Like almost all fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this year’s team play despite the expected losing. Luke Walton is handsome as ever (also a good coach), the young core is getting more comfortable playing in the NBA and the entire vibe of the team is drastically different. The national media is noticing as well, except for the curmudgeonly few, and have heaped praise on the new direction of the franchise.
Yet, a part of me has continued to worry. I tend to not handle positivity well, always looking for a reason to brush it off, waiting for something to fail so I can feel comfortable. With this team and it’s newfound vigor and youth, I have been worried about the unsettled front office position and the infamous “Jim Buss Deadline.” The deadline was self-imposed, of course, and remains Jim’s biggest mistake. I don’t have any personal affection towards him that makes me worry. What worries me is the potential short-sighted moves that may come out of situation like this. I worry about an outside force like The Deadline accelerating The Process (RIP, Sam Hinkie). Was this why the Lakers signed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov?
But then, I remembered; In Mitch We Trust. Mitch Kupchak spoke today to ESPN’s JA Adande in a fantastic piece worth your time. Some notable excerpts:
"My only goal is to get this franchise on solid footing with young players, free agents and flexibility," Kupchak said. "And I think we've done that.”
"I don't know how many games we're going to win. But my hope is that as the season goes on, our fans, our partners, the TV audience can watch this team play and see growth and see enthusiasm.”
That doesn’t sound like somebody worried about a deadline, does it?
Where I even doubted the Lakers offseason, I have come to accept the importance of the veterans to surround the young core. Mozgov especially is due an apology for me, as he has been a stabilizing force for a defense that is heavily reliant on young players that are still adjusting to playing modern defensive schemes. Lou Williams and Nick Young have big game and big shot experience that have been successful release valves when the offense gets stagnant or cold, keeping the young core competitive in more games already than they should have been. This roster construction is sound; the depth is remarkable for a team expected to finish in the bottom of the conference.
Lakers fans and commentators alike have many reasons to have questioned the front office over the past few years, but also have to restrain themselves from falling victim to a sunk cost fallacy. There will be an instinctual “the front office still doesn’t know what it’s doing” narrative among a fixed percentage of people that is a result of accrued mistrust due to circumstances both in and out of the front office’s control. The important thing to realize is this: if this year is Year 1 of the Luke Walton rebuild, everything gets wiped clean.
That’s not to say everything is perfect. Luol Deng’s contract almost looks as painful as it’s been watching him run. The Lakers ability to strike big in free agency this summer could be hampered by some inefficiencies in their cap management. The front office should not entirely rest on the good vibes of the start of this year, but remain proactive in procuring future assets (draft picks or young players) for veterans on the team or young players that look to be entirely out of the rotation. The Lakers are in a very good position, but have to understand that competition like the Boston Celtics have a daunting amount of assets in their treasure chest that can be used to acquire the next available star — a conversation the Lakers would surely like to be a part of.
All in all, it’s time for me to take a deep breath. In Mitch We Trust. Luke is handsome. The kids are having fun. I’m having fun. Let’s sit back, relax, and enjoy the ... endless debates about Julius Randle.