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. With 2017 out the window and a new year of Lakers basketball on the horizon, our guys hop in the Lair to discuss the absence of Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle’s future with the team and the reported rising tensions within the locker room. Our participants for this edition are:
1. What have you noticed about this Lakers team in the games they’ve been without Lonzo Ball?
Cortes: Without Lonzo Ball, they’re almost lifeless. There’s no pace and flow to the game without Ball. The offense looks stagnant, the team plays slow, and the Lakers just don’t function well without him. Defensively, they’ve suffered without Ball as well. Overall, the Lakers look bad without Ball on the floor.
Boyer: That their offense is very vanilla. Advanced metrics paint a picture that challenges the “Lonzo Ball makes the Lakers better” campaign, but it’s plain to see that Los Angeles misses what Ball brings offensively, minus his horrid, yet improving, shooting. Ball is an orchestrator and organizer and his pass-first mentality is contagious. Los Angeles’ roster has guys like Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson who will never shy away from going rogue in order to get their own shot, and Ball being sidelined deprives of the Lakers of a guy that can reel them in and recalibrate things when needed.
King: That the Lakers need a veteran presence backing him up. While the veteran back-up may not be able to produce the spark and energy that Lonzo Ball creates, the Lakers can create some consistent play and a less stagnant offense. Without Ball we see Jordan Clarkson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope taking contested looks early in the shot clock, and on nights where those shots are not falling, teams go on heavy scoring stretches against Los Angeles’ young and aggressive defense.
2. There are rumors that tensions are rising within the Lakers locker room. What should the organization do to cool things off?
Cortes: Honestly, I don’t know what you can do to cool off the tensions. The media will always find out any stories, true or not, about the Lakers and this can disrupt the team. It’s easier said than done to tell the players that they’re not going be traded because if you do indeed go that route, it’s simple to think that they’re just saying that for sake of saving face. At this point, I think it’s best to sweep it under the rug and let them play ball.
Boyer: There’s not much that can be done. Basketball is a business first and foremost, and if any Lakers player that’s been locker room over the past several seasons struggled to understand that, it should’ve been made clear this past summer with the trade of D’Angelo Russell. No player wants to entertain the prospect of being traded, but if your name isn’t LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard or James Harden, the thought must be in the back of your mind. It may be too late to try to quell things over, but as a player, you’ve got to try to ignore the rumors, no matter how tough that exercise may be.
King: I am going to revert back to what was said in the previous question and that is adding a veteran back-up point guard to set a tone and attitude in the locker room when things aren’t going great. At the Lakers’ core, they are a young team sprinkled with some veterans in Brook Lopez, Andrew Bogut, and Corey Brewer. Possibly trading away a Bogut for that veteran point guard like a Devin Harris or a Cory Joseph to solidify the locker room and run the point when Ball is taking a breather would prove to be helpful. Now, adding a Harris or Joseph won’t change the tide of the Lakers organization just by being in the locker room, they can provide valuable minutes on the court. Bogut seems like the odd man out, especially with him working on a one-year deal for only $2.3 million. Shipping out Bogut would lend the opportunity for increased minutes to second-year man Ivica Zubac. This teams needs leadership and should definitely be in the market for someone to ignite that initial flame and calm the storm going on in the locker room.
3. On a scale of 1-10, how inevitable do you think it is that Julius Randle gets traded?
Cortes: I don’t want to say it, but probably a six or seven, which is considerably high for someone playing the best basketball of his life. The Lakers have one plan in mind, which is to clear as much cap space as they can for a run at Paul George, LeBron James and/or DeMarcus Cousins. In order to do that, they can’t pay Randle the money he will look for and will need to get Luol Deng off the books as well. I don’t think they should trade Randle at all because what he brings to the table can’t be found elsewhere in the league aside from a couple of players, but that is another story.
Boyer: An eight. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are determined to expedite the Lakers’ rebuilding process by snagging a star or two in free agency, and it appears as if Julius Randle and or Jordan Clarkson will become casualties to the game of fiscal gymnastics Los Angeles is going to have to play in order to obtain a George, James or Cousins. Randle covets a sizable pay-day (can’t fault a man for chasing the bag, especially when he’s having such a strong season), and the Lakers won’t be able to provide him with the one he’s looking for. The writing on the wall points to the Lakers’ marriage with Randle ending before the trade deadline or in the offseason, and the only hope is that the split is an amicable one.
King: A seven. I’m with Ralph on this, I would hate to see him go but it’s looking pretty dim for Julius Randle staying with the Lakers. After getting put on the bench to begin the season in favor of Larry Nance Jr., it seemed as if his fate was already determined by the front office. When Nance Jr. went down with the broken hand earlier in the year it was a perfect opportunity for Randle to fight for his starting job back and eventually his position on this team next year. He performed admirably but didn’t wow anybody and he may have plateaued. With the Lakers appearing to make a decision on either keeping him or Clarkson, one can understand fully if the Lakers choose to go with Clarkson. Clarkson is a guard who can provide instant scoring off the bench, intensity on the defensive end and versatility in defending either guard position. In other words, he is a valuable guard the Lakers don’t want to see go. On the other end is Randle, who’s attributes can be provided by Nance Jr. Nance Jr. is cheaper and seems to stay even-keeled through the good and the bad. Getting assets for Randle should be a priority near the trade deadline.
4. Who’s a player you hope to see on the court more in 2018?
Cortes: More Thomas Bryant! The new Bryant in town has shown a lot of promise ever since the Summer League and has been killing it in the G-League. He’s everything you want in a modern NBA center. He can run the floor and stretch it as well. I am very interested in what he can do and one can hope he pans out so that the Lakers can be four out of four in the 2017 draft.
Boyer: Josh Hart. Although he’s at 30.5 MPG over the Lakers’ last five contests, I’d like to eventually see Hart inserted in the starting lineup. Politics may prevent Hart from being pegged as a starter over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but Hart furnishes the Lakers with the same exact things that Caldwell-Pope does, minus the erratic shot selection. Hart’s ability to guard multiple positions is valuable in Los Angeles’ switch-happy scheme, and he’s upped his three-point percentage to 37.5% on the season. When Hart’s numbers are stretched using the per 36 minutes qualifier, he’s at 37.5% on four attempts from downtown per game. That’s the ideal volume and efficiency you want from a three-and-D guy, which is what Hart’s role currently is for this team.
King: This goes without saying but it’s Ivica Zubac. I really liked what I saw out of his rookie year and fell in love with his game in the Summer League of his rookie season. He is a big body who can bang down low and give you solid play off the bench. With an uptick in minutes, the Lakers can grow a very solid and effective bench, not to mention a young one. I was torn on this answer because of my fanhood to Villanova and Josh Hart, but I believe that Hart is seeing the floor a good amount and has earned the minutes he has worked for. With that being said, Zubac is a guy who will set picks and roll hard to the basket and drop floaters and hook shots until defenses have to game-plan for it. After only averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebound per game off 16.0 minutes per game his rookie year, he has seen his numbers fall to just 1.0 points per game, 1.0 rebounds per game on a mere 3.5 minutes per game. I hope we see an increased role from Zubac and he replicates some of the success he had his rookie season.
5. Which bad habit would you like to see the Lakers leave in 2017: the turnovers or missed free-throws?
Cortes: Free-throws, for sure. Lakers have the ability to keep the turnovers low as seen in some games this season, but I can’t remember two or more games in which the Lakers had a solid night at the line. The Lakers are currently 11-25 and a handful of those games can be attributed to the free-throw epidemic currently happening in Los Angeles. They are called free-throws for a reason, perfect it. It wins games.
Boyer: Free-throws. The Lakers have left a handful of games at the line and it has been one of the most miffing developments of this season. Brandon Ingram has reverted back to his woeful free-throw line form from his rookie season, Lonzo Ball at the charity stripe is always a misadventure and Julius Randle is pretty bad. Eight Lakers players have attempted at least 50 free-throws so far this season, and four of those players are sub 70% (Ingram, Ball, Randle, Larry Nance Jr.) It’s no wonder why the Lakers are dead-last in free-throw percentage.
King: Definitely free-throws. Especially when that is the deciding factor in close games. The Lakers could have closed out several opponents this year had they converted on their free-throw attempts late in the game. When you watch this Lakers team, it seems as if they always find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. The most frustrating thing is that as a team, they fail to take advantage of the free points given to them. Especially when you see Lonzo getting the ball from the ref and just throwing it up immediately once he gets it. As BJ brought up, even Ingram has taken a step back in his progression from the free-throw line, clanking shots off the back rim more times than I can count. It seems that there is no confidence to the Lakers’ shooting and that can clearly be represented by their free-throw percentage.