The free agency of 2014 is a primary focus for many NBA teams, now including the Lakers. Things didn’t work out with Dwight Howard. If they did, 2014 would have just been another year, Bryant wouldn’t have played so many excess minutes late in the season, and it’s possible he wouldn’t have been injured for the rest of the year. The Lakers have recouped some talent with Wesley Person, Jordan Farmar, and Chris Kaman. Xavier Henry and Shawne Williams each have a shot of making the team.
Do you remember it being this difficult to add talent to the Laker team? I don’t. The Lakers didn’t always go the free agency route to add talent.
What the organization used to due occurred under Jerry West as General Manager. The Lakers used to be a team that scouted exceedingly well and took high risk picks during the draft. While they had a few lottery picks to acquire Magic Johnson and James Worthy, it was the core around them to make the team. Norm Nixon became a Clipper for a lottery pick, resulting in Byron Scott being a Laker. Mike McGee? He was the 19th pick back in 1981, a consistent 10 point per game scorer. A.C. Green? He was drafted #23 in 1985, and eventually became an All-Star and NBA Ironman. Vlade Divac? He was drafted #26 in 1989, became a solid starting center for playoff teams, and was the team leader for Yugoslavia. The next year, Elden Campbell was picked #27 alongside Tony Smith at pick #51.
I’ll stop right there. Outside of Mike McGee, in a 5 year period, the Lakers drafted one All-Star, a quality starting center, a quality power forward, and a solid back up point guard/shooting guard. These were the guys that carried the Laker team once Magic Johnson and James Worthy left. These are the guys who kept the Laker team winning at a high level while Magic and Worthy were running the show.
I didn’t even mention Nick Van Exel, Anthony Peeler, Doug Christie, Ruben Patterson, Derek Fisher and George Lynch. All of these guys were drafted late in the 1st or mid 2nd round, others were acquired through trade as a draft pick.
What happened? Within a 10-year span, dating back to 2000, the Lakers have had one lottery pick that worked out, Andrew Bynum. Luke Walton, while solid, didn’t have the career that Elden Campbell had; who eventually became a starter on another team as a top option on offense. Jordan Farmar had relatively simlar impact to Tony Smith. What about Von Wafer? Brian Cook? Devin Ebanks? Darius Morris? Ronny Turiaf?
Lately, none of the Laker players acquired through the draft have really stuck with the team. While this can be for a multitude of reasons, one of them, I believe is because they draft “safe” picks. Bynum was the riskiest of all. Farmar was nearly as risky. But, 3-4 year college players that don’t have the athletic upside of other players or the skill level to compensate have trouble earning minutes on NBA teams.
The current CBA doesn’t make things easier to acquire free agents. Cap room and luxury tax increase the restriction of teams acquiring players. It’s easier to draft effectively and keep the players in-house. This is not a criticism of Mitch Kupchak or is staff, but rather, refocusing on the idea of taking advantage of all opportunities to increase team talent. It seems like the focus shifted away from the draft and into free agency. Modern NBA regulations are steering the focus back into the draft.
If the Lakers drafted a bit more effectively, there wouldn’t have been such a talent depletion. Opportunities were there: Marcus Thornton, Chase Budinger, or Danny Green, instead of Patrick Beverley, and then trading Beverley to the Heat, Monta Ellis or Louis Williams instead of Ronny Turiaf, Beno Udrih, Anderson Varejao, or Trevor Ariza instead of Sasha Vujacic. In just those three instances alone, you have a quality 6th man (Marcus Thornton), a borderline All-Star (Monta Ellis), and a deserving All-Star (Anderson Varejao). Imagine that.
Long-time NBA fans will say, “Every team misses someone in the draft.” My response usually is, “Right. The Lakers didn’t used to miss that much. Why do you think they keep winning?”