Los Angeles Lakers: The Master Plan


It is presumptions to say I know what the Lakers are planning. Having no access to their front office, I’d even go so far as to say it’s beyond presumptions. Heck, it’s downright preposterous.

Yet, that’s what I am about to do.

Not because I have access to President Johnson or General Manager Pelinka, I don’t. Not because I have an all seeing crystal ball, I do but it’s proven to be unreliable. Not even because I gathered the greatest minds in basketball to construct a plan based on their knowledge and expertise, I have not. No, I’m doing this because generally, history is a good indicator of the future.

So, in short, let’s look back in order to get a clearer picture of what may be happening in the future.

In order to do that I have to start with two apologies. First, I’m sorry Minnesota. Yes, the Lakers franchise started there. Heck, that’s where they got their name. It’s easy to forget for fans of the Los Angeles Lakers that five of their championships had nothing to do with LA. This will blow some minds, but did you know that the San Antonio Spurs have as many championships as the Minneapolis Lakers? Both have five. There is no doubt that the Lakers from the land of a thousands lakes were a dynasty.

However, this is the Los Angeles Peach Basket, the LAPB from now on, so as impressive as those five championships are our focus is the Lakers from the land of LaLa.

Before I dig a bit deeper we have to start with a definition of the word dynasty. It’s a bit lazy to pull out the dictionary so instead, I will define it this way. You are a dynasty in sports if your team wins at least three championships over a five-year stretch.


Using that as our definition the Rockets and Pistons, who had amazing runs in the late 80’s and mid 90’s were not dynasties. Both managed to win two Championships in a five-year stretch, which is of course a great accomplishment. It just doesn’t pass the LAPB Dynasty Meter.

Ya, that’s what I’m going to call it.

In fact, the only franchises that can claim to have actually had a dynasty are the Celtics, Bulls, Lakers and the Spurs. The Spurs are the one surprise team on my list. I had to recheck the stats and it’s true, they pass the LAPB Dynasty Meter. What’s unique about the Spurs is that they are the only team on the list with no back-to-back championships. They won in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In a way, it makes their sustained success even more dynasty-ish.

Ok, I admit this may not be the best indicator of a dynasty, but it’s one that holds up. Until someone comes up with something better, this is the gold standard.

As mentioned earlier, the Lakers have enjoyed dynasties. They are unique in the list in that they are the only team to have done it from two locations. The Lakers from Minneapolis did it as have the teams from Los Angeles. In fact, the Lakers from LA have had two dynasties. They won three championships between 1985-1989 then again in 1999-2004.

Lakers fans may notice that the first five years of the Magic Johnson era do not make the cut. Additionally, the two championships that Kobe won without Shaq are not on the list. The rules of the LAPB Dynasty Meter are absolute. Two championships in five years are nice, but not Dynasty worthy.

On we go.

Let’s take a closer look at how each of those championship teams were constructed. The hope is that we will get a glimpse into the mindset of current LA leadership. Our assumption being they will march into the future with an eye on what worked in the past.

Lakers from 1984-1989

Key players
  • Magic Johnson
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Byron Scott
  • Kurt Rambis
  • James Worthy
  • Michael Cooper

Other players of note

  • AC Green
  • Mychal Thompson

My goal here is to look at the construction of this team from 30,000 feet. In general, teams are built one of two ways, they draft and wait or they sign and go. The draft and wait approach simply means you hope you draft well, you wait as your core matures then you add to the mix. The sign and go teams make a big splash by signing the biggest free-agent name available and hope for a quick return.

The Lakers of 84-89 were clearly draft and wait.

Johnson, Worthy, Cooper and Green were all selected by the Lakers in the draft.

Rambis and Scott weren’t drafted by the Lakers but never played a game for the teams they were drafted by, the Knicks and Clippers respectively. They were added via free agency and a pretty daring trade. The trade that saw Scott come to LA from San Diego was not a popular one. The Lakers parted ways with veteran Norm Nixon for an unproven rookie. It was a ballsy move by then General Manager Jerry West.

Turns out the Logo knew what he was doing.

Abdul-Jabbar had been with the team for some time at this point and Thompson came over in another trade that rival Larry Bird was not a fan off. Bird said: “If San Antonio needed money, we would’ve sent them money. But to go and help the Lakers like that is just terrible.”

When you piss off your opponent you know you have done something right. Again, the Logo knew what he was doing.

This dynasty came to be by making great draft picks then adding the right players at the right time via trade. Most franchises do not like the wait part of draft and wait, but the Lakers pulled it off to perfection in the 80’s.

Lakers from 1999-2004

Key players
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Kobe Bryant
Other players of note
  • Derek Fisher
  • Rick Fox
  • Robert Horry
What an odd ensemble this is as I look at it in comparison to the Lakers of the 80’s. This team was less about a team and more about two forces of nature co-existing long enough to wreak havoc on the Association. This may be the only dynasty in history that could have existed with two players and just about anyone else. (Sincere apologies to the other players of note listed above)

The combination of O’Neal and Bryant was really special. It was as if we got to see Wilt Chamberlain at his peak playing with Michael Jordan at his. Signing O’Neal was a no-brainer. He was the best center in the game when the Lakers gutted their roster in order to afford him in 1996. Trading for a young Bryant on draft night though seemed odd at the time. No one could’ve foreseen how special that then 17 year old would be, right? No one could have known how ridiculous that pair of Bryant and O’Neal would be together, right?

The Logo knew.

While neither O’Neal nor Bryant came to the Lakers via draft in the traditional sense, Bryant was indeed drafted by the Lakers.The Charlotte Hornets had agreed the day before the draft to pick Bryant on behalf of the Lakers. The team had worked out the kid and were impressed by what they saw. They traded their starting center for the rights to sign Bryant.

The Lakers of 1999-2004 are really more of an aberration that anything else. A unique collection of two of the best players of their time at the peak of greatness. Aside from Bryant, only Fisher came to this Lakers dynasty via the draft.

So, were they draft and wait or were they sign and go?

They were draft and wait. They drafted Bryant and Fisher then signed O’Neal. The key difference between these Lakers and the ones in the 80’s was that they didn’t have to wait as long.

While it’s true that Jerry West has taken his considerable talents across the hallway and now works with the Los Angeles Clippers, what he did in the 80’s and 2000’s is not lost of the current Laker leadership team. It can’t be. If there is any doubt, consider that the Golden State Warriors are one Championship away this year or next from being our newest dynasty. Why does that matter? Jerry West joined the Clippers after a stint with the Warriors.

He joined them in 2011. That year they were 23-43. Now they are…pretty good. He is credited with insisting on not trading Klay Thompson for a proven scorer. Jerry West knows the value of draft and wait. Moreso, he knows the value of allowing the right pieces to come together then how to sprinkle the right free agent (Kevin Durant) to make a winner.

Heck, to make a dynasty.

Which takes us back to the Lakers of 2017-18. They have drafted well. Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram all are draft picks with bright futures. The question now is are any of these a star you can build around. The 80’s had Kareem and Magic, the 2000’s saw Shaq and Kobe. At the end of the day, this is a star driven league. Which of these current Lakers players are the stars?

These are the tough decisions Jerry West was (and most likely remains) very good at. The Lakers have drafted well, they have waited now it’s time to sign the right complimentary pieces. If someone on the current Lakers core proves to be a star, then they sign a Beta to the Lakers Alpha. If they discover they have a team full of Betas, they need an Alpha or two. The Lakers have stockpiled cash for the 2018 off season.

Not Beta cash, but Alpha cash.

While not exactly ready to sign two players to max contracts the franchise is close. They would have to jettison some of their existing contracts in order to have room to bring in two big dawgs. Which leads me to what the writing on the wall suggests.

The Lakers of 2017-18 will entertain. They will work hard, and win more than they have in the past. This season however is less about making the playoffs than it is a tryout of sorts.Which of the players on the team currently are either Alpha material or good enough, with the right temperament to play second fiddle to the Alpha(s) the Lakers plan on bringing in.

The fact that the Lakers have purposefully and aggressively saved cash for the 2018 off-season is the greatest indicator there is. This season will be an extended episode of Survivor. Either an Alpha emerges organically from the group or one (or two) will be brought in to lead the team back to greatness.

My guess is we will see the latter over the former.

Welcome to the Los Angeles Lakers 2017-18 season – the greatest reality TV show on TV!

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