How Magic and Co. are making the Lakers a playoff contender

By Lachlan Waugh
Feb. 14, 2018

The Lakers fall from grace since 2012 has meant that returning to stardom has become an important goal, one that from some point of view should be automatic, given the franchises’ historical success. Their image has diminished drastically, but for the first time in a while the near future is looking bright and the team is fast becoming an attractive destination - all this, thanks to Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers were struggling to improve before Johnson had taken over as the President of basketball operations. Former Vice President Jim Buss promised his sister Jeanie, who is the President of the Lakers, that he would make them a championship contender within 3-4 years – the fourth year being the 2016-17 season. That goal went unfulfilled as the Lakers fell to a dismal 19-39 by the end of February in 2017, leading to Magic Johnson taking over Jim’s role. Johnson hired a new General Manager in Rob Pelinka, and they did not waste much time in making early roster moves. Trades by Pelinka saw them gain a first round draft pick and a two-way role player in Corey Brewer from Houston, gaining another first rounder and Centre Brook Lopez from Brooklyn and drafting Lonzo Ball in the first round, all together completely revamping their roster for the 2017-18 season.

Fast forward to mid-February in 2018, and the Lakers are riding a good run of form. Currently sitting at 23-32, the team was on a four game winning run until their recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks on the road. The loss has the Lakers at 12-5 since January the 7th, an extremely pleasing record given the difficulties over the last five years. The skill of Coach Luke Walton is becoming more and more evident, as his rotation issues with the team early on in the season have begun to fix themselves and his ability to bring the best out of the young core is growing. Walton has gotten back to the basics with his team, playing a style of basketball that caters to working with what is in front of them rather than trying to pull off flashy plays. In particular, Lonzo Ball’s game style has helped the offence spread the ball more and his court vision allows his teammates to take high percentage shots. Other youngsters like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Julius Randle have also elevated their games visually and statistically speaking since the teams’ rise in form.

In reality though the Laker roster unfortunately features young players trying to develop their talents, instead of already developed talent. Although the additions of Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye give them quality right now, the event of them being resigned in the offseason is unlikely given the Lakers wish to go after big time free agents instead. Looking at how the team is playing, with simply the eye test, there are considerable improvements in comparison to last season. Magic Johnson said at the start of the year he would be more than happy to see the Lakers remain competitive in the majority of their games, regardless of the results. Such a wish is coming true as the Lakers has been able to elevate their attacking pace and ball movement, particularly on the fast break which is reminiscent of the Showtime Lakers from the 80s. Statistically speaking on the offensive side of the ball, they have risen from 17th to 11th in points per game and 26th to 9th in assists per game, as well as their field goal percentage increasing. They also lead the league in pace, meaning on average they have the most possessions per game. The team is also improving on the defensive side of the ball, ranking in the top 10 in the league in defensive efficiency.

What happens next?

So, statistically and visually speaking, the Lakers roster is moving up in the league at the right moment – that moment being when multiple big time free agents will be available in a few months. The Lakers do have many options this coming summer to strengthen their roster, but the guy they have the best shot at getting would arguably be Paul George.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

George is one of the biggest names in free agency this year, and his vast skillset on both sides of the ball makes him a valuable target for any team looking to win. One thing that makes the Lakers stand out as a possible suitor for George is his desire to return home to Sothern California, a wish he made clear this time last year. He also made it clear that he wanted to be the focal point on a championship contending team, something that his current Thunder team simply cannot grant him with Russell Westbrook in the side. The Lakers can grant this, but with adding George as the primary player on their team may not exactly make them a contender right away and simply winning 50 games would be a big achievement for them. The Lakers could also go out and make a strong play for LeBron James; a man many people are saying should be a priority over George. The possibility of forming one of the best one-two punches in the game will make the idea of a championship coming to LA more of a reality, and ake a move for both men more inviting However, LeBron arriving may diminish George’s role on the team, something that might prompt him to look elsewhere.

It looks unlikely the Lakers can make it a win-win scenario for Paul George to join their team and get what he wants. It comes down to trust, and if George has faith in the Lakers recruiting more players to give him help as well as Lonzo, Ingram and Kuzma all elevating their games in years to come, his wish to win a championship will more than likely become true.

Expect Magic and the Laker organisation to make a strong play for George and lure him back to Southern Cal.

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