This time, the Lakers kids aren’t all right, and that’s a concern

Share via

They lined up dozens deep for tickets in the searing heat, filled the lower bowl of the Thomas & Mack Center with purple and gold, even chanted for Larry Nance Jr. in the pause before the national anthem.

For the thousands of Lakers fans attending their team’s third summer league game Monday, it was another night of hope in the desert, another glimpse of promise amid the tumbleweeds, one more chance to believe that this awful off-season has the ingredients to quickly grow into something lush.

Ten minutes later, that earth was scorched with reality.



By the end of the first quarter of their game against the New York Knicks, the Lakers kids had scored two baskets, committed seven turnovers, and were being treated like the adults they are expected to become.


That’s right, they were booed, even though it was the middle of July, in the middle of summer league, in the middle of a meaningless game.

Weird? Certainly. Appropriate? Absolutely.

Remember, this is no ordinary Lakers summer league team; this is a group led by three players who might have to lead the real Lakers this season, the youthful remains of the team’s failure to sign a meaningful free agent, the main reason for any belief that the Lakers can avoid a third consecutive trip to the lottery. This was a team that was supposed to dominate the summer league scrubs while giving Lakers fans a reason to buy into the future.

So the boos were real, and so were the concerns after a 76-66 loss to the Knicks that reminded everyone of the long and painful process that lies ahead.

D’Angelo Russell, the kid the Lakers surprisingly picked second overall in this summer’s draft instead of going with sure bet Jahlil Okafor, is projected to be a great point guard one day. But on Monday he was benched during a late Lakers comeback attempt because he could no longer be trusted with the basketball, having committed twice as many turnovers — eight — as his combined baskets and assist. He has occasionally shown glimpses of his potential during these three summer league games. But with 10 assists and 20 turnovers overall, mostly he has looked like the 19-year-old kid who is trying to pass the ball through windows that don’t exist, aiming directly for players who aren’t there.


“It’s just hard,” he said afterward, and it’s even harder to watch, especially in the same Las Vegas gymnasium complex where Okafor has looked NBA-ready for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then there was Julius Randle, the seventh overall pick last summer who missed all but the first game of the season after suffering a broken leg. On Monday he continued to look awkwardly rusty, making only two of eight shots and only showing his strength late with a couple of powerful drives.

“It starts with me, I’ve got to be better, end of story,” said Randle.

Finally, there was Jordan Clarkson, last season’s surprise star who has looked years older than his younger teammates this summer. Well, guess what? He’s also still growing, as he hit just three of 14 shots while dishing out just one assist even though he spent much of the time with the ball in his hands.

“We have to have better execution of the sets, better poise with the basketball,” said Mark Madsen, the team’s summer league coach who has watched the Lakers lose two of their three games here. “In transition, we want to push the basketball, but we’ve got to do it the right way, we’ve got to do it while maintaining the value of the basketball.”

In other words, the kids are acting, like, well, kids, which is something Lakers fans better get used to this season. These guys not only looked like a raggedy college team Monday, but Madsen actually acknowledged that they may have fallen into a college-style trap.

“I gave the guys a day off yesterday, probably a mistake,” he said. “The day off in Las Vegas was not a great idea.”


Just wondering, how many NBA coaches have ever had to worry about the distractions of a day off anywhere for their teams? This clearly is not your average group, something that will almost certainly lead to a drama-filled run this season once Kobe Bryant and Roy Hibbert and that swaggy guy show up.

When watching these young Lakers struggle to play together Monday, one couldn’t help but notice that they aren’t the only Lakers group that is disjointed, as a quick check of the courtside spectators perhaps showed a different sort of division.

While all the Knicks officials sat together on one baseline, the Lakers officials were noticeably spread out all over the gym. Jim Buss was courtside, Jeanie Buss was on one baseline hanging out with boyfriend and Knicks President Phil Jackson, and Coach Byron Scott was on the other baseline.

Not that it really mattered but, still, for a front office with a reputation of being increasingly dysfunctional, it might have been nice to see everyone sitting together chatting about their team.

It’s only summer league, but the optics weren’t great for any of the Lakers on Monday, giving a tad more meaning to a bit of their star rookie’s self-evaluation.

“I’m trying to get something out of nothing and it’s not there,” said Russell.

Only time will tell if the Lakers are trying to do the same thing.


Twitter: @billplaschke


Lakers are in denial of shrinking status in NBA

Five biggest winners and losers among NBA teams in the off-season

Phil Jackson encounters Laker-like problems in trying to rebuild Knicks