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Lakers' New Reality

When the NBA postseason begins, the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be included for only the fifth time in 60 years.

This frustrating season has been a anomaly for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' longtime centerpiece, has missed all but six games the past year, missing nearly as many games this season (76) as his previous 16 seasons combined (107).

The Lakers won’t have an All-NBA selection for the first time since 1996, will be in the NBA Lottery for only the fourth time in 25 years, and are poised for their worst win percentage (.333) since relocating to Los Angeles in 1959.

Discussing a franchise’s ineptitude has become a delicate subject due to the concerns over tanking, but some situations are more promising than others.

So, underneath the wreckage of this broken season, there are nuggets of optimism waiting to be mined, affording the Lakers a chance for a new beginning.

Playing the Lotto

Since 1979, the Lakers have made five top-12 picks (Magic Johnson, James Worthy, George Lynch, Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum), with four (all except Lynch) becoming All-Stars.

Since 2007, the Lakers last two first round picks (Jordan Farmar, Javaris Crittenton) haven’t been as promising. Farmar has played on two Lakers championship teams but contributed mainly as a role player, with Crittenton being moved to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Pau Gasol trade and having off-court issues in the subsequent years.

The Lakers haven't exactly hit in the second round either.

Despite this recent stretch of underwhelming drafting, the Lakers’ upcoming lottery pick offers potential.

Since 2007, 13 top-ten picks became All-Stars within five seasons, combining for 34 total appearances. The highly-acclaimed 2014 draft class, featuring Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, could allot the Lakers a new franchise centerpiece, whether they select perimeter excellence (Wiggins, Parker), a post presence (Julius Randle, Joel Embiid), or another promising prospect.

For years, the Lakers have sorely lacked youth and athleticism, making their potential top-6 pick and $36 million in cap space all the more alluring.

D’Antoni Doing Work

Since leaving the Phoenix Suns, Mike D'Antoni has endured draining seasons with the Knicks and Lakers.

Despite his 184-245 record since leaving the Suns, D’Antoni offers credibility as the overseer of the Lakers’ rebuilding project.

Before winning Coach of the Year in 2005, D’Antoni became the Suns’ coach the season before, finishing 21-40. One then-underrated Steve Nash signing and several shrew role player additions later, D’Antoni averaged 57 wins over four seasons.

Of course, many expected the same results when D’Antoni took over the Lakers, but the roster, cohesion and direction have allotted no such opportunity. Perhaps these mitigating circumstances have been why the Buss family have stood behind him.

Namely, Dwight Howard’s lone, dramatic Laker campaign and exit left D’Antoni with a limited roster headlined by the aging and rehabbing Bryant, who attested to D’Antoni’s troubled tenure, recently saying, “the two years he’s been here, he’s dealt with so many injuries. He hasn’t gotten a fair shake.”

Indeed, D’Antoni has his flaws -- stubbornness being chief among them -- but he’s succeeded when granted the resources, and a starting lineup headlined by Jodie Meeks doesn’t entail that. Given the proper tools, we’ll more aptly gauge D’Antoni’s place as Lakers coach, but only then.

An Opportunity to Move On

Nothing is more nostalgic than letting go, especially in sports.

That being said, the Lakers must accept Bryant as their best player no longer guarantees a playoff spot let alone a championship contender, nor does taking a rumored shortcut (with superstar free-agents). The NBA is different now, centered on financial prudence, niche players and remarkable cohesion more than ever.

To return to NBA prominence, the Lakers must balance between creating headlines and crafting culture, practicing patience. Losing is never ideal, but it’s sometimes necessary, especially when the other option is middling in mediocrity. Among the Western Conference’s top eight teams, five of them (the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Blazers and Grizzlies) endured playoff droughts of three-plus seasons since the Lakers last missed the postseason (2005).

Landing a superstar free agent is ideal, but Bryant’s $48 million extension hinders any hope for a balanced roster with a max-level teammate. Bryant wants another championship, but the Lakers’ priority should be long-term security.

With a likely top-6 pick and an ever-competitive Western Conference, the Lakers must adjust to their reality: they’re rebuilding. But their resources and history will allot a chance to eventually return among the NBA elite, eventually restoring their storied luster.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

When the clock hit 3 PM EST on Thursday, basketball fans around the globe groaned as another NBA trade deadline passed without the epic blockbusters that fill the RealGM Forums. Although the deadline lacked a true blockbuster, the trades that were made (and the ones that were left on the table) will undoubtedly shift the landscape of the Western Conference playoff picture and possibly the team that will be facing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals (It’s a lock, nobody is seriously questioning it).

The four most notable trades in the West came from the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Warriors, who picked up Steve Blake from the Los Angeles Lakers, will look for him to provide the steady hand off the bench that they have been pursuing since Jarrett Jack left in the offseason. Blake’s addition isn’t going to drastically improve the team, but he is able to give the team quality backup point guard minutes behind Stephen Curry, given Jordan Crawford’s inability to play without Brad Stevens as his coach.

The Rockets moved little used backup point guard, Aaron Brooks, to the Denver Nuggets for Jordan Hamilton. After refusing to lower their insane asking price on Omer Asik, the Rockets decided to fill their lack of a stretch four with Hamilton. Despite Hamilton blatantly not being a power forward or an elite shooter (39 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3), the Rockets apparently believe he can become one when freed up as Dwight Howard draws attention in the post. The more important aspect to this trade is that it likely allows the Rockets to call-up D-League star, Isaiah Canaan.

The Spurs traded little used point guard Nando de Colo for Austin Daye. In one of the day’s most intriguing moves, the Spurs took on another reclamation project in the form of a 6’11 shooter who was once a top prospect coming out of high school. While Daye has struggled to earn minutes outside of his second season in the NBA (when he shot 40 percent from 3), he has tremendous length, can guard multiple positions, and San Antonio has shown interest in him. If that isn’t a sign of someone that will be playing meaningful playoff minutes in May, I am not sure what is.

The last deals of any consequence in the West were by the Clippers. They traded both Antawn Jamison and BJ Mullens for the rights to a Turkish player that probably is unaware he was traded, and a conditional second round draft pick that will likely never happen. These deals, while not interesting beyond the salary implications for the Clippers, do allow open roster spots on the team for buyout candidates. Look for Glen “Big Baby” Davis to join his old coach, Doc Rivers.

While each team above made a move – albeit small – at the trade deadline, the other five teams in contention, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies all stood pat.

Although several teams are in desperate need of a big man (OKC, PDX, PHX), no one budged on Philly’s offer of two second round draft picks for Spencer Hawes.

Portland, who is without a second round draft pick until 2019, had a tremendous need for Hawes with Joel Freeland out for two months and LaMarcus Aldridge banged up.

The Thunder flirted with a deal for Knicks embattled shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, but backed off at the last moment.

As for the remaining needs, the slew of veterans that will likely be bought out this upcoming week will have to suffice. Fortunately for these teams, Glen Davis, Caron Butler, Danny Granger, Jason Terry, Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Antawn Jamison are all buyout candidates.

Many NBA teams believe it is better to trade during the offseason so that players can get familiar with a system and their teammates, while others utilize the short second half of the season as a tryout for recently acquired players to see if they’re long-term fits. It appears that teams trading in the offseason are better off. For any fan grumbling over their team not making a blockbuster yesterday, here’s a stat you need to know: one; as in the number of Championship teams during the last 25 years to trade for a starter at the trade deadline (Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons in 2004). So while fans of the Rockets clamored for Rajon Rondo and Warriors' fans hoped for Kevin Love, just know that the odds of you winning the title with those guys was slim to none.

Happy Trade Deadline everyone! Only 124 more days until the NBA Draft!

Ranking The Best Five Draft Fits For The Lakers

-Photoshop of Joel Embiid provided to RealGM by Mike King.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the season as a fringe contender for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and have fallen into the running for a top lottery pick due to a rash of injuries that has left an already a depleted roster unable to contend. The Lakers rarely have high picks and this draft will prove extremely important for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss to select a potential superstar as a successor to Kobe Bryant.

5. Julius Randle | Kentucky-PF | 6’9” | 250 LBS | Freshman

Randle starts off the list with massive upside. Fitting the mold as a prototypical NBA power forward, Randle has incredibly strong upper body strength. He is an absolute monster finishing around the basket while absorbing contact. His interior scoring is reminiscent of DeMarcus Cousins finishes around the rim. Soft hands with solid refined footwork for a man his size, Randle would be very impactful for the Lakers' interior offense. His other elite attribute is his rebounding ability. Randle averages an astounding 15.6 rebounds per 40-minute clip.

Randle has a tendency to be turnover prone. Like Cousins, he forces the issue too much, particularly when he’s getting double or triple teamed. With the Lakers, he would profile to take over the impending departure of Pau Gasol. He would have a lot to live up to given all the great big men that the Lakers have had in the past, but he is a suitable safe pick of this list to flourish and become at least a capable All-Star. 

4. Dante Exum | Australia-PG | 6’6” | 190 LBS | 18 Years Old 

The most interesting prospect on this list has to be young Australian point guard Dante Exum. Listed at 6’6” with a wingspan of 6’9” playing point, he has all of the physical elements to be an absolute franchise player at the NBA level. He immediately creates matchup problems for opposing point guards and is a great finisher around the rim. Like many young point guards, the knock on him is his perimeter shooting and shot selection.

There has been a lot of talk lately linking Exum to the Lakers. Exum recently declared for the NBA Draft and chose Kobe Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, to represent him. Furthermore, there was a report a couple days ago that said Exum wants to play for the Lakers. Out of the players on this list, Dante Exum may have the greatest chance to land with the Lakers. As great of a pick Exum seems here, it would be tough to move him any higher on this list since there has not been a sufficient amount of scouting nor game footage that we can base his play on.

3. Andrew Wiggins | Kansas-SG | 6’8” | 200 LBS | Freshman 

Wiggins entered the season as the consensus best prospect, but has often posted modest numbers and few foresaw the emergence of a potentially transcendent big man project in Joel Embiid. Although he is averaging a healthy 16 points and six rebounds per game, it is a bit misleading. He’s had games where he scores under 10 points while putting up disappointing shooting lines. During games when his shot isn’t falling, he loses confidence and becomes more reluctant to be aggressive on the offensive end. Wiggins has all the physical attributes to become a bonafide superstar in the NBA, and he remains likely to reach that level. However, he is still raw and would take some time before he can live up to the hype and expectations as one of the NBA's best two-way wings. That development time frame, along with the immense pressure to succeed for an impatient Lakers' fanbase, it might be a bit overwhelming for even someone like Wiggins. Positioned to take over the wing from Kobe Bryant, he should provide the Lakers with explosiveness from the backcourt. Even with the sobering of expectations on Wiggins, it is impossible to ignore the upside he possesses and he sits comfortably at No. 3 on this list. 

2. Jabari Parker | Duke-F | 6’8” | 240 LBS | Freshman

The most refined prospect that comes out of this draft class has to be Jabari Parker. Drawing comparisons already to Carmelo Anthony, he is considered the most NBA ready prospect of the class. He is sensational at getting the rebound and creating transition plays immediately with his high motor. His offensive versatility is off the charts, a superb catch and shoot player along with the ability to create shots off the dribble. Like many prolific scorers, Parker’s defense is subpar, allowing opponents to blow pass him on the perimeter. Additionally, he regularly does not play physically when defending down in the paint. Parker gives up on average of 1.1 points per post up by opponents. Even with his questionable defensive ability, it is hard to criticize him too much for his expected value on offense.

1. Joel Embiid | Kansas-C | 7’0” | 250 LBS | Freshman

There is always a lot of risk with selecting big men at the top of the draft, but there is often as much risk in passing on a player capable of becoming the NBA's best center. Embiid is astonishingly very quick up and down the court, able to run on transition, and come help quickly on weak side defense. His long 7’5” wingspan gives him an advantage against his opponents to catch it at the apex and finishing at the rim without having to bring it down. His defensive upside is titanic even though he already covers the rim at an insane 4.6 blocks per 40-minute clip. Like many big men that come into the league, Embiid is still very raw on the offensive end since he only started playing organized basketball in 2011. His offensive shot selection is still a work in progress. With more experience and time on the court, he will learn where his sweet spots are on the floor and when not to hoist up ill-advised shots. Nevertheless, the Lakers have had a history of being able to churn out their big men to the best of their ability. 

Why Kendall Marshall Is Unlikely To Be Lakers' Long-Term Answer At Point Guard

Kendall Marshall became a free agent before the start of his second season in the NBA, but injuries created a huge opportunity for him with Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers.

Western Conference Twice As Good, Nine Degrees Warmer

The Western Conference is nine degrees warmer on average than the Eastern Conference, which must be considered as a factor in why it has been a far deeper conference over the past two decades.

The Points In The Paint Separation Between Contenders, Pretenders

The category of points in the paint is clearly important enough to be on the box score. You could argue that it should be at the top of the box score instead of the bottom. Itís the one stat that can determine how dominate a team can be either offensively or defensively or both.

A Brave New World For Los Angeles, New York

Strangely, none of the major market teams have the competitive advantage of their location and a top-flight organizational reputation. History and money are still (largely) on their sides but players have become more conscious of organizational quality in recent years.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Star By Star

If the owners want to make it harder for superstars to switch teams, they have to increase the financial incentives for them to stay. Otherwise, franchises with one All-Star will forever be looking over their shoulder. To paraphrase Sean Parker, having two stars isnít cool. Having three is.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.

On Dwight Howard, Defense, History

Pundits like Bill Simmons can look at a year Dwight Howard was hurt and a year where he played in a system that minimized his strengths and magnified his weaknesses to write him off using pithy garbage like personality, but analyzing production and talent over conjecture will always win out.

The Logistics Of Dwight Ending Up With Golden State

Getting Dwight Howard sits within the realm of possibility for the Warriors, but it would come at a steep, steep cost unless the Lakers are more generous than expected. Wasting their amnesty on Charlie Bell and using 2013 cap space to acquire a pick last season is again continuing to hurt them.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

Dwight Howard's Choices

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career, Dwight Howard will have to choose the franchise that best positions him to grow as a player and compete for championships. The time has come for Howard to decide whether he wants to be an all-time great player, or just a player that was good for his time.

Realities Changing For Lakers

In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition? But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.

Dirk, Kobe Forestalling Decline

Not much has gone right for either the Lakers or Mavericks this season, but both remain worth watching, if only for the presence of Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. Both players will hopefully continue adapting to playing at a near-MVP level in their thirties for many more seasons.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

Kobe Leads Lakers Back To Winning Ways With Passing Surge

Kobe Bryantís newfound trust in his teammates has brought the team closer together and allowed the Lakers to play more loosely on both sides of the court.

YOLO Trades That Make Sense

Win-win trades that also make sense financially will become even more rare in the NBA's post-lockout era. Here are trades for the Lakers, Mavericks, Hawks, Blazers, Celtics, Nuggets and Spurs that make sense for all parties.

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