Despite a franchise worst record for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, the front office has made sure a number of players are returning in 2014-15. In a move that seems questionable given how poorly they performed together before, the sustained chemistry and new coaching direction could be a recipe for relative prosperity.
Like so many of the fans, the decision makers in LA appear to be running with the idea it was all Mike D’Antoni’s fault. Why else would they re-sign such a large chunk of an underperforming team?
Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry have all been re-signed to join Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre to form half of the roster looking to improve upon 2013-14.
Young was one of the standouts last season, benefiting from Bryant’s injury-plagued year. A contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award, his play and general demeanour kept the Lakers’ faithful as entertained as he could. After being given a four-year deal, ‘Swaggy P’ should have it in his best interest to be the leader of the second unit alongside Henry.
Henry was set to be the next Earl Clark and Trevor Ariza before being brought down by injuries. Like Clark and Ariza before him, he was a relative unknown upon his arrival in Los Angeles but had played his way to a payday. Putting in some solid performances, particularly at the Staples Center, Henry became somewhat of a fan favourite with his speed and athleticism. Had he finished the season healthily, it’s more than likely he also would have jumped ship for a chance to sign that career contract elsewhere.
Much has been made of Hill’s contract, but $9 million for a productive big man with a second-year team-option is a master-stroke by Mitch Kupchak. Centers capable of the numbers Hill is get paid in the NBA, and Hill was making money anywhere. The fact Kupchak was able to give the Lakers flexibility was the real win in this deal. Hill will provide hustle, rebounding and an improving offensive game. His motivation to solidify himself as a starter in the NBA could see him take the next step in his development.
Johnson was touted as a defensive specialist, which in hindsight, was destined to fail playing under D’Antoni. Often played out of position as a stretch four, Johnson will see a lot more time at his more natural position of small forward given the influx of power forwards on the roster now. As the team’s leading perimeter defender, the Lakers could get far more value out of Johnson this season.
The way the roster has been constructed is far from what many Lakers fans were hoping for but on the face of it, it’s an improvement. Having so many players returning will ensure there is some chemistry remaining within the team to accompany the new arrivals. None of the players that have re-signed are future superstars, but they all have the ability to kick off the Lakers journey back to the top.
There is a long way for this team to go, but after last season, the only way is up.