While the offseason is by no means over despite it feeling like the NBA world has ended, the Lakers have for all intents and purposes finalized their roster heading into the 2016-2017 NBA Season. The discussion about the Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng deals will be carry on for the life of their contracts, the narrative around the team's free agency "failures" will continue, the Buss Family dynamic will be endlessly analyzed, but at the end of the day none of it will matter.
The beauty and ugly side of sports is the same: short memories. Steph Curry wins unanimous MVP and the collective NBA narrative anointed him the best player in the league, but when he followed it up with a poor Finals series just a few months later, that mantle was handed back to LeBron James.
In April, Kevin Durant can be somebody who is known to ignore all the outside noise, while by July he's being accused of deciding to change teams because he is concerned about that very outside noise.
Similarly, and stop me if you've heard this before, the Lakers were the same organization that put together a back-to-back champion in 2009 and 2010, brought in two Hall of Famers to the team in 2012, and are supposedly a complete train-wreck three years later?
This is not to deny that there are issues within the organization. I am sure that things are not exactly peachy keen between the Buss siblings, and that the sometimes delusional aspirations of the basketball operations department can create artificial expectations that contribute to the rift. The reason these specific rifts exist in just about every billion dollar entity get magnified is because there's really been nothing else to talk about when it comes to the Lakers.
However, the simple fact is that the rebuilding of this franchise will occur at the same place that provided it's greatest moments: on the basketball court. The negativity surrounding the Lakers franchise has been put into basketball form on the court over the past few years, and the only thing that will turn it around is the revival of competent, competitive basketball.
The burden is on Luke Walton and the young core, starting with D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, to change the narrative.
The burden is on Luke Walton to properly use and integrate veterans like Deng and Mozgov into the culture he and his coaching are looking to create.
The burden is on this roster to go out and compete every night and show that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
The reason for this is that the ultimate litmus test of growth or decline is measured in wins and losses. Those are earned on the basketball court, where Walton is the franchise's new leader. The front office has given the coaching staff the roster full of young talent and while young talent is great, it's also unproven.
Can Luke Walton help elevate Russell's game to the next level?
Can he get his team to defend hard every night?
Can he figure out the right rotation to give the young player's sufficient playing time, while also giving the veterans the minutes they've earned?
The answers to many of these questions over the past couple of years has been a resounding "no" and has led to the narrative of front office dysfunction. Walton needs to be the fresh voice that functions as the PR for the Lakers resurgence, to bring a dash of confidence into the national conversation and for the next crop of free agents.
The early returns from Summer League have been nothing but promising. It's hard to make on-court conclusions as Summer League can be a Las Vegas mirage, but the off-court intangibles of this team can be felt. Every returning player in Summer League, most notably Russell, has remarked about how fun the game has become for them - never going out of their way to contrast it from the past. The new coaching staff has consistently spoken highly of the work ethic of the individual players, and the ones who weren't playing in summer league, such as Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, came to show their support.
Upon examination, the job that Luke Walton has taken is an extremely complex one but one that will carry great reward. He needs to restore the joy in the locker room, develop the young talent, repair the national narrative of the Lakers front office, and at the end of the day win some damn games.
Walton's burden is great. Now let's hope the rookie is up for the job.