The Los Angeles Lakers marched into Las Vegas with a mission and came out victorious as summer league champions. Lonzo Ball dished and dazzled his way into being named the most valuable player, Kyle Kuzma led the team in the title game and the Lakers are feeling great after a successful trip to Sin City.
The purple and gold are inching closer to shutting things down for the summer, with only a few free agency signings Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are looking for to help round out the final slots of the roster left. Hopefully everyone enjoyed the last bit of Lakers basketball for a while.
There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s hit another round of mailbag questions as I debrief the summer league experience.
Feel free to shoot any Lakers questions to SSRmailbag@gmail.com and I’ll spend some time gathering them up week-to-week.
If you take out Brandon Ingram not playing, could this summer league have gone any better for the Lakers?
The Lakers are and should be very happy with what they accomplished at summer league, but it definitely could have been better.
But Drew, they won the title, Lonzo was named MVP and Kuzma is a stud!
Agreed on all fronts, but summer league isn’t just about results. The biggest disappointment has to be the fact that Josh Hart remains a mystery, more or less. Hart played in the first two game but was out the rest of the way with an ankle injury. It would have been nice to see more of him, especially with the Lakers so thin in the backcourt both in Las Vegas and on the main roster.
The same can be said about P.J. Dozier, but that hurts far less considering the Lakers took a flyer on him as an undrafted free agent.
Sure, these are ultimately small things compared to the large success they had, but things can always be better if you look hard enough. The flip side? Hart going down opened the door a bit wider for Vander Blue to play a larger role, and he was key through tournament play.
Speaking of Vander...
Vander can get buckets in a Lonzo offense. What are the chances he makes the regular season squad?
Vander Blue was arguably the most grateful player to be there. The 25-year-old reigning G-league Most Valuable Player averaged 15 points per game while shooting 40 percent from deep. He also created for himself on offense, something the Lakers needed on a summer league roster lacking individual scorers.
“With Lonzo out I had the ball a lot tonight. I tried to do a little bit of anything to keep us in it. Rebound, score, assist, try to make the right play for my team. I think they got a good chance to see me just run the team, show my leadership,” Vander said of what he hoped he showed the Lakers’ front office in the final game.
It’s hard to say what happens with Vander, but with the addition of two-way contracts, there’s a chance another team looking for more tangible depth from their G-league affiliate as opposed to mining younger undrafted players for the hope of someday finding something focuses on landing a player like Blue. There’s a pretty good chance Joe Schmoe from Nobody Knows University is never as good as Vander.
That’s something Vander alluded to during his post-game interview following the Lakers’ championship victory.
“I think I got to show everybody — not just Magic and Pelinka — that I’m a team guy and at the end of the day I’m just a winner,” he said.
When asked if he thinks he was able to prove to make the jump to the NBA, he was clear that he hopes he gets to stay with the Lakers organization if he does end up with a contract.
“I pray to God it’s here with the Lakers, but we’ll see what happens in the next couple days,” Vander said.
The chances are probably still in the Lakers’ favor to retain Vander, but I don’t know that the front office would feel super-compelled to offer their final two-way contract to Blue if another team puts one on the table.
If Kuzma carries his game into training camp and preseason, could he potentially be one of the first guys off the bench or start in some situations?
The Lakers are going to find a way to play Kuzma next season because he’ll give them no choice with his play. He kind of already has, but will have to prove it again in as the Lakers build toward the regular season.
It’s hard to dampen the optimism surrounding the No. 27 pick, who would have no chance of falling that far down the list if a re-draft happened today. All that preparation from the Lakers’ on the prospect scouting front paid off in a big way.
I can’t project him as a starter just yet, though. There’s major talent in front of him at power forward in Julius Randle and Larry Nance, Jr., and Brandon Ingram isn’t getting bumped out for Kuz. There’s a real chance he gets spot minutes as a third-string power forward and situational small forward off the bench fairly early into his career.
Outside of that, it’s still way too premature to map where his career is headed. It’s hard not to love what he showed in Las Vegas, and it’s easy to see the signs that he’s a legitimate NBA player.
Have you heard of any possible or potential signing of Matt Thomas?
There was no chatter or indication that the Lakers were angling toward offering Thomas a contract, but there’s no way he doesn’t take the next step in finding his way to an NBA home by landing a training camp invite.
Whether that’s from the Lakers, or another team wanting to see what an undrafted player who shot 17-of-28 from three-point range in Las Vegas Summer League can do, is the big question.
Is the 8th seed in the West a realistic ceiling for this Lakers team in 17'?
Is the No. 8 seed a realistic ceiling? Probably not. Is it possible this team plays above expectations and winds up in position to nab that final playoff slot? Sure.
The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder are all locks to make the playoffs. The LA Clippers are probably a lock even without Chris Paul, but Blake Griffin’s worrisome history with injuries is a concern. That’s five teams already.
The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons — the longest drought in the NBA — but should snap that streak with Jimmy Butler joining Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s six.
We’re left with a group that includes the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and Lakers to battle out for those final two spots. Let’s write the Grizzlies in, a fair move considering they’ve seen the postseason seven times in a row.
That leaves one West spot in the air and some tough competition for the Lakers, but it’s not out of question. The No. 8 seeded Trail Blazers got into the playoffs with a perfectly-even .500 record last season, which would be a 15-win improvement for the Lakers if they accomplished the same next year.
That’s a giant leap for the franchise to take, but we’ve seen crazier things happen. I think.
Thanks for checking out the mailbag! I try to answer 3-5 questions per week at a minimum, so get them in to SSRmailbag@gmail.com.