LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers pulled out a short-handed win on the road over the Chicago Bulls, 96-90, on the final day of November. Despite playing without starting guards D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, (both injured), the Lakers improved to a respectable 10-10.
The team hasn’t won since.
“We’re not quite good enough to endure injuries and still win on a consistent basis,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Sunday at a season-ticket-holder event at Staples Center.
“The last 10 days have been tough. We’re in every game. We fight until the very, very end,” Kupchak continued. “We’re hopeful we can get back some of the guys who have been injured and get back to winning games on a consistent basis.”
Russell (knee) and Young (calf) returned, with minute restrictions Sunday, but the Lakers still fell to the New York Knicks, 118-112—followed by their seventh straight defeat Monday, getting blitzed by the Sacramento Kings on the road, 116-92.
It’s not too late for L.A. to make a playoff run, but that possibility has dimmed since November. The Lakers will play their next six games away from Staples Center.
“We’re about 20-something games into the season; we’re a little beat up,” Kupchak said of the 10-17 Lakers. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, but I think we’re fun to watch. The young players are playing, and you’re going to watch them get better and better. We’re very hopeful that some of our young players will turn into really, really good NBA players.”
The Lakers were a disaster on the court the last few years, but the reward was high draft positions.
“Our scouts have done a wonderful job,” Kupchak said. “Beginning with Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle two years ago, D’Angelo and Larry Nance [Jr.] and then this year with Brandon Ingram and a player that will play … Ivica Zubac. You haven’t seen too much of him, and he’s very young, but he’s very skilled and we think he has a bright future.”
The youth movement may be in full effect, but the Lakers need their kids to blossom into stars.
L.A. arguably made a mistake in 2015 by selecting Russell at No. 2 over Kristaps Porzingis, who fell to the Knicks at No. 4 and has become a sensation in New York.
Speaking on the topic of how he evaluates players in the draft, Kupchak acknowledged, “There are some players that you pass over that are going to be great players. You can’t say, ‘Why didn’t I do this?’ You have to look at your players. Are they going to be just as good?”
“I think the players that we have, two or three years from now, I think you’re going to be very excited and pleased with this group of players. I really do,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Kupchak is confident he has the right man in the locker room to bring the best out of the roster.
“We love [head coach] Luke Walton,” he said. “He’s not a Hall of Fame coach today, but we’re betting that every year he’s going to become better and better. He’ll be a really good coach, and maybe a great coach, but a lot of that has to do with the players we get him, too.”
Walton worked wonders with a healthy roster, even with the team’s primary free-agent acquisitions (Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov) making modest contributions.
The Lakers are stuck on 10 victories, but that’s well-ahead of last year’s debacle. (It took 82 games and 60 points from Kobe Bryant in the season finale for the Lakers to win their 17th game last year.)
“It was just one of the …