Over the past few years, the Lakers organization has taken a large amount of criticism, some fair and some unfair. From both local and national writers alike, their approach in free agency, coaching hires, and general observations of potential organizational clashes have received skepticism.
One can argue that the Lakers have shifted their approach and are headed on the right track. From hiring Luke Walton, to drafting Brandon Ingram, they appear to be on the right path. While that may be true, being on the right direction today doesn't necessarily mean they will end up in the right destination.
The Lakers have a lot of work to do as they march towards their pursuit of their 17th Championship, tying the Boston Celtics for the most all time. They don't have a definitive superstar talent - D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, and Jordan Clarkson are a formidable core, but it remains to be seen if they can realize or exceed their potential as NBA players.
The organization needs to continue to facilitate the core's growth by creating a fertile culture that has started with the hiring of Luke Walton as head coach. The head coaching change doesn't change everything, however. Will the Lakers ensure that Nick Young (who clearly isn't over "The Incident") is off the roster either via trade or by stretching his contract? Or will they wait for what they consider a fair offer the way that Ryan McDonough waited to trade a very disgruntled Markieff Morris, which poisoned a locker room that was just a year ago thought to be healthy and cost the organization a good coach in Jeff Hornacek?
Building a championship team is fragile, and building a team that can compete for years is even harder. Consider Bob Myers, GM of the 73-win Golden State Warriors, who somehow has an avalanche of uncertainty despite having a dynasty in the making. Does Harrison Barnes being the highest paid player cause friction in the locker room? Is he even worth bringing back? Should they chase Kevin Durant which would require players like Andrew Bogut to question their standing in the organization? Will the locker room blame Draymond Green for the suspension which ultimately may have cost them the championship?
The same people who built this can also end up doing this. The Lakers have a lot of cap space this summer and have been shy to use it in the past for non-elite talent, but it's clear they will need to adjust their approach.
In the wise words of the Shawn Matian, Esq:
The one thing I want to see from the Lakers FO is the realization that GOOD muti-year contracts have more value than cap space.— Shawn F Matian, Esq. (@ShawnFNBA) June 27, 2016
Every single contract signed this summer with the exception of a player like Kevin Durant will get the immediate Twitter hot take: "overpaid". That is utter nonsense. The cap is increasing AGAIN next summer by a sizable amount and any contracts that are locked in previous to this summer and signed this summer are going to be true assets. So even if the Lakers use a lot of their cap space on sub-superstar level players this summer, it does not mean that they will be out of the running next offseason, not even close. How are the Warriors and Spurs able to chase Kevin Durant despite not having the current space for it? They have movable contracts that lesser teams will gladly take off their hands.
With all that being said, if the Lakers are truly turning a page, who they bring in will be just as important as the value of the contract they sign. Will the Lakers chase DeMar DeRozan even though Kent Bazemore (a less sexy name) would be a better fit? Will the Lakers waste their time still asking for a meeting with Durant rather than pursuing the players that will actually be available? Will they be careful about pursuing Hassan Whiteside and prioritizing his fit with the locker room rather than signing him by any means necessary as a trophy in their free agent showcase to show the league that "they still have it"?
It is unclear whether or not the Lakers have truly changed their approach, and this summer will be another test of that. I remain excited by everything I've seen, and I remain optimistic that they'll do the right thing.