It’s hard to compare the current state of two teams with wildly different roster competitions, fanbases and organizational set-ups, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two teams in a more similar current situation than the Lakers and the Nets, who beat Los Angeles 107-97 on Wednesday night.
With Jeremy Lin (back) out again, just two days after he returned from a 17-game absence because of a hamstring strain, Brooklyn got 20+ points from Sean Kilpatrick, Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic en route to a much-needed win. Six Lakers reached double figures, led by Nick Young’s 14 points.
But it was Larry Nance Jr.’s third quarter monster jam over Brook Lopez that got the Internet, and Barclays Center crowd, buzzing. Still, the Lakers couldn’t capitalize on Nance’s highlight play as they shot 6-for-27 from three and saw their offensive collapse down the stretch.
The win improved Brooklyn’s record to 7-17 on the year and was Los Angeles’ eighth-straight loss as a promising Lakers’ start has been negated by pretty poor play the last couple of weeks.
Both the Lakers and Nets went against the grain with their head-coaching hires this summer, moving from retreads in Lionel Hollins (sorry, Tony Brown) and Byron Scott to rookies Kenny Atkinson and Luke Walton, each of whom came with high recommendations.
They also each knew that this season would be a trying one, but for different reasons. Stocked with lottery picks and a few high-priced veterans, Los Angeles didn’t figure to compete much in the difficult Western Conference with guys like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram all either in their first or second NBA season. Walton, like Atkinson, was a player development hire meant to pay off down the road, not in the immediate future.
Surprisingly, the Lakers got off to a pretty good start, reaching an apex record of 7-5 after a November 15th win over the Nets at Staples Center. Soon after, though, Russell hurt his ankle and missed 11 games in a row, a stretch in which L.A. went just 3-8 that kickstarted the Lakers’ current eight-game losing streak.
The issue with Walton’s team is that it’s not ready to be fully turned over to the youth movement, which — in addition to the various top-5 picks — includes Nance and Jordan Clarkson as well. High-priced free agent pickups Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov and veterans Lou Williams and Nick Young all play big roles for the 2016-17 Lakers but probably won’t be around when this team truly realizes its high potential.
Los Angeles also has the Nets’ draft pick issues down pat, as the Lakers probably (protected for picks 1 through 3) will give up their first rounder in the 2017 draft to the 76ers and, if they do, will relinquish their 2019 first rounder to the Magic as well. So unless the Lakers’ skid continues until April, even the Nets will be in a better position than them this June.
When you look at the Nets’ roster though, the delineation between core players and temporary pieces isn’t so clear. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Sean Kilpatrick, and Isaiah Whitehead can safely be considered young guys the organization is definitely going to keep around for as long as possible.
Other than them, it’s not really known who is going to stick around. Brook Lopez is only under contract through next season, as is Trevor Booker, and Bojan Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent this summer. Even Jeremy Lin, the crown of Brooklyn’s subdued 2016 summer, signed a three-year deal so when Sean Marks’ grand plan for the Nets comes to fruition, he might be a goner too.
This all depends on how the Nets’ front office plans to play it. The new CBA makes it easier for teams to go over the cap to re-sign their own players, but that provision is only applicable to certain players that reach all-NBA status or other designations. That likely won’t apply to many Nets, though.
The Lakers are building around their four or five key young players while the Nets have the option of mixing and matching with their few veterans. What’s the same for both teams is that the draft isn’t going to be much of a help going forward. Also, that it might be awhile before relevance returns to the two teams that have fallen a far way from the 2002 NBA Finals.