Los Angeles Lakers

Fans should curtail expectations for next season

Los Angeles’ offseason has fans chirping about a potential playoff berth in 2017-2018. While a trip to the postseason would be nice, the odds of the Los Angeles Lakers making it there are incredibly small.

The Los Angeles Lakers have easily enjoyed their most successful summer over the course of the last several years. Saying otherwise would be a bunch of bologna.

First off, the ball club hit a home run in the NBA draft by selecting former UCLA Bruin Lonzo Ball. Ball will slide in as the team’s starting point guard once October approaches. For the select few that have not been paying attention, this teenager proved over the summer that he is more than worthy of that title.

Other picks in the draft such as Kyle Kuzma carry the potential to be key assets for the Lakers as well. The versatility Kuzma put on display this summer grants Luke Walton with the freedom to explore various lineup combinations.

Before the draft itself occurred, though, arose the somewhat controversial news that D’Angelo Russell was traded. As a result, the purple and gold obtained an upgrade at center in the form of Brook Lopez. The squad also gained future financial flexibility by dumping the contract of Timofey Mozgov in the process.

Additionally, the Lakers picked up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope via free agency in mid-July. The signing projects to give the Lakers a reliable perimeter shooter and defender in the backcourt—areas they were in dire need of.

Moves along these lines certainly look good from an on-paper standpoint. This is what has caused many Lakers fans to jump for joy.

It is not fair to say that the excitement is invalid. In all likelihood, these transactions along with the other minor ones that have occurred will result in progress.

It is also reasonable to anticipate improvement due to the kind of work certain Lakers have put in. The efforts of power forward Julius Randle in particular have been well-documented for over a couple months. At the bare minimum, said efforts infer that Randle could have a breakout campaign.

However, Randle is not the only Laker pumping iron. Sophomores Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have reportedly been putting in their fair share of time, too.

In an article by Victor Galvez of ClutchPoints, a short video link of the pair is included. The video highlights the two youngsters in the gym, a welcome sign for bleeders of the purple and gold.

On account of the shakeup and the hard work happening behind the scenes, a better season than the last few seems very likely.  It is important, though, for fans to somewhat tailor expectations.

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Yes, it is possible that guys like Randle will finally have breakout years and that their rookie sensation will live up to the hype.

Even supposing that, part of the problem is that the Lakers are in the Western Conference. The West was already deep and during the offseason it only got deeper.

It is okay to speculate that the Lakers could sneak away with the eighth seed if all goes right. As great as that would be, the odds of that are slim. Expecting that everything will be smooth is not practical.

The team is chock full of young talent, but a lot of their potential remains to be seen at this stage.

Harrison Faigen of SB Nation communicates a similar point in a recent piece.

Those things are all true, but for the Lakers to make the playoffs, everyone on the roster would have to outperform expectations, and that’s precisely why it’s so unlikely. The Western Conference got even better and more competitive this season, and it’s really hard to project the Lakers even leapfrogging all four of the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans (all teams ESPN has projected ahead of them).

It is hard to deny Faigen’s claim because many would indeed have to outdo themselves. Some will perhaps manage to do so, but not each and every member.

Given the previously stated youth factor, too, some degree of growth pains will be inevitable.

Even with regard to their 19-year-old rookie sensation Ball, the same will likely occur to him. Transitioning to the NBA is no picnic and the timing on some of his passes may not always be precise early in the season.

Let alone Ball, many sets of eyes will be on Ingram. While many believe a massive increase in his scoring will occur in 2017-2018, it is unlikely. Those numbers will go up, but they are not going to double themselves in a heartbeat.

Another component that is key to bear in mind is their bench situation. Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles addresses this element of their team.

Along with [Jordan] Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. appears to be about the only certainty off the bench, as Lakers coach Luke Walton will likely get creative with his lineups as the season progresses.

While players like Clarkson carry the potential to win hardware, there are not as many guarantees off the pine right now. A couple of the team’s best bench scorers from last year are now members of a couple division foes.

This places further weight on the bench to produce, which may be more of a bad thing in all sincerity.

Defense is the absolute biggest thing to stew over. Collectively, the Lakers will probably continue to be in the bottom half of the league on that end of the floor.

ESPN staff writer Kevin Pelton argues this, too, and goes as far as to say that L.A. will be number 28 defensively. Granted such a ranking sounds extremely harsh, it is hard to imagine the Lakers being in the upper echelon of the league in that aspect.

Caldwell-Pope was added for this reason, but, let’s face it—only one player can do so much. The extra efforts on defense will need to come from all five gracing the hardwood.

Defense is just as much a mental thing than it is physical. The Lakers have simply not shown the desire at times to compete on this end. Accordingly, it is tough to anticipate a total turnaround.

Pelton also estimated that the purple and gold will win around 33 games. Projections are not always a strong indicator of what will occur, but this tally is probably about right.

This suggests that some improvement will take place. On the other hand, it is not improvement of the drastic variety. There are too many “if’s” surrounding the team, not to mention the lack of elite talent and the poor defense that is going to continue.

Their head coach is fairly inexperienced himself, and 2017-2018 will carry with it every bit as much of a learning curve for him than the roster itself. The Lakers are slowly ascending—that is undeniable. Said fact aside, a bit of time is still required for the team to reach its maximum capabilities. L.A. Lakers followers will need to hold their horses just a little bit more.

The constellations would have to consummately align for even a shot at the final playoff seed. Thus (while no one enjoys Debbie Downers), they will likely not sniff the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

Los Angeles’ time is on the horizon. Before their time comes, though, more mountains and valleys should not come as a surprise.

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