No one is uttering the words, but the retirement of Kobe Bryant lifted a huge shadow hanging over the Los Angeles Lakers, feeling for the first time in three or four seasons that there’s something to look forward towards.
The Lakers were very happy with what they saw from their young players in Summer League, despite Larry Nance spraining his wrist, in what could have been a much more serious injury. D’Angelo Russell seems ready to take over the team, Brandon Ingram seems to be fitting in quite nicely and has a good shot at winning rookie of the year, while Ivica Zubac surprised everyone. The Lakers believe the 19 year old Bosnian center has a bright future in the NBA.
It’s probably too soon to talk about playoffs, with the team not being deep enough or, simply put, good enough to challenge in the ever changing Western Conference. But after three seasons of waiting for the rot and decay to end, there’s a sense that there’s nothing holding players like Russell and Jordan Clarkson, re-signed very quickly by the team to avoid any RFA complications, from showing off their full potential. No Bryant, no Byron Scott.
Russell, entering his second season in the league, had a fantastic time in Summer League, averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 48% from the field. Sophomores often look like they’re a level or two above everyone else during Summer League action, but Russell had his good moments last season too, when Scott wasn’t interrupting, or the team wasn’t busy hating on him. With Nick Young basically out of the picture, it seems Russell is now free to take over as the point guard of this team.
There might be a problem getting everyone involved, with Clarkson and Ingram, alongside Russell, happy to take the ball. Luol Deng is going to be the veteran wing man who teaches everyone from his experience, and Nance Jr. is also on the rise, while Julius Randle is someone the Lakers aren’t quite sure about. He puts up nice numbers, but his potential might be limited, and this season will teach them about how good he can be.
Luke Walton brings a fresh spirit to the bench, not to mention the taste of success after the last two years in Golden State. With tanking no longer a goal they have to follow, the Lakers believe they have the right pieces to build a solid foundation of success, while bringing in premier free agents in the future. Part of the learning in this season will also be who doesn’t belong, and isn’t good enough to count on for the years to come.