The Los Angeles Lakers finished the 2016-2017 season knowing that the off-season following it would be an important one for the franchise. The team hired new leadership by adding Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to the front office and held onto their top-three selection in the 2017 draft – a pick they used on point guard Lonzo Ball.
Draft week brought more moves with it. The Lakers’ new decision-makers made their first trade with the Brooklyn Nets by sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov east for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick – which they used on forward Kyle Kuzma.
Many analysts were critical of the decision to part ways with Russell, who was the Lakers’ second overall pick in 2015, but ultimately the move was made to get rid of the 48 million dollars the team owed Mozgov over the next three years.
On draft night, Johnson and Pelinka made one more trade by moving down from pick 28, a selection they received from the Houston Rockets in exchange for Lou Williams, to pick 30 and receiving pick 42 in return.
The team selected senior shooting guard Josh Hart at number 30 and sophomore center Thomas Bryant at 42. Both players fill needs for the Lakers and will be integral parts of the rotation next season. After the draft, rookie free agent guard P.J. Dozier agreed to a contract with the team.
Pelinka described the team’s 2018 cap space as “sacred,” so it is no surprise that the Lakers were quiet to start free agency. A few moves were made and former Detroit Pistons shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fell into their lap, agreeing to a one-year 18-million dollar deal.
The Pistons renounced the restricted-free agent’s rights almost two weeks into free agency, leaving many teams without any cap space to spend. The Lakers were the only team in league that could pay Caldwell-Pope more than the 16-million dollar offer he declined from the Pistons.
Former D-League standout David Nwaba became a cap casualty when the Lakers’ signed Caldwell-Pope, leaving them with two more rosters spots to fill. Summer league guard Alex Caruso played well-enough to earn a two-way contract from the team but the Lakers should still be looking to add another veteran ball-handler via free agency.
Lavar Ball, Lonzo Ball’s father, tried to speak something else “into existence” when he made more noise in the media by predicting that the Lakers’ summer league team would win the championship. His prediction did not look like it would come to fruition when the Lakers’ dropped their first two games.
However, since losing two in a row, the Lakers have won five straight games on their way to playing in the championship game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Ball has been nothing short of spectacular during their winning streak by recording two, triple-doubles and leading the summer league in assists.
Caruso and Kuzma will need to lead the way for the team and their play so far says they can. In the only other game Ball missed, Caruso scored 18 points and dished out nine assists in a victory over the Sacramento Kings. He also checked former Kentucky star De’Aaron Fox on the defensive end.
Kuzma is playing like the steal of the draft. In the six games he has played the 21-year old is averaging 20.5 points per game, fifth most by any player who played at least five games. He has also made 45 percent of his three-point attempts – giving the team a consistent outside threat.
The Lakers will take on the Trail Blazers on ESPN at 7 PM PST. It will be interesting to see if the team can keep up their stellar play without the presence of Ball on the floor. Stay tuned to see if the Lakers’ front office makes any other moves as the off-season winds down