BY SAM AMICO
Since the end of the season, the Lakers have added some intriguing talent to their roster. But will it mean anything special? Let’s take a look:
1. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak started the offseason by selecting ex-Ohio State standout guard D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Russell is an adept scorer, a crafty passer with size, and above all else, understands how to makes winning plays. All of that should translate well to the pros.
2. Later, Kupchak drafted forward Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming) with the No. 27 pick. Much like his father with the Cavaliers in the 1990s, Nance Jr. is a late-bloomer who’s game seems well-suited for the NBA. He’s smart, strong and has gotten better each year he’s played basketball. “I’m an energy guy; I play with an incredibly high motor,” Nance Jr. said.
3. After that, the Lakers traded for Pacers center Roy Hibbert. The 7-foot-2 former All-Star hasn’t had the best of seasons in Indiana lately, but he is big. And he can protect the basket. Consistency is an issue with Hibbert, and his effort sometimes comes into question. But he’s a bona fide throwback pivot man, and history shows that when you have one of those, you typically have a chance.
4. Better for the Lakers is the fact they are surrendering little to land Hibbert — as just a future second-round pick and perhaps some cash (and maybe an inconsequential player) are heading back to the Pacers.
5. In free agency, the Lakers reached underrated deals with veteran guard Lou Williams (Raptors) and veteran forward Brandon Bass (Celtics). Williams is a hot-and-cold type who can fill it up off the bench. He is darn good when hot, though. Meanwhile, Bass is steady all around and should be an upgrade over aging and likely departing free agent Carlos Boozer.
6. On top of all this, last year’s draft pick, forward Julius Randle, will be returning from a broken leg. Randle played in just one game last season. “The dude is a beast, man,” Russell said after a summer-league practice.
7. And, oh yeah, that Kobe Bryant guy will be back as well. Bryant isn’t the player he once was, of course, and is coming off two seasons of serious injuries. “I’m not sure how much gas he has left in the tank,” Russell said. But Russell admitted having Bryant around will teach the younger guys important NBA things — such as practice habits and winning mindsets. And odds are, Bryant will still be able to score and score a lot.
8. Finally, coach Byron Scott is entering his second year with the team. Sometimes, it takes a coach a year to familiarize himself with a front office and its strategy (as well as the roster). Scott is almost always better in Year Two.
Basically, the Lakers still have several decisions to make and aren’t a finished product. Boozer,Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington are all free agents. And the lineup they have so far may still not be playoff-worthy in the West.
But so far, Kupchak and his staff have done a nice job of putting together a roster of up-and-coming youth and solid-at-worst veterans.
You don’t have to make a major summer splash to return to relevance, and maybe the Lakers can prove that’s more than just a theory.