With the season over and all of Dallas dancing in the streets, the next order of business, and thanks to the high likelihood of a protracted lockout it could be the only order for a while, is the NBA Draft, on June 23.
The Lakers have no first rounder (sent to Jersey in the Sasha Vujacic/Joe Smith swap), and four second round picks -- 41, 46, 56, and 58. Not exactly prime real estate, particularly in a draft considered . . . suboptimal. Still, as ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin notes, G.M. Mitch Kupchak hopes to find NBA caliber talent overlooked at least 40 times by other teams when their first pick rolls around. The Lakers have actually had a decent level of success in the second round (Marc Gasol, Ronny Turiaf, Luke Walton, Von Wafer (seriously) to name a few examples) and over the years some good players (Michael Redd, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis) have been selected in the low 40's.
Still, finding an impact player so late is definitely the exception to the rule.
Kupchak mentions center and the backcourt as potential areas of need, and notes while new coach Mike Brown will eventually have a voice once free agency and trade season rolls around, for the draft he'll have more of an observational role. By the time draft day arrives, the team expects to have worked out about 40 players. Which ones would be best? I have no idea. College basketball and the international game aren't my area of expertise (though I'm comfortable saying if Kyrie Irving slips to 41, nab him!).
We'll bring you insight from genuine draft wonks before the 23rd, but in the meantime, here are a few broad points to consider:
1. Take the Best Guys Available. We all know the Lakers could really use a shooter and a point guard (or ideally, a point guard who can really shoot). But at the point they're drafting, it's all about grabbing as much talent as possible with positional need factoring in only as a tiebreaker. While obviously a weak draft shines a light on those kids who can really play, one potential advantage is teams will likely have very different boards. Meaning, there's a reasonable chance when pick 41 arrives, the Lakers could get someone they consider to be five or (if they're lucky) ten-plus spots better. Passing him because the 47th ranked guy on the board happens to be the next highest ranked point guard doesn't make sense.
Even if the Lakers score a player they had far higher on their board, his chances of becoming a meaningful contributor next season for a team with championship aspirations are slim, no matter the position. All the more reason to maximize talent.
2. Temper Your Expectations and Look to the Future. The Lakers actually did very well for themselves last summer, drafting Devin Ebanks (43rd pick) and Derrick Caracter (58th), both of whom made the roster. Whether either becomes a contributing member of an NBA rotation remains to be seen (in that regard, Ebanks definitely has a leg up) but if even only one does, especially if it's for the Lakers, L.A. will have more or less exceeded the math of their draft position a year ago. Should the Lakers again find a player or two worthy of test driving for a couple seasons, this year's draft will likely be considered a success.
There's nothing glamorous about it. Certainly nobody will accuse Kupchak of falsely raising expectations. "I would like to be able to maybe get one player that makes our roster," he told McMenamin.
3. Drafting Dudes to Stash Away Makes Sense. As things stand now, nine spots are basically locked up. Ten if Shannon Brown returns. If Ebanks is on solid ground to return-- I'd be very, very surprised if they let him go-- another spot disappears. Even while accounting for the likelihood of new blood coming in and perhaps some old blood going out, the Lakers don't have scads of available space. Combined with the grim track record of players selected into the fifties, it makes a great deal of sense to use at least one of the picks on someone able to be stashed overseas for a few seasons to develop.
In the NBA, you can't flip a guy in Double-A for a veteran at the deadline the way baseball teams do. Anyone whose rights a team wants to keep needs to be on the roster, and there are only 15 spots to go around. The exception, of course, are players drafted but never signed. It's as close to a risk free prospect development opportunity as the league offers. Perhaps that guy eventually plays for the Lakers, or maybe he becomes a chip to be used in a future deal, a'la Marc Gasol. But even if we never hear from this hypothetical overseas player again, the odds of having lost out on something far more useful are small.
Why draft someone almost sure to be cut? Instead, use a pick or two on a player developing somewhere else, hold the rights, and see what happens.