ANAHEIM -- The Los Angeles Lakers capped off their preseason by being on the wrong side of a drubbing, a dispiriting 136-97 loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in which Jordan Clarkson was lost in the second quarter to a shoulder injury the team is calling a sprain. Thursday night may have been a cold shower after the Lakers teased fans with their potential in previous games, but the team is prepared for the developmental process.
"It still was a good preseason," Lakers head coach Byron Scott said after the game. "We fell flat on our face tonight, but overall I think we still made some significant growth as a team. We've still got a long way to go on both ends of the floor, and I think our guys know that now."
The entire team still has a long way to go, but while Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle both alternated dominance with mediocrity, it was D'Angelo Russell, the third member of the Lakers' young core trio, who struggled the most.
"Up and down, just like you would expect from a 19-year old," Scott said when asked to evaluate Russell's performance over the eight games. "He still has to understand how to play this game on this level. He has to understand it's a totally different change of pace. These guys are bigger, stronger, and more physical, more aggressive, and they are quicker, and he's going to have to figure all that out."
Russell may not yet understand those things in Scott's estimation, but he does understand what it will take to improve.
"I've got to mature very fast. Stay in the film room, just keep chipping away at being the best I can possibly be," said Russell. "We can't come out lackadaisical like we did, and we've got to stop turning the ball over." Turnovers were a problem for the Lakers on Thursday night (22 giveaways), but overall the team did very well in that category in preseason, only turning the ball over on 15.6 percent of their possessions, good for sixth in the league. Part of the reason for that, however, was a stagnant offense that too often wasted 10-to-15 seconds of the shot clock before devolving into a bailout isolation.
Even though the offense ground slowly through October, it's been effective, with the Lakers scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, sixth in the league. The real issue has been on the defensive end of the floor, where they gave up 104.9 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the NBA through exhibition, only one spot ahead of their second-to-last ranking last season. It's safe to say that is not the type of improvement the front office was looking for when it added Roy Hibbert to shore up the defense, but Hibbert understands there's still plenty of growth to be had.
"You've just got to focus in on the small details, myself included. Just keep working and grinding through," said a noticeably dispirited Hibbert after the game. Roy may have felt down about the team being so thoroughly waxed, but he still saw reasons to hope for improvement.
"The young guys really want to learn, they listen," said Hibbert. "D'Angelo is telling the vets to lead us, so they are very willing. I've got to do a better job of that as well on the bench and on the court. I've never been in a role like that before in the past, but I'm going to embrace that role."
Who puts in that work will not only determine how much success the Lakers have this season, but it will also be a part of the front office's evaluation process as it looks to see which members of the team will lead the Lakers forward into their nebulous post-Kobe Bryant future. Scott knows this is something the players are aware of.
"I think all our young guys are trying to prove to Kobe that they are capable of having the torch passed to them, and I don't think it's necessarily one guy when he passes it. It will probably be two or three guys, so these guys have to share this torch for a little while. They still understand that this is 20 years for that man, he's got five rings, obviously it's his team. Those guys look up to him, they go to him for guidance, and they respect the hell out of him."
Bryant and the franchise may be looking for his successor, but it sounds like Kobe, much like a Sith Lord, wants his apprentices to come and take his place instead of looking for it to be handed to them.
"I don't think they necessarily need to defer to him, Kobe is strong enough to get it when he needs to," said Scott. "I think they just need to show him that they can compete and play on a consistent basis every night. That's what is going to gain their trust from him, is showing that they are going to compete every night."
Taking Bryant's place at the center of the franchise is still a long ways off for any of the players on the Lakers' roster. This young group has been thrown into the fire and will get roasted from time to time. Whether they come out a well-seasoned entrée or leave a burnt, charred taste in the mouths of fans has yet to be determined. The team still has a lot of adjustments to make if it wants to be competitive this season.
"We have to learn on the fly," said Hibbert. "We have some work to do."