The end of the 2016 NBA Finals signified a new chapter for the Los Angeles Lakers. Gone is the Kobe Bryant era and in comes new head coach Luke Walton.
For the Lakers and Laker fans alike Walton is a fresh breath of air compared to Byron Scott. Scott is the old professor who refuses to change his methods and cannot relate to his young students whereas Walton is the young professor who was in the students shoes not too long ago. If there is anything to watch for the 2016-2017 season, which will likely be another losing season at the bottom of the Western Conference, it is to see the growth of the young players and coach alike.
This is a unique time for the Lakers organization as it is the first time in the team's history that they are building from the ground up. You could argue that they were rebuilding when they had Kareem and drafted Magic or the time from 1992-1996 before they traded for Kobe and signed Shaq. But even those teams made the playoffs. The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons with a combined record of (65-181). Each year the team has broken the record for the worst season in franchise history, but that might have to do more with the Lakers history of success than its current failures.
Having draft picks in the top seven three years in a row is unprecedented for the Lakers. It is important for the Lakers and Laker fans alike to realize that the team is truly in a rebuilding phase. Barring a fortuitous Russell Westbrook signing next offseason (I hope they don’t trade the franchise for him), the Lakers will not be playoff contenders for at least 3-5 years. That seems like ages in Laker land but everyone needs to be patient with the young team and especially the young coach.
One of the recurring themes in the NBA is that coaches have extremely short leashes. This is a player first league and coaches are fired constantly after two or three bad seasons. The organization and the fanbase need to understand that this is Luke’s first tenure as a head coach and there will be growing pains over the course of the season. Luke gained precious experience with the Warriors, sitting behind Steve Kerr on a team that posted the best record in NBA history in addition to two Finals trips.
It takes time for players to buy into a system, especially young players so it is imperative that the Lakers give Luke as much time as he needs to develop his system and build a repertoire with the team. The organization cannot build high expectations on Luke right out of the gate, and they need to know the Lakers will likely be bad for a while. In addition, the fans cannot be impatient and go after Luke’s head after a long losing streak, which will inevitably happen. Changing coaches year after year is one way to be stuck in mediocrity in the NBA, just ask the Sacramento Kings.
Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and number two pick in the draft, Brandon Ingram are currently gaining valuable experience by playing with Team USA in Las Vegas. Getting practice time with the NBA’s best players is something that will be extremely beneficial to their growth. The Lakers are on the right track to rebuilding with a foundation filled with exciting young players and a coach who in a position to succeed which more than some teams can say (looking at you Brooklyn). The Lakers are poised to be back at the top of the NBA eventually, it is only a matter of time. Impatience can lead to knee-jerk reactions that set franchises back years. It may be a lot to ask the franchise and its fans to be patient but it is necessary.