The Los Angeles Lakers will tip off a brand new year against their cross-court rivals, the Clippers, Thursday night as they start their second season under head coach Luke Walton, and their first with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka at the helm. Lakers basketball is back!
It’s around this time people start warming up their hot take cannon, making bold predictions about what to expect from the team this season, but we like to do things a little differently here at Silver Screen and Roll. Instead of making the usual bold predictions, like “the Lakers will make the playoffs,” we’re going to set the bar a little lower, with a few not-as-edgy “bold-ish” predictions.
These predictions aren’t wild enough to call them bold, but they’re not safe enough to call them realistic either. So without further adieu, I give you my bold-ish predictions for the 2017-18 season.
Julius Randle, not Jordan Clarkson, will make a case for Sixth Man of the Year
For one reason or another, Luke Walton seems pretty adamant about bringing Julius Randle off the bench this season. Why? I don’t know.
Maybe Walton’s trying to make Randle the Lakers’ Lamar Odom. Maybe his plans to make Randle into the next Draymond Green include not starting him until he’s 24, like Green. Or maybe he’s just overthinking this and needs to start Randle, the Lakers’ best power forward.
Again, I don’t know, and if by chance you, dear reader, know, please let me know.
All of this to say Randle will more than likely be coming off the bench for a good chunk of the season, and if that’s the case, he’s going to be in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.
Before the season started, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson challenged Jordan Clarkson to be Sixth Man of the Year, and while that can still happen with Randle in the second unit, a la Eric Gordon and Lou Williams last season, Randle has the best shot at it.
For all his faults, Randle is anything but a second string player. Heading into what is really his third season in the NBA, Juliushas shown he can do a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor when he’s locked in. In fact, Randle was one of six players to average at least 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season.
The others? DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Match his combination of size, speed, strength and skill up against second string bigs on a nightly basis and Staples Center will smell like BBQ chicken often.
Of course, neither Clarkson or Randle will get any consideration if the Lakers don’t win games, but with a bolstered second unit, they might sneak into the conversation.
Lonzo Ball will finish in the top-five for All-Star guard voting
Lonzo Ball hasn’t played a single meaningful NBA game yet and he’s already one of the most talked about players in the league. While a lot of that has to do with his outspoken father, it would be silly to think that’s the only reason he’s being talked about. After all, the kid was a superstar in college and could be an All-Star as soon as this season.
Now I know what you’re thinking. How is Lonzo Ball, an unproven rookie, going to make the All-Star game in the Western Conference ahead of guys like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook?
The fans, man. The fans.
We’re talking about the same fans that voted Kobe Bryant for All-Star games he was physically unable to play in. We’re talking about the same fans that helped Jordan Clarkson finish SIXTH among guards in All-Star voting. We’re talking about Lakers fans.
It doesn’t matter whether or not he puts up All-Star numbers. He’s going to get votes, especially because Los Angeles is hosting the big game this year.
However, because fans only take up 50 percent of the vote under the new All-Star voting format, Ball will likely miss out this year, barring a Blake Griffin-esque rookie season. But it’s not hard to imagine him finishing in the top-five, if not the top-three.
The Lakers will look different after the All-Star break
If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on the Lakers making move or two at the trade deadline. Like, all of my money.
Magic Johnson has stressed the fact that the Lakers plan on going into next summer with two max slots. While that may be true next summer, they have a handful of things they need to take care of in order to get there — the first being Luol Deng.
Deng was underwhelming, to say the least, in his first season with the Lake Show and there’s little reason to believe he’s going to get any better this year. The Lakers will do everything in their power to unload him and the roughly $54 million he’s due over the next three years, but in order to do so, they’re going to have to put a package worthwhile together. That package will almost certainly include players, picks or a combination of both.
Other trade bait candidates include Clarkson, who signed a four-year deal with the Lakers last summer, and Randle, who is due a pay raise of his own this summer.
Whoever it may be, the Lakers are going to look really different after the All-Star break. For better or for worse.