LA Lakers' Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason
Winning and losing is everything in sports. It can be the most obvious of things—such as the Los Angeles Lakers’ worst-ever loss record in franchise history at 27-55 for the 2013-14 season.
Or, it can be a win in the guise of a silver lining, such as getting into the NBA draft lottery by virtue of such a terrible record.
The Lakers did well on the night of June 26—selecting Julius Randle at the No. 7 slot and following that up by purchasing the rights to the Washington Wizards’ No. 46 draft pick and choosing Jordan Clarkson, a hyper-athletic ball-handling guard.
Clarkson led all Lakers in scoring during the Las Vegas Summer League.
The offseason continued with free agency and the choosing of a new head coach in Byron Scott—the announcement of which took a full three months to come to fruition.
With 13 players now on the roster and a coach in place, there’s not much else to do except wait for training camp to arrive and weigh some of the biggest winners and losers of the Lakers’ offseason.
Loser: The Lakers’ Brand
One of the NBA’s crown jewels has lost some luster—it’s hard to argue that fact. The Lakers front office has been presenting a stiff upper lip in the face of increasingly stormy winds.
Heading into the summer free-agency period, general manager Mitch Kupchak said, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN L.A.: “We’re still going to pitch that this is a championship franchise and that's going to be our goal.”
That pitch didn’t work so well. It’s easy to argue that the Lakers never really had a chance at LeBron James—his heart was set on returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But they also failed to sway Carmelo Anthony, who decided to remain with the New York Knicks.
Management couldn’t even persuade its own top free agent, Pau Gasol, to stay.
The biggest summer acquisition was Jeremy Lin, who arrived via a trade from the Houston Rockets, and the second most newsworthy transaction occurred when L.A. tossed a $3.25 million bid at an amnestied Carolos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls.
In other words, star players are not coming to the Lakers of their own volition. The team’s most persuasive arguments were re-signing Jordan Hill, Nick Young and a few others from last season’s roster.
But photo ops of role players looking at championship trophies do little to burnish a brand that is losing its appeal season by losing season.
Lakers fans will remain true, and that is as it should be. But the franchise itself is no longer the premier shopping destination that it once was, regardless of the size of its media market or the presence of Hollywood stars sitting courtside.
The only thing that will truly change the perception is winning games again.
Winner: Julius Randle
The Lakers scored a solid win when they chose Julius Randle as their No. 7 pick in this year’s draft. The big man from Kentucky is a bruising double-double machine with the kind of fundamental skills and work ethic that will help forge a new identity for a team in need of a makeover.
Randle has a style that’s tailor-made for new head coach Byron Scott—he’s an aggressive rebounder who loves to score in the paint.
Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show, Scott was asked what he knew about Randle and replied: “I know the young kid is very gifted. Offensively, he can rebound the ball, he can score in the post, he’s probably got about a 15-foot range. He can handle the ball extremely well for a big man. I look at him as a Zach Randolph but more athletic.”
Where Randle will need to improve the most will be on the defensive end—he doesn’t have great lateral quickness, and guarding some of the shiftier NBA power forwards will be a challenge.
But under a coach who is pledging defensive responsibility and with a lot of work, Randle will get there.
And if summer league action was any indication, the power forward might even try busting a few point guard moves. After some successful and not-so-successful dribble-drive attempts, Randle said, per Mike Bresnahan for the Los Angeles Times, “I think it’s a part of my game. Whether it’s create for myself or create for others, yeah, I think so.”
Drafting Randle was a winning move for the Lakers, but they may want to temper his point-forward aspirations.
Loser: Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer has been a starter for his entire NBA career. All good things must end sometime.
He was amnestied by a Chicago Bulls team that could very well compete for an NBA title this year. And when he officially signed his contract with the Lakers, he got to admire shiny championship trophies in Jeanie Buss’ office.
During his press conference, per Lakers.com, Boozer glanced back up in the direction of those trophies and said: “I’m excited about those championship balls up there, that’s what we play for. That’s why I’m here, to help us get back to that level.”
That’s the right thing to say, and in fact, it is admirable that Boozer is putting forth a positive image as he begins his transition to a new team. But there’s a reason Tom Thibodeau didn’t trust him to close out games last year for the Bulls.
Boozer is not only a defensive liability, but his best days are behind him. Plain and simple. And while he may start games as the season begins, he will lose that long-cherished status before too long as the Lakers' power forward of the future—Julius Randle—takes over.
Winner: Jeremy Lin
After being traded from the Houston Rockets to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin finds himself with a perfect opportunity to establish himself as the point guard of the future for a team that is in sore need of help.
The only other Lakers currently inhabiting that slot are Steve Nash, whose great talent cannot overcome the reality of chronic injuries, and Clarkson, the second-round draft pick who can play both guard positions and will likely get decent backup minutes this season as he develops.
But it is Lin who has the most to gain after his too-brief ascension with the New York Knicks in 2012 and two sometimes-frustrating seasons with the Rockets, ultimately losing his starting role to Patrick Beverley.
Lin isn’t worried about the past; he’s looking toward the future. As he said during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com, “I’m not trying to recreate Linsanity or be that phenomenon that happened in New York. I just want to be myself more than ever.”
The 6’3” guard has tremendous ball-handling skills, the ability to drive hard to the basket, good ball-passing mechanics and an above-average basketball IQ.
The Lakers didn’t acquire any of the marquee free agents they lobbied for this summer, but they scored an unexpected win when Houston made Lin available.
Loser: Jim Buss
During recent introductory press conferences, one important Laker has been conspicuous by his reluctance to be front and center and, usually, to be anywhere in the vicinity.
Jim Buss is the head of basketball operations but often seems a distant presence who has willingly allowed precious assets to slip away—one obvious example being Phil Jackson, now the president of the New York Knicks.
Buss is well aware of his previous missteps. So much so that he made a unique promise this past winter.
In April, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times wrote about a summit meeting between the six Buss siblings—Jim, Jeanie, Johnny, Janie, Jessie and Joey—to try and make sense of a season that was going down the tubes. At the time, Jim pledged to step down in a few years if the team’s fortunes weren't reversed:
I was laying myself on the line by saying, if this doesn't work in three to four years, if we're not back on the top — and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship — then I will step down because that means I have failed. I don't know if you can fire yourself if you own the team … but what I would say is I'd walk away and you guys figure out who's going to run basketball operations because I obviously couldn't do the job.
You can’t lay the inability to sign free agency’s top players solely at the feet of Buss. But you can certainly say Jackson’s presence in New York had something to do with Carmelo Anthony staying there.
Buss has had an obvious opportunity to step front and center this summer, welcome new and returning players in a public way and state his vision for the team as they move toward a new season.
Instead, he punted those opportunities away at each and every turn, leaving it all up to his general manager. That’s poor leadership, and it’s the mark of a loser.
Winner: Byron Scott
If Jim Buss loses points by not showing up to Byron Scott’s press conference, Scott himself is a winner for presenting hope and a positive yet pragmatic vision for the future. He was backed up by three former Showtime teammates in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, who stood alongside him at the event.
Per Josh Peter of USA Today, Scott’s former teammates had warm words of support, including these from Johnson: “We came here today to support our brother and former teammate and champion, and we also came here to support the Laker organization. We're just excited for what Byron will bring to the table and get back to playing Laker basketball."
As Peter further notes, it didn’t take Johnson long to add some practical advice, critiquing the team’s woeful rebounding and defensive rotations last season.
It took three months from the time Mike D’Antoni resigned to the moment that Scott finally got the nod. That’s a long time to dangle a guy on the hook. He wasn’t my first choice if truth be told—I was holding out hope for Lionel Hollins.
But Scott is saying all the right things and finally has the job that he so clearly wanted for so long.
Mike D’Antoni is not a bad coach—he is one of basketball’s true innovators and a brilliant offensive tactician. But he was a terrible choice for a team made up of disparate and wildly uneven talents—an oddball collection of young open-court misfits and post-centric veterans.
The Lakers never stood a chance.
They will under Scott. Whether they can advance into the playoffs is something that simply can’t be predicted. But the newest sideline leader will organize the team and put it on the right heading for the first time in years.
He’ll also have a willing partner in Kobe Bryant—his onetime rookie protege.
Scott presents an interesting bridge from the past to the future. And at least for now, he’s one of the most obvious offseason winners.