Los Angeles Lakers Will Have Their Work Cut Out for Them at NBA Summer League

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterJuly 9, 2014

The Los Angeles Lakers owner general manager Mitch Kupchak, left, and Lakers part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jim Buss, right, introduce forward Julius Randle, middle, Monday, June 30, 2014 in El Segundo, Calif. Former Kentucky forward Julius Randle was selected seventh overall by the Lakers during the 2014 NBA draft. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Not a meaningless moment has passed since the Los Angeles Lakers' miserable 2013-14 season came to a close. Between their preparations for the 2014 NBA draft and their plotting for superstar swoops in free agency, the Lakers have been consumed with sorting through a cacophony of crucial details regarding their uncertain future.

As if general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss needed anything else to fret about this time of year, they've got the upcoming summer league in Las Vegas with which to concern themselves.

And for good reason. With so few players currently under contract with the big club (i.e. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre) and so many potential permutations as to who might be—and who could coach them—the Lakers will have some serious work to do in Sin City to secure even the slightest semblance of certitude for the summer ahead.

There's plenty still to be done before the Lakers send their contingent across the border to Nevada for the start of Las Vegas Summer League on July 11. First and foremost, they'll have to sign Julius Randle, the No. 7 pick in last month's draft, before they can hope to see what he looks like in purple and gold. Randle's been cleared to play since seeing a foot specialist in Indianapolis but has yet to sign a contract as the Lakers try to preserve every sliver of cap space they can for the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

"We'll see," Randle told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin about participating in L.A.'s opener against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. "It’s kind of really out of my hands right now. I’m ready to play whenever, but it’s not really in my hands right now."

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Julius Randle (Kentucky) walks off the stage after being selected as the number seven overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

To be sure, Randle wouldn't be the only Laker worth tracking in the event that he's signed in time. Up front, the Lakers will get a good, long look at former New York Knicks center Jerome Jordan, 2011 Los Angeles Clippers draftee Trey Thompkins, Florida State rookie Xavier Gibson and Minnesota Golden Gopher-turned-German leaguer Trevor Mbakwe. Given the dearth of quality big men on both the Lakers roster and the free-agent market, at least one of these guys could be in for a cup of coffee with the big club come fall.

Not that L.A. is that much more stacked in the backcourt. The age and fragility of Bryant and Nash will make finding depth behind them of the utmost importance to the Lakers, at least when it comes to filling out the final few spots.

To that end, Jordan Clarkson could be a good fit. The Lakers bought his rights from the Washington Wizards on draft night for $1.8 million once he went off the board with the No. 46 pick. At 6'5", Clarkson sports both the size and the scoring touch to be a 2-guard but would seem to slot himself at the point.

"I feel like I was one of the better point guards in the draft, maybe the best," Clarkson told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "Just falling out of the first round and being selected in the second round, but the number really doesn’t matter where you get drafted. It’s about the fit. That’s where I get my chip from."

Mar 14, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers guard Jordan Clarkson (5) looks to pass against Florida Gators center Patric Young (4) during the first half in the quarterfinals of the SEC college basketball tournament at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: D

If Clarkson's got a chip on his shoulder, DeAndre Kane must be carrying around a boulder. The Marshall-turned-Iowa State product averaged close to 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists as a senior for the Cyclones, only to see his name left uncalled at the draft. Like Clarkson, Kane can play either guard spot, thanks to his 6'4" frame and diverse skill set.

As far as pure point guards are concerned, Kendall Marshall has a clear leg up on the competition. He averaged eight points and 8.8 assists while shooting nearly 40 percent from three for the Lakers last season.

Trouble is, that good work by Marshall came under the auspices of Mike D'Antoni, who parted ways with the Lakers at the end of April. L.A. has yet to hire D'Antoni's replacement, which hasn't made Marshall's job any easier.

"It's a little hard because one thing I take pride in as a point guard is knowing my offense and defense like the back of my hand," Marshall told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "But it’s kind of hard to do that right now. So, it's focusing on just getting better and doing things that can be successful no matter who the coach is."

Marshall will have his fair share of competition, too, particularly from former Dallas Mavericks guard Rodrigue Beaubois. The Frenchman averaged 7.1 points and 2.1 assists in four seasons with the Mavs before spending the 2013-14 campaign in Belgium.

Should the Lakers swing and miss on the high-profile free agents they've been pursuing in some capacity ('Melo, LeBron, Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza), they may have to more closely consider someone (or someones) from a largely uninspiring group of wing-forwards on their Vegas Summer League team to come into camp. Few non-NCAA diehards will recognize names like LaQuinton Ross, Roscoe Smith, Renaldo Woolridge, Kevin Murphy and Scott Wood, but Lakers fans sure could before the month of July is through.

This isn't to overstate the importance of summer league to any franchise, including the Lakers. For many, this will be the first taste of NBA basketball they get. For some, it will be the only such sample. The quality of play won't so much as sniff even the preseason, nor will the opportunities for further employment afforded therein.

But for a franchise as deeply in flux as the Lakers are, every moment counts—even the ones that seem most meaningless.


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