Below is a Q&A on Lakers’ with NBA TV analyst Stu Jackson, who is going to be a large part of the network’s free agency-focused programming. NBATV will have a free agency preview show on June 30 both at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET. Then, NBA TV will air a “Free Agent Fever” episode on Friday beginning at 8 a.m. followed by updates throughout the morning and live studio coverage from 2-11:30 p.m. Free agent coverage will continue on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET as well as NBA GameTime Shows on Saturday and Sunday at 11 p.m. ET.
Jackson: “With Kobe, you lose one of the greatest players of all time. Certainly he is in that conversation. But now it’s an opportunity for the franchise to really turn the page and move on from Kobe. At the same time, Kobe will always be a Laker and could be an asset in helping with rebuilding the franchise. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to help. But right now I look at the Lakers as having a clean canvas. They have a top draft pick. They can open up a lot of cap space to acquire free agents or accept in trade. They have a pretty good foundation of young players in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson in which to build around. If you’re looking to pitch, that’s the pitch. For the Lakers, for them to build the franchise the way they want, it’ll take getting that one free agent to pull the trigger and want to make the Lakers the great franchise it once was.”
What is your impression of their young roster and what their potential could be.
Jackson: “I was encouraged by the end of the season with D’Angelo Russell. I was even more encouraged with how Byron Scott handled D’Angelo Russell with not turning over the keys to the franchise to him immediately. He took the approach of making him earn it. That will pay dividends for him down the road. I think he’s a terrific talent. He has great vision as a passer and will be a prolific perimeter shooter. Julius Randle, I like a lot. I think he’s underrated ball handler and excellent rebounder. He’s competitive and has some toughness. I like him as well. Larry Nance Jr will be an excellent player for them. He’s a utility player in the frontcourt, Jordan Clarkson is another great selection.
They have a good young core of players. It’s not a large core of young players. The Lakers still have a great deal of need in the frontcourt. They need to improve with shooting the ball. They were last in the league in assists, indicating that they don’t have a lot of offensive firepower. And they were near last in the league defensively, so they have a long ways to go. But there’s some great opportunity with a blank canvas.
To the point earlier about how you liked how Byron handled D’Angelo. Why do you feel that way?
Jackson: “If you look at the history of draft picks that go that high in the lottery, even within the lottery, most teams are drafting players like D’Angelo Russell. They’re betting on their development and their upside. But when teams bet on their upside, oftentimes they go to teams where the need to play that player is high. Fans a lot of hope and faith in fans drafted that high in the lottery. They want to see them play and produce right away. Those are generally non playoff teams to get better. So it’s very hard to fight the resistance not to play that player right away even if technically, physically and emotionally they’re not ready to play.
Oftentimes what happens is when players are thrust into the NBA in a losing situation, things can go awry pretty quickly for the player that has nothing to do with his ability to play. It has everything to do with the fact that they don’t know how to be a professional, emotionally they’re not ready and technically they don’t know enough to be productive, particularly as a point guard. I thought Byron did a smart thing on making him earn it. The dividend was the way that D’Angelo played down the stretch.”
How do you weigh the different variables regarding Kobe’s departure? On the one hand, the Lakers more cap space to work with and don’t have to worry about his injuries. But on the other hand, the Lakers lose his presence and work ethic.
Jackson: “One of the biggest issues about losing Kobe is you’re not only losing a great player. But you lost the anchor of the Lakers’ culture. A culture within a team or roster is one of the most difficult things in my observation It’s one of the most difficult things to build. Who is that guy. Who are those couple players that set the tone with the philosophy and culture of the franchise? Right now, they don’t have that. That doesn’t develop over night. That’s one of the biggest holes that has been left by Kobe’s departure.
It’s not something you’ll get instantaneously through free agency. You can’t rush it. Where the Lakers are and where they want to be, it’s not going to happen by November, 2016. They have to be very careful with steps they take not only in acquiring talent, but acquiring the type of player and personality they want to start rebuilding that culture and quest for greatness.”
What do you make of the narrative of Kobe being a deterrent in free agency because of his personality, injuries and amount of cap space he took on the roster?
Jackson: “Most high-level free agents want to go to franchises where they think they’re going to win. When you enter the franchise with an aging star like Kobe was, that’s a deterrent. Kobe was a great leader and a very strong personality. He was in many respects, the culture of the Lakers. But high-level free agents also feel they are that guy too. So that becomes a tough mix and a tough decision for a high-level free agent to pull a trigger to join an iconic NBA player with strong leadership skills and personality to match.
You’ve hit on some of the elements. But what do you take away from the past few years where they haven’t been able to land the coveted big fish they’ve been pursuing.”
What do you take away from the Lakers not being able to get a top free agent for the past three years?
Jackson: “I don’t take a lot away from it. Free agency is difficult. When you have some obstacles in your way, chances are you will not be successful. But the Lakers franchise is still in L.A. and is still a franchise where champions have grown. On those two facts alone, their success or non success in the short term is not something that will continue in the long term. They’re going to get players. It’s just incumbent upon them that they get the right ones.”