The Los Angeles Lakers, who failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1974-1976, are winless in three preseason games ahead of the 2015-2016 season. Yet, there is a prevailing sense of optimism surrounding the club with multiple new faces in an overhauled roster.
Barring a lopsided trade, the Lakers won't be contending for the NBA Finals next season. But that doesn't mean this current roster won't be interesting to watch. It seems like there is no where to go but up for the Lakers, with the return of some key players and some intriguing additions. The 2015-2016 Lakers should see a noticeable uptick in intensity from last year's miserable season.
Here are 10 things to be aware of with the season opener on Oct. 28.
No Tanking This Season
Teams never admit to tanking, but last season there was certainly a feeling that the Lakers were not desperate for wins with the hopes of landing an elite prospect with a top-5 draft pick. The Lakers would have to be particularly terrible in the upcoming season to have a shot at keeping their 2016 draft pick. The pick will go to the Philadelphia 76ers, unless the ping-pong balls bounce the Lakers way and somehow land one of the first three picks. Since that's the case, expect the Lakers to play with renewed effort and to scrap together a lot more tight wins than last season.
Out With The Old...
Of the 18 players that saw time on the 2014-2015 season, only eight are currently on the Lakers roster and even that number is expected to be trimmed by the start of the season. Gone are Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, and Jeremy Lin among others. The roster shakeup is no surprise given the number of free agents on last year's team, and the impending draft picks that would take up roster spots.
...In With The New
General manager Mitch Kupchak drafted D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Anthony Brown, and signed veterans Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass. Meanwhile, eyebrows were raised when Metta World Peace, who turns 36 in November, made his return to the squad.
After playing in just 35 games last season, Kobe Bryant returns to action in the final year of his contract. Bryant underwent season-ending surgery after suffering a rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder in January, and is expected to have a hard cap on his minutes this season. In three preseason games, Bryant has scored a total of 34 points in 55 minutes. Should Bryant perform at a high level during the season, and the Lakers show genuine promise, it would not be surprising if Bryant signed a new contract.
...And So Is Julius Randle
If you happened to be channel surfing during the Lakers season opener on Oct. 28, 2014, you may have missed out on seeing Randle's entire season. The Lakers' first-round pick in 2014 broke his right tibia after playing just 14 minutes. There are high hopes for the 20-year-old after a solid campaign at the University of Kentucky, and after being considered one of the best high school players of the class of 2013. The 6'9 power forward could be a workhorse for the Lakers, and seems to have fully recovered from his injury after solid efforts in summer league and early preseason games. Against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, Randle scored 17 points to go along with five rebounds in 23 minutes.
Will Jordan Clarkson Avoid The Sophomore Slump?
During stretches of his rookie season, Clarkson looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook. But in his second season, Clarkson will have to prove himself alongside savvy veterans and not a bunch of youngsters. The athleticism is there, but is the season-long fitness? The 23-year-old will be challenged by the the rigors of a full schedule after playing in just 59 games last season. The Lakers looked like geniuses for selecting Clarkson with the No. 46 pick, but Scott can't expect the young combo guard to breeze through the competition like the final weeks of his rookie campaign. Opposing defenses will clamp down on Clarkson, and he will likely see some cold shooting nights.
Byron Scott Has A Crowded Backcourt
With Bryant, Clarkson, Russell and Williams, Scott will need to find the right chemistry and substitution patterns among his deep group of guards. Swingman Nick Young often looks more comfortable at shooting guard, and unless Jabari Parker and Anthony Brown get sent to the D-League, Scott may have a complicated situation on his hands. Bryant, Clarkson and Williams should see a bulk of the time, but there are high expectations for Russell. Should the Ohio State product prove he is a quick learner, Kupchak may have to consider trade scenarios.
Metta World Peace Brings Toughness
Any question about the Lakers grit may have been put to rest with World Peace's return. Though the Lakers have veterans, another one like World Peace can only help. Nance showed potential in summer league, and World Peace's intensity can rub off on the rookie. World Peace probably isn't the missing piece for the Lakers, and he is certainly past his prime. But World Peace has always been a hard worker, as well as a capable shooter and rebounder.
Hibbert In A Contract Year
The Lakers' storied history of great centers includes Hall-of-Famers George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. But the Lakers have also had centers along the way who didn't live up to those legends, but still provided plenty of production. Vlade Divac, Andrew Bynum, and Dwight Howard all made All-Star appearances in their careers. Now the Lakers turn to Roy Hibbert, who is still among the best centers in the NBA, but in an era when traditional centers are fading away. The former Indiana Pacer enters his eighth professional season, and seems likely to bounce back from a slight dip in production in 2014-2015. If Hibbert expects one more big contract he will need to impress potential suitors by increasing his scoring and his rebounding totals. At 7'2, Hibbert is a big presence in the paint, and can provide L.A. with a shot-blocking presence that was sorely needed last season.
Does The Postseason Await?
The Western Conference is very, very deep. The Lakers will need to supplant one of the nine teams that finished with 45 wins or better, which won't be easy. The Portland Trail Blazers seem likely to see a big drop off with the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, but the other playoff teams should be competitive once again. Scott will need his squad to overachieve, and perhaps get some help from a trade, to see a trip to the postseason.