Yesterday, our esteemed Editor-In-Chief Drew Garrison sent out this tweet, asking would everyone's impressions be if the following happened:
If the Lakers end up signing Tobias Harris this free agency period was ________— Drew Garrison (@DrewGarrisonSBN) July 3, 2015
I wrote back, almost without thinking, one word: "Illuminating." Harris has re-signed with the Orlando Magic since.
Now we've seen the Los Angeles Lakers strike out on every former All-Star they've courted in the previous three offseasons. We've have seen the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh and countless other we both know and do not know about pass on maximum salary contracts to play with the 16-time World Champions.
What the Lakers have sold us since the eve of Dwight Howard's free agency is a shotgun rebuild. It was then that we realized that the days of a prime Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson anchoring the Lakers were clearly over. Even new acquisition Steve Nash was at the end of his Hall of Fame career and even worse, coming off a devastating injury that made his retirement look more imminent than it seemed.
Even with the ominous specter of a rebuild hovering over the Lakers with its sickle becoming sharper and sharper by every passing month, the team maintained that a long-term climb back to the top wasn't necessarily in the cards. The front office kept on using words like "free agency", "financial flexibility" and "asset gathering" just as much as the terms "draft" and "young core".
Free agency and cap room were hurled around LA like a double-barreled shotgun, the Lakers using it to affect swift change and reversing their fortunes. It's completely unsurprising that the organization of such historical stature would throw their weight around in an almost violent manner. It's what the Lakers do, isn't it? Phrases like "building through the draft", "focusing on our young players" and "creating continuity" aren't in the Lakers vocabulary. After all, that's not shotgun talk -- that's pillow talk. Soft words that require patience and understanding. Again, not exactly words emblazoned in forum blue and gold. The sense was that LA would be down, but not out and certainly not for long. Every news story pointed to the organization using cap room to reload and create the next Lakers title contender, with names like Anthony and Aldridge being bandied about as the instant cavalry for a quickly eroding team.
But somehow, here we are. If the past three years have taught us anything, it's that the Lakers have created a situation for themselves where a shotgun rebuild isn't possible. Cap room for a maximum salaried player is helpful, but that room means nothing when there isn't any compelling reason for a superstar to want to nestle in it. There isn't anything valuable in a team with no offensive or defensive identity, buoyed by arguably the worst coach in the league and a front office with a reputation of being a novice in analytics. There's no selling anyone on a young core that quite frankly, hasn't done much outside of a few good months from Jordan Clarkson. A max contract player is looking at a franchise with questionable -- at best -- leadership, an unproven young core, a coach that may not be there in a year and in the interim, all while playing a style that few seem to be interested in, if we can call it a style at all.
An instant rebuild is simply not possible. We're seeing that come to pass right before us. But despite everything, that consequence might not be most dire. In their whiffs at the plate, the Lakers aren't exactly striking out. They're merely doing what dozens and dozens of future title contenders have done before them. They're doing it the old-fashioned way.
Through all their failed free agency crusades, the Lakers have managed to consistently miss on any truly difference-making free agents. Players like Kyle Lowry and Isaiah Thomas have slipped through their grasp because of futile pursuits of bigger fish. This has led to mediocre acquisitions and whether it was intentional or not, squads that were eminently capable of tanking. The Lakers have received lottery picks in consecutive years, an unprecedented feat for the franchise. They hit big on Jordan Clarkson, a second rounder turned First-Team All-Rookie. They managed to wrangle picks 27 and 34 this past year, resulting in two youngsters that look like they could be rotation players sooner rather than later. Somehow, not just in spite of their failings but rather because of their failings, the Lakers have succumbed to those soft terms we're not used to seeing in LA.
They've built through the draft and the young nucleus could very well be in place.
Is it possible that D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle could form a Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili-Tim Duncan-like triumvirate? Will Anthony Brown, Larry Nance Jr. and Ryan Kelly turn into the same type of valuable role players that Golden State mined from the late first and second rounds? Could they perhaps build continuity like the Oklahoma City Thunder has over the past eight seasons?
The Lakers have stumbled into a traditional rebuild, losing for multiple seasons and grabbing true blue-chippers out of the draft. They've built in flexibility and cap space that they will not be using on max free agents, but rather to gather more assets whether it be in trade exceptions, draft selections, young players or a combination of several of those.
Los Angeles and its fans were sold a bill of goods by the Buss family and their personnel. With the front office they have in place and the coach they've hired, it's clear that no free agent worth any repute was going to sign up for a long-term deal with a directionless organization. However, through these often embarrassing ventures, the Lakers have created a diversion from what's really been going on: a true blue youth movement. Now, as the young core grows and moves forward together, perhaps this will become a place where top-tier free agents will want to play. Perhaps Clarkson, Randle and Russell will outgrow their overmatched coach and another, more qualified leader will want to take the lead. Perhaps Los Angeles will again become a desired destination, no matter who the owners are. Perhaps this will all work out.
It hasn't been a great three offseasons for the Lakers or its fans. But out of the chaos has come what we should have been wishing for all along. The Lakers will be back, though maybe much later than we were promised.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino