Could you imagine a future in which the Los Angeles Lakers suddenly look like contenders? These bold predictions for the 2018-19 starting lineup paint a beautiful picture for this franchise.
Not long ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were one of the NBA’s premier franchises. Then, things quickly went downhill for the storied squad, bringing Kobe Bryant‘s career to a disappointing end and necessitating a front office overhaul.
Now, with Magic Johnson at the helm, it’s safe to assume some drastic changes will be made moving forward. Not only will personnel decisions be made differently, but the entire direction of this team has likely taken a 180-degree turn.
That, however, could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the Lakers.
Why? Well Johnson appears ready to do whatever it takes to get this franchise back to being a contender. Whether that means making big trades or inking superstars, the mindset seems to be geared towards making smart moves that help this team win now and in the future.
That’s why I’ve decided to put together some bold predictions for what this Lakers starting lineup could look like before the 2018-19 campaign.
That’ll give Magic over a year to work his, well, magic. It’ll mean two full offseasons during which he can put his plan in place and use that charm and charisma to sway stars into signing with the Lakers. It also means making the most of what draft assets the team still has available.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at my bold predictions for what the Lakers’ starting lineup will look like in 2018-19. Just remember to take this for what it is–some wishful thinking mixed with speculation to come to an unlikely conclusion.
After what happened with Kevin Durant, could you imagine Russell Westbrook spurning the Oklahoma City Thunder and ditching them during free agency? It seems a tad bonkers, but I wouldn’t put it past him if the right opportunity arose.
I’m thinking a chance to start a dynasty with the Lakers could be considered the “right opportunity.”
At this point, though, you’re probably asking, “Well, what about D’Angelo Russell?” It’s an understandable question, but I’ll have an answer for that later. For now, let’s just work under the assumption that he’s no longer on the roster.
Fans won’t be happy about right away, but the end results will help them cope with the pain of his departure.
Let’s be honest–Westbrook is a considerable upgrade anyway. The likely 2017 NBA MVP has proven to be a one-man fireworks show, especially now that Durant is gone. He stuffs the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but needs some help if he plans on winning a ring.
That’s why he opts to sign with the Lakers instead of re-upping with the Thunder.
This lineup has the makings of an annual contender, especially with Westbrook at the point. This is just the start, but I can assure you it gets even better from here.
For this one, let’s assume that the Lakers manage to keep their top pick during the 2017 NBA Draft. They may even get some love from the lottery, landing them the No. 2 pick instead of the No. 3 pick they’re currently slated for.
With whatever pick they get, they land Lonzo Ball–the hometown hero from UCLA who apparently has his heart set on playing for the Lakers. While there’s some concern about the headache his father will likely bring with him, it’s difficult to deny he can be an impact player.
Ball seems like the right fit and hears his name called by the commissioner during Los Angeles’ selection.
Ball is a point guard by trade, but has the skill set to slide over to the 2 spot. With Westbrook in the mix, the move makes plenty of sense. He’ll likely spend his rookie season in that spot as well with Russell still in the mix, meaning it’ll be no issue after Westbrook’s return to L.A.
Teamed with Westbrook, Ball forms a Lakers backcourt made up of former Bruins. And based on the talent the two possess, it could be one of the deadliest guard duos in the NBA. The ceiling is sky high with the UCLA product as an effective scorer, defender and passer.
And yet, he may just be one of the least exciting starters of this hypothetical lineup.
Although a trade never came to fruition, it’s believed he’ll take his talents to Los Angeles if the Indiana Pacers aren’t contenders by the end of the 2017-18 season.
Assuming that’s the case, George jumps ship to join the Lakers. If that happens, it would be a monumental leap forward for this franchise. Not only is George one of the best all-around talents in the NBA, but he’s still only 26 years old.
He’s got plenty of gas left in the tank and could team with Westbrook to form a sensational superstar duo.
With him in the lineup, the Lakers instantly became a team worth taking seriously in the West. While I wouldn’t go as far as calling them favorites (it depends on the look of the bench), teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs would have to take notice.
The signing of George would essentially turn this team around overnight.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what happens with Brandon Ingram. We saw some glimmers of hope during his rookie campaign, but the jury is still out. Unless he shows significant improvement in Year 2, it may be best to find a more long-term answer on the wing–like George.
You better believe, though, that the Lakers will find minutes for him as the sixth or seventh man.
This season, we saw the emergence of Julius Randle as a rising star. While calling him one of the NBA’s best young power forwards feels slightly premature, the tools are there for him to continue his ascension towards achieving that status in the coming years.
For now, though, he’ll have to settle in as the starting power forward for this revamped Lakers lineup. And honestly, it’s not the worst position to be in. It may not be an ideal situation in Randle’s mind, though.
The former Kentucky star has spent most of his NBA career trying to assert himself as an offensive-minded big. While he certainly has solid handles and can get to the rim when he wants to, I don’t think I would put him up there with some the best shot-creating power forwards.
With players like Westbrook and George now in the same lineup, he may be forced to take on an even more subdued role on offense.
Still, there’s a lot to love about having him in this starting five. Randle is a lightning rod, bringing outstanding energy and passion to the hardwood. If he can continue to hone his skills as a playmaking 4, his game may even be elevated by the presence of other stars.
It’s a tad disappointing he won’t become the face of the franchise. However, if it means winning a ring with Westbrook and George, I think he’ll survive.
Now let’s tie this lineup together with a name not many folks have heard quite yet. Don’t worry, though–you’ll know who Mohamed Bamba is within the next year or so.
So here’s what you need to know: Bamba is a ridiculously athletic, 7-foot big man set to enter the college ranks in 2017. Based on what we’ve seen from him so far, there’s little doubt he decides to take his talents to the league in 2018.
When that time comes, there’s almost no reason to believe he won’t come off the board in the top three.
The next part: how do the Lakers get him? By retaining their 2017 first-round pick, the Lakers send their 2018 first-round pick (no protection) to the Philadelphia 76ers. That leaves them without any way of landing Bamba, right? Well, not so fast…
I’m not sure which team it’ll be, but the Lakers find a trade partner prior to the 2018 NBA Draft that wants a star point guard. With the 2018 draft class expected to be loaded with frontcourt talent, Russell suddenly becomes an exciting alternative.
Los Angeles already knows they’re ready to go all-in on signing Westbrook, so they roll the dice by trading Russell (and other assets) away. They have Jordan Clarkson as a backup plan anyway.
That lands them a top-three pick, which they then use to secure Bamba. He immediately steps in as their starting center, upping the ante on defense with his phenomenal rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.
Let’s also assume the Lakers found a way to unload Timofey Mozgov and his absurd contract, paving the way for the rookie to shine under the bright Hollywood lights.