Will the Los Angeles Lakers keep or trade the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft on June 25?
Will they select either Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor – or will they avoid one of the top two centers highly expected to be drafted first and second overall in some order and instead take a dynamic young guard?
Already, these questions and more are swirling among Lakers fans even though it has been only a few days since their team landed some very good luck in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery held in New York.
In radio appearances Thursday, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak discussed the draft pick and what the Lakers might do with it, although he pointed out that it’s still early, that they’re still fielding calls from teams interested in the pick and that they still must work out and interview draft prospects in the coming weeks.
“It looks as though we’ll use our pick this year,” Kupchak said during a radio appearance with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd.
Kupchak didn’t commit to the idea that the Lakers would be taking a center, but his comments certainly leaned that way.
“Clearly, at the top of the draft at this time, there are two bigs, and we have the second pick,” Kupchak told Cowherd.
Of course, which center the Lakers might select depends on who is available.
At the moment, the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the first pick and it appears as though the Lakers will need only to choose whichever center the Timberwolves don’t take, meaning they’ll end up with either Towns or Okafor.
As much as the NBA was once dominated by centers, it is now dominated by guards. Look no further than the Western Conference finals matchup featuring the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.
“You could argue that,” Kupchak told Cowherd. “The jury is still out, but you could argue that, and there’s no doubt that the game that’s being played today is very different from the game that was played eight to 10 years ago. It’s the 3-point shots, the drive-and-kick [style].
“Now, the teams that have had great success still have centers. San Antonio, they’ve done pretty well with a center there. Memphis has a great center. Although they didn’t advance this year, they have an excellent team. Golden State, they don’t use their center to score points, but they still have a 7-foot, 7-foot-1 guy.
“So you still need size in this league. You need a rim protector. A guy that takes space. A guy to pass the ball to run the offense through.”
Kupchak said there’s more pressure on the Lakers to rebuild quickly, which often means acquiring top-notch free agents. Building through the draft, he said, isn’t something the team has historically done.
That said, he admitted the team has had recent success with draft picks. The Lakers have built a core of young talent, specifically with guard Jordan Clarkson, who was recently named to the All-Rookie first team, and forward Julius Randle, the team’s seventh overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2014 draft who broke his leg in the team’s first game last season.
“If we do end up using this pick in the draft, and let’s just assume we get a big player – which if you look at our roster, you might say, well, that’s what they need -- then you can say, hey, they have three young players going forward that might be fun to build around,” Kupchak said during an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg.
Kupchak said he sees several potential All-Stars at the top of this year’s draft, but he’s not sure if he sees any franchise-altering players.
“I do think that there are four or five players that are very, very good, and when you look back on [the draft] 10 years from now, I think they could all be All-Stars,” he told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “But I don’t think there’s anybody that next year will lead a team to champagne in June.
“If that does happen, particularly with us, then we’ll have to get lucky in the offseason, particularly with free agency. Kobe [Bryant] is going to have to come back and be very healthy, which I understand he’s on track for. But I don’t think right now that there’s anybody who can make that kind of difference right away.”
If the Lakers had fallen out of the top five in this week’s draft lottery, they would have lost their 2015 first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers because of the Steve Nash trade.
Not only did the Lakers stay in the top five, they moved up two spots from the No. 4 spot, where they were most likely to land after finishing with the league’s fourth-worst record (21-61) last season.
But the Lakers will almost certainly lose their 2016 first-round pick to the 76ers after next season -- unless the Lakers' pick falls in the top three picks, in which case the Lakers would keep it.
To even be in position for such an outcome to occur, the Lakers would need to have another calamitous season, and it appears as though they’ll now have the pieces to, at the very least, avoid a repeat of last season’s historically bad campaign.
Still, Kupchak said he didn’t think the fact that they’ll lose their first-round pick to the 76ers next year means they need to keep their first-round pick this year.
“It’s not the worst thing to be able to pick in the first round every other year,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “If we do our job this year and we’re not a top-three bad team next year, then that pick does go to Philadelphia. And I don’t think that would be the end of the world. We’re just happy to get this year’s pick.”
Indeed, there was plenty of celebrating not only for Lakers fans but within the organization itself. The team posted a video of Kupchak popping the cork on a bottle of celebratory champagne after the No. 2 pick was secured.
“Well, I prefer to be doing the champagne about five weeks from now -- not celebrating the No. 2 pick in the draft,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “But we had a season that was tough. We had two seasons that were tough. So it would’ve been just really difficult to not get a pick. We got the pick, and not only did we get the pick in the top five, we moved up to No. 2."
How valuable is that pick? Potentially very valuable, Kupchak said.
“Let’s just say there was a team that had the fifth or sixth or seventh pick, and they wanted to go to No. 2,” Kupchak told SiriusXM NBA Radio. “In that area of the draft, just to move up two or three or four slots, normally, it’s hard to do. And the price that that team would pay would be high, because they’ve targeted a player that they really want. Obviously the other team would know that, and they would have to pay for that.”