There have been two stories of the summer for the Los Angeles Lakers. On one hand, the team is certainly better than the group that left last year. A promising new coaching staff and plenty of talented additions in the draft and in free agency have left the Lakers in a much better position than the team that went 17-65 last season.
On the other hand, projections for this season still don’t have the Lakers looking very good. The Lakers have the most difficult schedule in the NBA, and ESPN projected that the team will be the Western Conference’s worst and third-worst in the NBA.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN’s Real-Plus Minus predictions (a tool that projects for “teammates, opponents and additional factors” as well as predicted games played based on data from the last three years) have the Lakers faring even less well. Those projections predict the Lakers to win around 24.3 games, the fewest in the entire NBA (Link requires ESPN Insider).
Some in the comments section are going to be upset over this. “ESPN just hates the Lakers,” or even “we’re going to be a borderline playoff team,” might get thrown around, and it’s fair to guess at that because right now everything is just a guess.
Still, ESPN’s prediction isn’t actually a slap in the face outside of the whole “the Lakers will be the worst team in the NBA” thing. Rounding down to 24 wins would still be a seven-game improvement for the Lakers. That’s nothing to scoff at, and probably about what should be expected if things go right.
The Lakers’ rebuild was never going to be a quick turnaround once it became clear the best free agents wanted to see more proven talent in place before joining. Los Angeles will have to count on internal improvement to a) attract free agents and/or b) simply build their way to contention through the draft.
With their first rounder set to go to Philadelphia if it falls outside of the top-three selections it would be foolish to outright and deliberately tank, but what these projections make clear is that the Lakers may not need quite as much luck as previously thought in order to retain their pick. It’s not something to count on, but it’s possible the team could take a baby step this year and still add some more young talent in the offseason.
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