Young Lakers poised for success with Kobe-sized elephant gone

Dan Schultz
Subscriber

After spending the last few seasons doing everything to please Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers are finally moving forward as a franchise.

For the first time in a very long time, the Los Angeles Lakers are an exciting, promising team that many are enjoying watching once again.

No longer are they structured around Kobe Bryant – which is a very good thing. Obviously, there is no questioning that Bryant is one of the greatest players of all-time. However, it is undeniable that he held this franchise back during the last few years he was there.

He handcuffed the organization’s salary cap by accepting gigantic contracts for himself, making it basically impossible for the team to sign top free agents, and refused to concentrate on making the younger players on the Lakers better. Instead, much of the offense still ran through him, in which he often attempted contested, low percentage long two-pointers.

Most plays were isolation clear-out calls for Bryant, where he kept trying to recapture some of the magic he once had when he was younger. He constantly looked off teammates, sometimes even attempting shots where he had multiple guys draped all over him.

After all, he had done so much for the Lakers, including helping win five titles, that the franchise felt indebted to grant his every wish.

Now that he has retired, the Lakers are clearly breathing a big sigh of relief.

This past summer, they hired one of the best young coaches in the league in Luke Walton, who has already made a huge impact early on. Under Walton, there is actually movement in the Lakers’ offensive sets. Players are cutting, setting picks, moving without the ball well. These are all things you didn’t see much of when Bryant was there.

Walton also made a brilliant decision when he elected to bring rookie Brandon Ingram off the bench. By doing this, Walton took all the pressure off of Ingram. Eventually, Ingram should become a star player for them. But for now, he can rest easy knowing he can grow into that role over time, instead of being expected to fill the shoes of Bryant immediately.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE1q3TbmS1U

Most of the focus remains on D’Angelo Russell, the team’s enthusiastic point guard. He has the potential to be an elite talent, thanks mainly to his lethal sharp-shooting and speed. But there is still considerable fear that his immaturity and tendency to make bad decisions (like recording a private conversation with teammate Nick Young last season that went public) will hurt him badly down the line.

He may have “ice in his veins” when he makes clutch shots, but not when it comes to being a mature leader on the floor. With that said, he’s only 20 years old, so patience is probably the best way to approach this situation, especially after how well he performed in this year’s Summer League:

Julius Randle is also a great prospect – a physical forward who plays bigger than he actually is. If developed correctly, he could eventually be the third man in the Lakers’ “Big Three” with Russell and Ingram. Also, a backcourt of Russell and Jordan Clarkson could work long-term, given how athletic and long each player is and how well they complement one another.

It will take a while for the Lakers to become a top-tier team again, but they have the pieces and coaching in place to get there in the next few years. As long as they hang on to Walton, and keep working on improving their young pieces, they will be in good shape.

So while many initially believed the Lakers would be lost after Bryant retired, quite the opposite is true. And it will be interesting to watch as this young team grows up together.

Whether they will become a title juggernaut remains to be seen – but the potential is certainly there.

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