We've heard it all offseason: The Los Angeles Lakers will be making the playoffs in 2018. We hear it from the media, we hear it from the fan base, and we most certainly hear it from LaVar Ball.
One can't help but understand the jolt in optimism. Over the last four years, the Lakers have endured their worst four-year run in the history of the franchise. An injured Kobe Bryant, poor personnel decisions, and a tumultuous front office dynamic has Los Angeles slowly clawing their way up the incredibly steep hill of the NBA hierarchy.
The shake-up in the front office helped in ushering in a clean slate. The Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka duo should aide in the cachet side of things. No longer are the Lakers beset by a front office circus surrounding the familial feud between siblings Jim and Jeanie Buss.
Court time pic.twitter.com/baqvstdYDg
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 19, 2017
A renewed sense of professionalism has given the franchise back levels of respectability once cultivated by the late Dr. Jerry Buss. Essentially, the team is no longer in disarray.
While all of these aspects remain true, we have one statement for Mr. Ball: The Lakers will not be making the playoffs in 2018.
That's not to say that strides haven't been made, however. The plan is in place for this team to eventually make some noise -- though patience is required at this point.
The roster is incredibly young across the board. Brook Lopez (29) and Corey Brewer (31) are the only "veterans" within the group that are expected to play extensive roles in the rotation. The vast majority of the core group (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac, Jordan Clarkson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Larry Nance Jr.) are all 25 years old or younger.
Collectively, there's not a whole lot there in the way of experience. Rarely will you see a playoff team possessing this 'saturation level' of youthful players. With Luke Walton in only year two of his head coaching career, growing pains -- both from the personnel and staff -- will invariably occur.
The talent in the stacked Western Conference cannot be overstated enough. A top-four group of Golden State, San Antonio, Houston, and Oklahoma City are etched in stone (barring injury) as playoff guarantees. Operating in this premise, the Lakers would then have to garner one of the final four playoff seeds. The team certainly appears primed to improve upon last year's 24-58 record.
Depth across the board has been enhanced. The team has a legitimate post scorer (Lopez), a very good two-way wing (Caldwell-Pope), and perhaps the team's next cornerstone transcendent player (Ball). Ingram also looks ready to make the leap as an above-average forward in the league. However, the likelihood of making the playoffs still appears like a stretch.
Minnesota, Portland, and Denver are more talented at this point. Memphis possesses two players (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley Jr.) better than anyone on the Lakers' current roster. The same can be said for New Orleans (Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins) and the Clippers (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan). Even then, you've also got the defensive-minded Utah Jazz.
Simply put, the fan base (and LaVar) need to exercise patience. This year will be one for Ball to get his feet wet as a floor general. It also will mean another year of familiarity in installing Walton's scheme. This bridge year of sorts will act as a nice appetizer for what figures to be a main course of an offseason in 2018.
The free agent class could completely transform the Lakers from an upstart squad into one competing for a title (depending on the signings, or lack thereof). Paul George, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, and others all figure to be available.
As such, enjoy this season. While the Lakers won't be contending for postseason glory, they should be fun to watch in this transitional year.
Image Source: Lakers Twitter Account