Lakers fans were understandably befuddled when GM Mitch Kupchak opened the free-agency period by signing Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million contract. Mozgov?!? Sure, the 7'1" center had just won a championship with the Cavaliers, but he was barely a factor during the title run. After losing his starting job during an injury-plagued season, Mozgov averaged just 5.8 minutes in the postseason and didn't even get on the court eight times.
Kupchak and first-time coach Luke Walton are hoping that Mozgov, 30, still has some quality basketball left in the tank. After finishing with the league's worst defense, the Lakers wasted no time moving on from ponderous Roy Hibbert, whose clunky offensive game also made him a poor fit. While Mozgov isn't necessarily the most agile center either, he's a capable finisher in pick-and-rolls, and he has a knack for creating opportunities with off-ball cuts. He has even spent some time in the preseason honing a three-point stroke.
This new marriage is bound to face some tough moments, given the Lakers' youth and lack of defensive talent, but Mozgov is excited to be back in his team's plans. "[Walton] said I'm going to play a lot," he told the L.A. Daily News. "I really like it."
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH LUKE WALTON (1st season with Lakers)
2015--16 RECORD 17--65 (5th in Pacific)
PG D'ANGELO RUSSELL
13.2 PPG; 3.3 APG; 41.0 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
SG JORDAN CLARKSON
15.5 PPG; 4.0 RPG; 43.3 FG%; 34.7 3FG%
SF LUOL DENG*
12.3 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 45.5 FG%; 34.4 3FG%
PF JULIUS RANDLE
11.3 PPG; 10.2 RPG; 0.7 SPG; 42.9 FG%
C TIMOFEY MOZGOV*
6.3 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 56.5 FG%
SG LOU WILLIAMS
15.3 PPG; 2.5 APG; 40.8 FG%; 34.4 3FG%
SF BRANDON INGRAM (R)
17.3 PPG; 6.8 RPG; 44.2 FG%; 41.0 3FG%
PF LARRY NANCE JR.
5.5 PPG; 5.0 RPG; 0.9 SPG; 52.7 FG%
*NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
TELLING NUMBER 5.8
A rival scout sizes up Los Angeles
The best-case scenario is that D'Angelo Russell becomes a high-level starter, Brandon Ingram is in the Rookie of the Year mix, and they get a clear sense for how Julius Randle fits into their plans. And they still might not win 25 games.... They should change more than any other team, with Kobe Bryant retiring and [coach] Luke Walton taking over for Byron Scott. They'll play fast, take more threes, run less isolation and have a lot more opportunity for their young prospects, which is how they should have played last year.... Russell is their most important player. The style shift will work if he makes it work, and it will fail if he's not quite ready. Give him a mulligan for last year because Bryant dominated everything. If Russell "gets it," he'll be a superstar. He's ready for a breakout.... Ingram has off-the-charts talent, but it will take him a few years to be an impact guy. His lack of strength will hurt him, and he needs to tighten up his handle. I see him as a skilled all-around offensive player but not quite elite.... Randle has the biggest question marks. Is he a starter? A guy off the bench? A trade chip? Maybe Walton sees Randle as a Draymond Green type. He can handle the ball a little bit, but can he make the reads? I don't think Randle has shown a clear skill set. He's pretty easy to guard. He goes left over and over, and he goes to his spin move over and over.... Larry Nance Jr. could wind up being more important than Randle. He's a more natural fit as a small five, he plays with great energy, and he's an above-the-rim threat. Everything he does translates to winning.
Coach Luke Walton won 73 games with the Dubs last year. It might take him three years to win that many here.