The Los Angeles Lakers extended their playoff drought into a fourth season, although the 2016-17 campaign offered a slight improvement.
The Lakers competed for the first time in 21 years without the presence of future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, while the term also started the reign of new head coach Luke Walton.
Walton arrived from the Golden State Warriors after Byron Scott was fired after the franchise recorded their worst season in their history, winning only 17 of their 82 matches.
In a bid to improve their roster, the Lakers spent heavily during free agency to land the signatures of Luol Deng from the Miami Heat and Timofey Mozgov from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jordan Clarkson was re-signed to a lucrative four-year deal as he was one of the few Lakers’ players to emerge from the previous campaign with any credit.
Under their new head coach, Los Angeles made a bright start, but once their early-season momentum was stymied they struggled immensely to regain their composure.
The Lakers had huge issues in and around the net, with not one player on the roster averaging over 20 points per game over the course of the campaign.
Mozgov failed to have the desired impact following his move from the Cavaliers, while star man D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Brooklyn Nets along with the center for Brook Lopez.
The club used the second-overall pick on Lonzo Ball in the 2017 Draft, which will bring pressure for them to take a step forward in the next campaign.
The Lakers began the campaign with an impressive win in their opening match of the season over the Houston Rockets, with Clarkson leading the way scoring 25 points in a 120-114 victory at the Staples Center. Back-to-back defeats to the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road checked their early momentum, although both sides proved to be quality outfits over the term.
November began well enough after a defeat to the Indiana Pacers, with the club responding by securing three wins on the bounce, including an impressive performance to see off the Warriors. Julius Randle dominated the contest by scoring 20 points and collating 14 rebounds to guide his side to a 20-point victory.
The Lakers continued to put in quality displays throughout the month, narrowly edging out the Thunder on home soil. However, the Warriors were able to get their revenge for their early-season defeat by hammering Walton’s men 149-106 at Oracle Arena. Los Angeles remained at .500 to end November, recording a solid win on the road against the Chicago Bulls.
Walton would have been delighted with his side’s start to the campaign, but December would be a nightmare for the coach and the Lakers. Los Angeles lost 14 of their 16 matches over the course of the month, losing eight matches on the spin to begin their capitulation.
Worryingly for Walton his side were not playing out close contests, with five of their early defeats being by margins of six points or more.
A victory over the Philadelphia 76ers ended their losing run, with Randle producing strong performance to deliver light relief. However, problems on the road were to plague the Lakers from that point onwards, beginning with a four-match losing streak as the club dropped to 12-24.
January began with a defeat to the Houston Rockets, but a run of three wins in four – including a hammering of the Miami Heat – offered hope that the Lakers may be able to get their season back on track. Another poor run all but ended their hopes as they ended the month, winning only two of their next 10 matches, including a three-game losing streak on the road.
The Lakers’ confidence was shot by their performances in January and they were never able to recover their footing in the campaign. Their problems on the road were a symptom of their issues, and a victory of the New York Knicks brought a moment of respite for Walton and his side, securing their first triumph away from the Staples Center in two months with a win in early February.
Nick Young produced a 26-point outing to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks, but once again the Lakers were unable to build a platform to at least end their season on a high note. Walton’s men lost 17 out of their next 19 contests, with only victories over the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves preventing a complete meltdown thanks to solid outings from Clarkson and Russell.
April offered a little bit of hope for the future, with Los Angeles reeling off five wins on the bounce to lift their record to 26 wins, although a defeat on the final day to the Warriors proved how far the club have fallen in recent years – and the work needed to get back to their former greatness.
The Challenge Ahead
The Lakers made the decision to move on from Russell just two years removed after selecting him in second overall in the 2015 Draft. The 21-year-old did display signs of improvement in his second term, averaging 15.3 points and 4.8 assists per game.
The point guard along with Mozgov were moved on in order to gain a first-round pick in the 2017 Draft along with Lopez from the Nets. Lopez should provide an immediate impact as he was one of the few bright spots of Brookyln’s season, boasting quality at both ends of the court.
Los Angeles’ new front-office staff of Rob Pelinka and former great Magic Johnson used the selection gained from the trade to pick Kyle Kuzma. The 21-year-old will be a development player, but did average 16.4 points per game in his last season in the college game at Utah and could provide an option from the bench.
The biggest move in the off-season came with the selection of Ball with the second-overall pick. Almost a mirror-image of the Russell move, Ball should be able to play a significant role from day one, despite boasting just one season of college basketball under his belt. The 19-year-old was a standout for the UCLA Huskies and could be a future All-Star should he maintain his level of growth.
There is a great deal of hype surrounding the point guard, but he could deliver in his first campaign at odds of 5/23.50+2502.502.50-0.40 with Bovada sportsbook to be named Rookie of the Year. The fortunes of the club are not expected to take a huge stride forward and odds of 250/1251.00+25000250.00250.000.00 with 188Bet are outsiders to win the NBA Championship. It’s going to be a long road ahead for Walton and his men.
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Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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