Welcome to Lakers Lair Three-Man Weave, a subjective Lakers-related column where our resident Laker fans answer a series of questions regarding the Purple & Gold. For this edition, the gang gathers to discuss what the ideal price point for Julius Randle is, Luke Walton’s strides as a coach and Kyle Kuzma’s struggles with his shot. Our participants this week are:
1.) What’s the most you’d be willing to pay Julius Randle a year to stay in Los Angeles?
Allen: I believe Julius Randle deserves star-level money. He doesn’t deserve All-Star/superstar level money just yet. His game has grown immensely but he still has a lot of room to grow. In the league today, you need a four that can stretch the floor and Randle doesn’t do that for you. Yes, he can bring the ball up and make plays which is a huge plus, but his game is still missing a link. Also, he has a knack for ball-hogging just a little too much for me which is why I wouldn’t throw the kitchen sink at him just yet.
Cortes: Around $15-16 million per maybe? Randle has been awesome for the Lakers, maybe even Los Angeles’ best player and he deserves to get paid as such. During the early parts of this season, many fans were debating whether or not to pay Randle at all (I was always on board with keeping him). People argued whether he deserved the cap hold extension of around $12 million per season, and Randle’s performance has definitely exceeded $12 million per. He deserves to get paid.
King: I would say anywhere around the $16-20 million range. When I first saw this question I looked at other power forwards who Randle either surpasses in talent or potential and compared that to what those players are getting paid annually. Cody Zeller is making $14 million a year and I believe Randle has a similar, if not better, overall game and can add more consistent production than Zeller. On the high end of the annual wage, Ryan Anderson and Serge Ibaka are very solid and valuable big men who are making $20 and $21 million a year respectively, and you could make the case that Randle either reaches their level of production or may exceed it. It is important that Randle understands his market value. Although his value may be rather high given his recent play, if he is to demand a steep asking price once the season is over, the Lakers may choose to cut ties with him and free up space to draw that dream superstar to Los Angeles. Let’s hope he doesn’t ask for too much and he stays in Purple and Gold.
2.) What has Luke Walton improved on the most as a coach between this season and last?
Allen: Walton has done a great job of getting these guys to play team basketball again. We saw it early on in the season and has it progressed, guys looked unmotivated and began to play for themselves. At this moment, these guys look like the Lakers we saw early and it shows just how good these guys can be.
Cortes: Let’s talk about the things Luke Walton has done so far as the coach. He’s transformed this team to be a near-elite defensively after being one of the worst defenses in the league in the previous season. He has already exceeded the win total from the previous year as well. He has coached the team to one of its best stretches since the pre-Achilles Kobe Bryant era. All of this Walton has done with a fairly young team. In the previous season, Walton was a rookie in his own right, so mistakes were bound to be made. He has addressed a lot, if not, all his mistakes and has transformed himself into one of the most promising coaches we have in the league.
King: Defense and winning. Walton has placed a heavy emphasis on pushing the tempo this year and increasing the pace of play. Part of this increased pace, which has been upped by 2.2 per 48 minutes from last season, is due to this commitment on the defensive side of the ball that leads to contested shots late in the shot clock, and even creating turnovers which have resulted in easy transition baskets. The athleticism and length that the Lakers possess on the wings have led to them creating an identity and toughness that was lacking last year. Part of this new identity Walton crafted by drafting two effective and very active defenders in Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Walton has brought a certain blue-collar work-ethic to this team and is holding the young players accountable. He has done a better job at letting them play through these struggles rather than take away minutes from them in favor of veterans. Not to mention he is winning more, so as long as he is not losing more games than the year before, there is a reason to be optimistic about Walton going forward.
3.) Kyle Kuzma is shooting 41% over his last 22 games. Hitting the rookie wall or being doomed by bad shot selection?
Allen: I think he’s just hitting a tough stretch that’s all. I’ve seen many people starting to write him off but I believe it’s just a rough patch at the moment. It’s a long season that rookies are not accustomed to so it could just be that rookie wall that we see many young players hit. Kyle Kuzma will be okay. I’m not worried one bit.
Cortes: It’s a little bit of both. He hit the rookie wall earlier, however, he tried to get around it as quickly as he could, trying to get his shot going even if it wasn’t a high-quality look. Kuz continued shooting poorly due to bad shot selection, however, he has gotten over that hump and has started to play like the Kuzma we all love. People forget that he is still a rookie, mistakes like these happen and its all a part of getting better.
King: Tough stretch. Kuzma has a quick trigger finger and will continue to put up contested shot after contested shot. Attempts just aren’t falling like they were earlier in the season. Fortunately for him, like Ball, he doesn’t appear to be rattled if his shots are going in or not. Yes, there are bad shots at times, but nothing to worry about for Lakers fans. Shooters are going to shoot.
4.) The Lakers can make the playoffs as a ____ seed next season.
Allen: 8th seed. The Lakers have shown their true potential and if they could get a big name to add to these young guys that they have, the playoffs will definitely be in their future. Their major focus going forward should be consistency on both sides of the floor. Once they find that consistency and confidence that they can play with any team, the playoffs will be in their reach.
Cortes: Assuming they can land Paul George, keep Julius Randle (the dream Lakers scenario), and play the defense they’ve been playing for the majority of the season, I feel they can reach the 6th or 5th seed Adding Paul George will boost their win total, and Kuzma, Ball, Brandon Ingram, and even Randle will surely look to improve. The ceiling is high for these guys in my opinion, and if everything goes as planned for them, I think they can reach the 6th seed, heck, even the 7th seed would be a good start for them.
King: 6th seed. I am going to be tad bit ambitious but at the same time, I feel like it is realistic and Los Angeles can take a giant step forward. With how well the team knows they are capable of playing through certain stretches of the season, in order to be a contender in the Western Conference, you need to keep those stretches going for longer periods of time. Also, this team has had a tendency to not stay locked in for the full 48 minutes of games and not show up to play in winnable games. Addressing serious roster issues that exist going into the offseason, the core should stay the same and adding a superstar in free-agency (cough LeBron or George cough) will only boost the play of others and the winning atmosphere that Magic Johnson wants to bring back to LA. We already see flashes of brilliance with this roster when all the players are clicking and spacing the floor properly while playing sound defense. That play just has to be over the course of 82 games and not in spurts throughout the season. Next year, these issues are resolved, The roster gets stronger and the Lakers end up back in the playoffs where they belong.
5.) You can pick one rapper and producer for Lonzo to collaborate with over the summer. Who are you going with?
Allen: Nas and Pharrell… He needs to learn his history.
Cortes: Future and Metro Boomin. It’s a new era…
King: Damian Lillard and OG Parker. After seeing what OG Parker did with ‘Culture‘ for Migos, I would love to see how he would handle Dame and Zo going verse for verse on a couple tracks.