The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off the worst season in franchise history, but Thursday's schedule release for the 2016-17 NBA regular season generated feelings of hopefulness and new beginnings for the storied organization.
Kobe Bryant is no longer in the fold after retiring in epic fashion on the heels of a 60-point performance, but No. 2 overall draft pick Brandon Ingram will look to take his place as the face of the franchise. Youngsters, such as D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, are expected to make significant strides as well.
Add in free-agent acquisitions, such as Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, and the Lakers may have the pieces in place to improve upon the meager win total of 17 that they posted in 2015-16.
Here is a full rundown of L.A.'s schedule during the upcoming season, along with a closer look at some of the top matchups and predictions for how the team will fare.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 p.m. ET vs. Houston Rockets
Championship Odds: 200-1 (via Odds Shark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
First Overall Matchup: Friday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. ET at Philadelphia
The Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers were the NBA's two worst teams in 2015-16, combining for just 27 wins, but there promises to be plenty of fanfare when they meet for the first time in 2016-17.
That is due to the fact that the contest will feature the top two selections from the 2016 NBA draft in Ben Simmons and Ingram.
The Sixers had their pick of the litter, and they decided to go with the LSU forward over Ingram, which is something the former Duke standout could use to his advantage as motivation.
Ingram and Simmons did face off once during the Summer League, and although the intensity and meaning of a regular-season game are far different, Simmons came out on top in Round 1, per Did The Sixers Win? on Twitter:
While Simmons may be the better all-around player due to his ability to fill up the stat sheet, Ingram showed off his rare offensive acumen during his Summer League stint.
As seen in this video from NBA TV, Ingram is particularly adept at hitting long-range shots:
He isn't a one-trick pony, though, as evidenced by this swipe and slam, courtesy of the Lakers' official Twitter account:
Simmons and Ingram have a chance to be two of the NBA's top players for many years to come, and they are both tasked with bringing once-proud franchises from the basement of the league to the penthouse.
They promise to have several intriguing battles over the next decade-plus, but there is always a great deal of excitement when it comes to the first time two highly touted players meet.
Philadelphia may very well have made the right decision by selecting Simmons, but Ingram has a golden opportunity to prove that he deserved a longer look.
First Home Matchup: Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Prior to his decision to re-sign, Westbrook was linked closely to the Lakers, and there was speculation that a trade could go down or that he could decide to sign with them during the offseason.
Westbrook is a California native who attended UCLA, so the allure of going back home is something that many felt could influence the five-time All-Star.
While the atmosphere may not be as exciting as it would have been had Westbrook entered the season on the final year of his deal, it will be interesting to see how he is greeted by the L.A. faithful.
The Lakers aren't likely to lose 65 games again in 2016-17, but their progress depends largely on how the young core of Ingram, Russell, Randle and Clarkson comes together and improves.
Los Angeles did add some pieces to supplement the youngsters in the form of Deng and Mozgov. Neither are game-changers, but Deng gives them the do-everything small forward they have lacked, while Mozgov can be an interior defensive force when he is on his game.
Although Bryant was quite inefficient during his final NBA season, he was the Lakers' go-to scorer, which is something they must replace. Ingram could be that guy over time, but expecting him to average close to 20 points per game as a rookie may be somewhat ambitious.
Provided Russell, Randle and Clarkson all take at least intermediate steps forward around him, though, L.A. figures to be a far more difficult team to play against.
That won't make the Lakers playoff contenders and it may not even get them out of the Western Conference basement, but an eight-win improvement would be a promising step forward as they look to become a championship-caliber franchise once again in the near future.
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