really - patience for younger or less-talented teammates. On a team that is in serious rebuilding mode around him he's not a good fit. He could be valuable in the right role on a different and much better team, but he's not going to make this team a whole lot better here - certainly not in a lasting, meaningful way.
There is also a very low probability that Kobe remains healthy for the whole season. He's been breaking down before our eyes for at least three years, and there are so many different issues that a full season of meaningful minutes would truly be a miracle. There is an interesting shift to keep an eye on, too. In D'Angelo Russell the team potentially has an elite, healthy playmaker for the first time in a long time. Kobe has been doing a lot of setting up plays for a while now, but that should change this year if Russell is as advertised - and ready to play. That means that we should see Kobe doing a whole lot more catch-and-shooting this year. He says he is happy with the change - that he much prefers it. Given his control freakishness, though, I'll believe it when I see it - especially because it means trusting a rookie.
Beyond Kobe, the player to watch is one who could easily - along with Russell - wind up being the core of this franchise for the next decade. Randle's loss last year was a blow - more to him and his development than to the team in the big picture. He has come back just fine, though, and has looked like a beast in preseason and, by all accounts, in practice. He is a rare blend of size and finesse - it's not just because Lamar Odom has been sadly in the news lately that the comparisons between Randle and Odom are flying. If he can get comfortable and build chemistry with Russell and the rest of this team - and if Scott can't effectively use him - then the ceiling is very high this year and beyond. The Lakers have two potential superstars on their hands - and a very good role player in Jordan Clarkson, too, if he can continue his forward progress after a shockingly good rookie year. Patience will be key, and the results might not be there consistently this year - which isn't a bad thing as we'll soon see - but the future is reasonably bright.
There is potentially a strong incentive not to finish strong for this team if things go poorly out of the gate. As a result of the Steve Nash trade, and other trades that followed it by other teams, the Philadelphia 76ers will get the Lakers' first-round pick in the upcoming draft - unless it is a top-three pick. With Kobe soon to be gone, a rebuilding core, and the desire to build a team that a free agent who isn't washed up would want to play for again, having that pick would be a very good thing this year. Of course, teams don't tank in the NBA - wink, wink - but if a team were going to tank this would be as good an incentive as any. The pick is also top-three protected in 2017 and unprotected in 2018, so the Lakers are going to lose it at some point - but this is certainly a case where later is better.
2015 Los Angeles Lakers Additions and Departures
It was a summer of much - and much-needed - change for the team. Gone are Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Ed Davis, and I can't imagine a single tear being shed about any of them. They weren't long-term pieces and weren't valuable enough to be bridge pieces, either. To replace them they added three interesting pieces. Brandon Bass is probably a placeholder, but he has upside. Roy Hibbert is all about upside, but he is looking to rebuild his career and earn a big contract. There is a lot of risk involved, but if he can again become even a fraction of what he was at his best then he is a massive defensive boost for a team that could sorely use one. Lou Williams comes from Toronto where he was named Sixth Man of the Year last year. He is a very nice backcourt piece, though with him joining Kobe, Clarkson, Russell, Nick Young, Jabari Brown and the rest it remains to be seen how Scott can effectively share minutes between everyone. They also signed Metta World Peace, but there is nothing noteworthy or intriguing about that.
The biggest splash, of course, came in the draft. They were lucky enough to get the second pick in the lottery - if they had dropped below fifth the Sixers would have gotten the pick. Most thought that Jahlil Okafor would have been the choice there, but the team enthusiastically took D'Angelo Russell from Ohio State. He's a brilliant playmaker with a massive ceiling, and there is good reason to be excited. They also grabbed a nice value pick at the bottom of the first when they took Larry Nance Jr., though he is very much a project who should only see limited minutes this year.
2015 Los Angeles Lakers Futures Odds and Trends
At 36-41-5 ATS last year the team was not profitable, but they were better than you might expect given their record. They went "over" the total in 42 of their 82 games. That is wasn't more tells you how bad they were offensively because only Minnesota gave up more points per game.
Los Angeles Lakers Futures Odds (from BetOnline)
NBA title odds : +10000
Western Conference title odds : +6600
Odds to win the Pacific Division: +5000
Kobe Bryant MVP Odds : +10000
D'Angelo Russell Rookie of the Year Odds: +400 (third choice)
2015 Los Angeles Lakers Predictions and Futures Odds Picks
In the short term I'm not that optimistic. It comes down to how good of a citizen Kobe can be. If he can be the true mentor and leader he says he is then the team could make some nice progress with the young core. If he is Kobe, though, then it could be a rough year. Either way, the ceiling is probably not much more than 32 wins or so. They would be a lock to finish last in most divisions, but the Kings are terrible, too, so a totally meaningless fourth-place finish could happen. If the team were to make the playoffs, though, you should seek shelter immediately because it would mean the apocalypse has arrived.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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