After turning in the worst season of the franchise’s illustrious 67 year history, the Los Angeles Lakers have some work to do. Luckily, according to GM Mitch Kupchak, the team is a more attractive place for free agents than it was last year. With Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour now over, Kupchak believes he can offer free agents more than last year’s offer of playing with an oft-injured Kobe and two unproven players in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell.
After missing out on several max contract free agents in a disappointing 2015 offseason, Kupchak was looking for a reason to point to and say “this is why it all went wrong.” The prospect of playing in Los Angeles for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises is generally very enticing to free agents, even if the team is playing poorly. With the Lakers coming off consecutive sub-30 win seasons continuing to ride out the Kobe Bryant era, no max contract players were biting.
This year is expected to be different, as the Lakers can now showcase number 2 pick Brandon Ingram in addition to Randle and Russell, who now have a year of NBA experience. The Lakers have more cap room without Kobe’s contract, and any incoming free agents would no longer have to play second fiddle to the Black Mamba. The hiring of head coach Luke Walton is also a likely selling point. “We do have more to sell” says Kupchak, who remains optimistic despite last year’s struggles.
DeMar Derozan, Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside and Kevin Durant, among others, are expected to be courted by the Lakers this summer, and each would likely demand a max contract. If the Lakers can land at least one of these players to lead their young core, the team may break its franchise record streak of three seasons without a playoff berth.
Laker fans know all too well that a free agent signing may not be a cure-all for the team. The last major pending free agents to end up in wearing the purple and gold were Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in 2012, and neither lived up to expectations. The D’Angelo Russell controversy earlier in the season and harassment allegations against Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson may also deter free agents from wanting to join the Laker locker room.
For the Laker faithful, the 2016-17 campaign will be an important season to see if Kupchak can right the ship and start a successful post-Kobe era in L.A.
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