The Lakers organization has long been associated with high profile free agent signings and trades, the likes of which have brought Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant to Los Angeles. The recent acquisitions of Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash have reinforced the Lakers’ image as big monied poachers, targeting vulnerable franchises’ most valued pieces.
What has been lost in the hoopla of the recent past, is that traditionally the Lakers have always built their championship teams through the draft. The Showtime era came from Jerry West making shrewd moves that yielded lottery picks. A trade of Gail Goodrich in 1976 yielded a pick that would eventually turn into Magic Johnson in the 1979 draft. A trade of Don Ford in 1980 turned into James Worthy as the no.1 overall pick in 1982.
Coming off being swept in the 1983 Finals, Norm Nixon was traded to the Clippers for the No.4 overall pick in the 1983 draft, Byron Scott. With just three deft moves over the course of 4 years, the organization was able to rebuild itself while simultaneously staying competitive for championships. The Lakers were able to gracefully phase out veterans like Jamaal Wilkes and Bob McAdoo, while slowly bringing along young studs like Worthy and Scott.
The selection of A.C. Green late in the first round of the 1985 draft completed the transformation into Showtime. By 1987, the Lakers had won their 4th championship in 8 years, but looked nothing like typical dynastic teams. The ’87 team was young, with a 27 year old Magic, 25 year old Worthy and Scott, and 23 year old Green. At the exact time contenders like the Celtics and Sixers were aging, the Lakers had been given a facelift. It explains Pat Riley’s confidence in predicting a repeat during that year’s championship parade.
The Lakers continued to draft well in the late 80’s and early 90’s, bringing aboard Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, and Derek Fisher. Divac was flipped for Kobe Bryant in 1996, and those five players were the complementary core surrounding Shaquille O’Neal that made the 1998 Conference Finals. Those moves marked the end of the Jerry West era of patient team building combined with smart trades and signings. The Mitch Kupchak era, while wildly successful, has mostly forgone seeking the acquisition of lottery picks and mid first round picks.
A poor 2005 season, yielded the Lakers’ only lottery pick in the Kobe Bryant era, a young man from New Jersey named Andrew Bynum. The increasing age and declining health of Jerry Buss might have been a prime cause in a shift in philosophy. Winning championship number 17 took precedence over keeping the team awash in younger, prime talent. What has become painfully clear,however, is that those last championships came at a steep price.
Outside of Bynum, the Lakers have been unable to develop a home grown talent that could be groomed alongside Bryant. With a heavy flood of top notch prospects becoming available starting with the 2014 draft, and with a new punitive collective bargaining agreement, its imperative the organization acquire good, young, cheap talent.