The L.A. Lakers young core: Stick or twist?

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If you asked any casual sports fan around the world to think of a basketball team, there is a high chance that the one franchise they would be able to name is the L.A. Lakers.

Greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the recently enshrined Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, Shaquille O'Neal and the recently retired Kobe Bryant made the Purple and Gold one of the most storied, legendary franchises in the sport.

However, recent seasons have been a grand departure from the title-laden traditions they became so accustomed to.

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The Lakers have a record of 65-181 over the past three seasons; the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs won more games than that during the 2015-16 campaign alone.

However, as is often the case in the NBA, sooner or later an organisations luck has to turn. Usually, the draft process plays a significant role in this.

Although Kobe Bryant has played his last game, the Lakers made a shrewd signing in the summer to ease the pain. It's not a direct replacement for the Black Mamba, or even player.

Luke Walton was appointed the head coach of the franchise he won two NBA rings with - alongside Kobe incidentally - and there is little doubt that the 36-year-old is the hottest young coach in the NBA today.

He guided the Warriors to a record-setting 24-0 start while usual head coach Steve Kerr was mending his surgically repaired back last year, but the Lakers are a totally different kind of job.

Now he has to guide D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr into becoming a true force in the NBA once again.

Clarkson is the oldest of that pack at 24-years-old. The rest are no older than 22.

“They’re playing great, the young guys have been coming in every day and working out,” Walton said at the Lakers' opening of their new training facility. said. “They seem to enjoy playing together, they’re moving the ball, which is all you can really ask for in the summertime.”

Ingram has been likened to Kevin Durant, Russell showed signs of why he was the 2015 second overall pick last year and Randle recorded his first triple-double last term.

There is talent at the Staples Center, but is it going to be worth the wait?

For the first time in a while, the Lakers find themselves in quite a strong trade position. While they only have a couple of incoming second-round draft picks to entice with, they do have young talent that are attached to more than reasonable contracts.

Would picking up a player like DeMarcus Cousins, who is seemingly always butting heads with the Sacramento Kings, make sense to the Lakers if they dropped, say, Clarkson and Nance Jr?

Through in a couple of future draft picks and some money and they could be in business. At this stage, a defensive pivot like Nerlens Noel is rumoured to be available from the Sixers and they are in desperate need of a guard.

The Lakers could conceivably make some moves to lift themselves up into playoff contention in the here and now. But, do they believe the young core they have won't just make them playoff contenders down the line, but title contenders?

That's the dilemma they face.

Shaquille O'Neal
Western Conference
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
Luol Deng
Miami Heat
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Kobe Bryant

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