The Los Angeles Lakers finally broke a three season streak of posting their worst record in franchise history during the 2016-17 campaign, but while the team showed progress under new head coach Luke Walton, they still didn’t come close to sniffing playoff contention.
The offseason has seen the Lakers improve with the addition of strong veteran starters like Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and everyone has high-hopes for what rookie point guard Lonzo Ball can do for the team’s competitiveness and ball movement after a transcendant summer league, but most don’t think it will result in the Lakers’ breaking their postseason drought.
Count Charles Barkley among the skeptics who aren’t giving the purple and gold much of a chance at a postseason berth. During an interview with TMZ, Barkley made it clear he isn’t that high on the Lakers chances to do much at all during the upcoming season (h/t Jesse Kramer of The Comeback):
TMZ: “Now who’s better, the Sixers or the Lakers now? Who’s better?
Barkley: “The Sixers. Much better.”
TMZ: “Are the Lakers a playoff team?”
Barkley: “No. Hell no!
TMZ: “Not even with Lonzo?”
Barkley does seem to love hating on the Lakers, but in this case it’s hard to argue too much with his analysis. As much as the Lakers improved last offseason, the Western Conference only got better above them. In fact, they might have to improve just to get the same number of wins they got last year.
That being said, the Lakers’ goals also clearly extend beyond making the playoffs this season. The team has ambitions of a clean cap sheet next summer and adding two max-tier stars like LeBron James and Paul George, which they arguably have a better chance at doing than making the playoffs at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.
Instead of chasing a postseason berth, the things to watch with the Lakers this season will be if Brandon Ingram can rebound after a rough rookie campaign and if Ball continues to be a transformative presence as a playmaker at the NBA level after such a promising summer league showing.
Getting either (or both) of those things would be far more meaningful for the Lakers moving forward than a blowout sweep in the first round at the hands of the Golden State Warriors anyway.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.