Continue To Give Josh Hart Minutes
Hart’s professional career got off to somewhat of a slow start. A myriad of lingering injuries limited his participation in the preseason. It caused Hart to fall behind when it came to conditioning, overall comprehension of the scheme, and on-court chemistry with teammates.
It took a few months for Hart to eventually break into the rotation. Upon doing so, the Lakers may have found themselves a solid role player. Hart plays in a very controlled manner. This undoubtedly stems from his four-year stint at Villanova. He doesn’t play out of his comfort zone — nor does Hart force anything on the offensive end. He’s simply a player that plays within himself.
Since garnering more playing time, Hart’s displayed a penchant for attacking the rim in transition. He’s also a decent three-point shooter. Though shooting 34-percent from beyond the arc for the year, Hart’s connected on 39-percent of his attempts during the month of December (which also coincides with an uptick in playing time).
Defensively is where Hart hangs his hat the most. He’s demonstrated the ability to defend both guard spots, and can also check small forwards in a pinch. Simply put, he has the look of a solid 10-year veteran at the ripe age of 22.
Trade Jordan Clarkson
The Lakers are in a bit of a pickle financially. Unloading the contract of Timofey Mozgov for essentially a first round pick — which turned out to be Kyle Kuzma — was a brilliant move. It helped to free up some much needed cap flexibility for the vaunted 2018 free agent class. However, there’s still work to be done if the Lakers are to be in a position to sign two max free agents.
No one will touch Luol Deng’s albatross of a contract. As such, dealing Clarkson appears to be the best and most viable move in getting the Lakers the requisite cap space to catch two big fish. As of December 26th, Clarkson is averaging 14.0 PPG on 45.5-percent from the field and 33.3-percent from three. One of the NBA’s most dynamic bench players, Clarkson could add a jolt of productivity for any contender.
While talented, Clarkson’s shoot-first style of play doesn’t exactly mesh with head coach Luke Walton’s desired scheme rooted in moving the ball. Based upon Julius Randle’s impending status as a restricted free agent, Clarkson holds the most value of any player on the roster for a potential (and realistic) trade.
Cultivate Ball-Ingram-Kuzma Trio
Though only a few months into the 2017/18 regular season, one thing is clear: The Lakers’ future will center around the trio of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma.
Despite all the hoopla surrounding Ball and his eclectic family, we’ve seen glimpses which indicate Ball’s potential ceiling as a great point guard. In the last six games, Ball is averaging 16.0 PPG, 7.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.3 SPG. He’s also shooting 44.3-percent from the field and 45-percent from three.
When compared to his rookie campaign, Ingram has improved immensely in every single statistical category from a year ago. His aggression has increased ten-fold — particularly when attacking the rim. As Ingram gets physically stronger, he’ll be even better both in getting to the free throw line as well as on the defensive end of the floor.
Kuzma came out of nowhere to become one of the top-five rookies in the entire league. Possessing a polished offensive game, the Utah product can score in a variety of ways. He’s also seemingly began to emulate Kobe Bryant in terms of fostering high levels of competitiveness.
For the first time in quite a while, Los Angeles can say that it’s equipped with some true building blocks for the future. As the troika continues to make gains in confidence and comfort on the floor, their respective effectiveness should continue to flourish.
This season is all about perception. It’s unlikely that the Lakers will go on a huge tear en route to a playoff spot within the uber-tough Western Conference. With that said, the team has chalked up more ‘moral victories’ than perhaps any other squad. The lack of tangible wins won’t mean a lot in the record books. However, it could help in eventually luring talent to Los Angeles.
On countless occasions, we’ve seen this core — a core made up of guys virtually all under the age of 25 — fight exceptionally hard against the best teams in the NBA. Rarely does this team get blown out, and it’s even more infrequent to see Walton’s group not play with the utmost in energy and effort.
The Lakers have beaten the likes of Houston, Washington, and Philadelphia this season, and have taken the Golden State Warriors to overtime on two separate occasions. This team is a ways away from competing for anything of consequence — though it’s showing the rest of the league that there’s real promise percolating in the pipeline.
This building of a solidified culture will only aid in the franchise’s quest to sign an elite talent in the summer of 2018.
Make A Splash In Free Agency
As we fast-forward to the summer of 2018, the Lakers are expected to be major players. The front office braintrust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been hyping up this period for over a year. There’s been no secret made about the efforts to improve the franchise during this stretch.
Of course, the headliner is LeBron James. From a basketball standpoint, there’s little to suggest that he’d come to Los Angeles. LeBron would have to compete with an inexperienced team in a far more difficult conference. Not only that, but would LeBron really want to be operating in Kobe Bryant’s shadow?
Barring something unforeseen, it appears as if the Lakers will set their sights initially on Paul George. The long rumored reunion between George and his home state of California has raged on for the last 12 months.
Lakers’ fans can forget about Kevin Durant leaving Golden State. The same can be said for Aaron Gordon with Orlando, Clint Capela with Houston, Zach LaVine with Chicago, and Jabari Parker with Milwaukee.
With Ball in tow, Chris Paul and Isaiah Thomas don’t appear to make much sense. As such, the most attractive options outside of George and James appear to be DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins, and Avery Bradley.
Bradley would replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who’s highly unlikely to be brought back into the fold. As a very good three-point shooter and an exceptional defender, Bradley would pair quite well next to Ball.
The frontcourt will need some help with the expected departures of both Brook Lopez and Julius Randle. Cousins is one of the game’s most elite offensive players. Though he’s got a volatile personality, Cousins is a walking double-double.
Jordan has a player option which would owe him $24.1 million next year. He doesn’t appear to be in the Clippers’ long term plan — which means he could opt out (if not traded elsewhere this season). He can’t hit free throws, though Jordan would shore up the back-end of the Lakers’ defense as an elite rim protector.
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