Oct 18, 2013; Shanghai, China; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) in pre-game warm up against the Golden State Warriors at Mercedes-Benz Arena. Mandatory Credit: Danny La-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers Need To Draft A Leader

The losing streaks have been insufferable to Laker fans and the team.  Morale is at an all-time low.  Players have been waived.  Other players are named in trade rumors. There’s a lot of intangible fluctuation surrounding the team, but the team marches on.

As a franchise, the Lakers need to stop, regroup, think of a strategy, and execute. There are a few options for the Lakers that all other teams have, lower-level exception money, mid-level exception money (assuming the team is over the cap), trades, free agency, and the draft.

One question I’m asked every year is, “Should the Lakers draft by position or best player available?”  My answer is the best player available.  Here’s why.

Think about Kobe Bryant.  Think about how you, as a fan, have watched him grow in the past eighteen seasons.  Think of all the championships won.  Think of all the individual accolades.  Think about how he won championships through two championship windows, with Shaquille O’Neal and without him.  Think of how he broke multiple scoring records trying to keep the team afloat.  Think of all the game winners. Think of the joy you felt as a fan.  That’s a lot of thinking.

Now, imagine the Laker team without him.  Newer Laker fans who didn’t experience the joy of the 1980′s Lakers can’t imagine the team much without him.  The 1996 Laker team didn’t NEED to draft him.  Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were All-Star guards in the making.  Nick Van Exel was the team’s new Mr. Clutch.  Eddie Jones played stellar defense, posterized Shawn Bradley twice in the same game, and hit threes.  Shaquille O’Neal was later acquired on the team.  There was plenty of talent on that late-90′s Laker team, but they could never get over the hump.  The San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz gave them fits every season in the playoffs, usually ending in being swept.  Kobe Bryant needed to mature as a player on both ends of the court before the championships came.  He had a talent that Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones couldn’t match.

Dec 16, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) shoots the basket over Atlanta Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll (5) in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sportsie Jones couldn’t match.

So, what do the Lakers need?  The team needs a new franchise player. Kobe Bryant gave his absolute all to the team, so questioning the contract extension seems irrelevant to argue. Pau Gasol has a few flashes of brilliance, but can’t carry the team with the same amount of energy and fervor from game-to-game to keep the Lakers a playoff contender. There are too many injuries.  Kobe Bryant needs a player to pass the torch to. Both the Lakers and Kobe Bryant alike, need a player that understands the responsibility of maximizing one’s individual talent, and what it means for the team, the organization, the city, and the league. They need a new leader.

There are a lot of great NBA prospects in the upcoming 2014 draft.  The most notable names are Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart, and Zach Lavine.  The Lakers may not even fly up the early lottery to find that special talent.  But, of the draft, Kobe was drafted 13th, the last of the lottery picks.  His career turned out better than Allen Iverson, Antoine Walker, Ray Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, and Steve Nash; full of All-Star talents, MVPs, scoring leaders, and defensive leaders.  Kobe Bryant wasn’t as highly touted because he was a guard coming out of high school.  Fortunately for the Lakers, he donned a Laker jersey.  The team was smart enough to draft a second leader in Derek Fisher, and the rest is history.

It isn’t always the guys with the best talent that win championships.  It’s the guys with the best character and approach to the game coinciding with elite talent.  That man is out there.  Amidst all of the losses, hope can be reserved for when the franchise rises again to championship glory.  It all starts with the draft.  It all starts with the best player available.

Tags: Aaron Gordon Andrew Wiggins Dante Exum Draft Jabari Parker Joel Embiid Julius Randle Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Marcus Smart Noah Vonleh Zach Lavine

  • J Taylor

    Draft a leader?
    What if the team sends it’s #1 pick to the pistons for Monroe?
    Or gets creative with Boston and finds a way to get Rondo?

    For what it’s worth, the next team leader will be either (or both) K.Love or K.Durant.

    Currently, the team NEEDS to draft a SG and/or C solution moving forward.

    • Mike Garcia

      Can’t trade away the 2014 pick unless they get a 2015 pick in return.

      I don’t think Monroe is that guy. Rondo won’t really be leading a youth movement for the team.

      And like I said in the article, I don’t think drafting by position is a wise idea.

    • Chrmngblly

      What they need is a power stretch 4. I am very curious to see what happens to Sacre. Sacre’s much more athletic than I thought. Gasol is a center who, if he resigns for a reasonable amount would be worth keeping around or traded this year at the deadline. Nobody cares what happens with Kaman. I think they have a big clog of big nobodies at the 4. Meeks is holding his own at the 2.

      • Mike Garcia

        I think everybody is up for grabs at every position.

  • Chrmngblly

    Wrong. The Lakers biggest need is leadership from the owners chair. Jim Buss has no gravitas. Why? Because he is a snot-nosed spoiled rich kid who has never done anything in his life. What is his hippie-slacker image all about? He should step aside and let Jeanie and Phil take over now that he’s wrecked everything.

    • Mike Garcia

      All the more reason for drafting properly. Redemption.

      • Chrmngblly

        Except that Jim-Buss imagines that for the Lakers, scouts are not necessary and that all of them could easily be replaced by a few drunks. To prove he was not misquoted. as soon as his father died, he fired the whole scouting staff. Now what?

        • Mike Garcia

          Now he needs to understand the weight of the situation, and see that this is the opportunity to put his name next to Dr. Buss by building a championship team from scratch without his father by his side.

          People learn. Kupchak wasn’t good at the draft early on either.

          • Chrmngblly

            You are young. What about the rest of us? Mike, evaluating talent is such a rare skill. How do you suppose Jim Buss is ever going to learn it? He is starting from so far away. He doesn’t trust anybody and nobody trusts him. JB is a lousy leader. The Lakers need a shake-up. And you are wrong, not all people learn; how would someone learn to become Jerry Buss?

          • Mike Garcia

            Totally disagree. Look at the Spurs organization of the past 10 years. How many coaches have they made? How many GMs have they made? They all learned through the organization.

          • Chrmngblly

            Pay attention. It is true that some people, if they have the aptitude, can learn the ropes through the OJT of real life. But not everyone has the aptitude. As I understand it, Jim Buss’ degree is in math. He’s not really a people person.

            Jerry Buss was a superstar of charisma and people—look how he handled Kobe and Magic and Shaq and Kareem. All the Laker greats loved him. It is not the same with his son.

            Not everyone can do everything.

          • Mike Garcia

            Jerry Buss had a degree in Chemistry. He was definitely a people person.

            You’re right that Jerry Buss had the charisma, but that is not a defining characteristic of successful franchises. While it’s very clear that you don’t want to see Jim Buss as the leader, the question then is, who do you want to see? Jeanie Buss has said that she doesn’t want it on previous radio shows. She has enough on her plate as a governor for the Lakers.

            Everyone knows Jerry Buss as an owner. Do you know the owner for the Miami Heat and how he operates? What about the Celtics? Oklahoma City Thunder? San Antonio Spurs? There is no definitive of saying which way is best. Everyone has their own way of making a successful business. Jeanie and Jim as a team have to do the same.

          • Chrmngblly

            Of course she says she doesn’t want the job. To do otherwise would rip the Buss family apart. This whole Buss family division of the Lakers between the kids is so much like King Lear, if you remember the play. The whole Mike Brown, MDA succession of coaches would not have happened under Jeanie Buss. It is not that Phil would run things through Jeanie but she could have gotten Phil’s advice with no loss of face. The problem in the Buss family is that all the men feel overshadowed by Phil Jackson, so they have to do the opposite of what Phil would do. He has cast a giant shadow in the basketball world, hasn’t he? The trouble with Jim is he has never cast any shadow anywhere.

            Pat Riley walked into the Lakers coaching ranks as an ex-mediocre player and ex-so-so announcer but he had the personal humility to ask the players to carry him—and they did. He said this himself.

            Jim didn’t have the self-confidence to do that. What he did was John Wayne the place as soon as his dad died. Mike, I don’t know the owner of the Miami Heat that well, but I do know how he operates: Everyone over there used to work for the Lakers; he hires the best from the best. JB has never run a successful company or even had a job not working for his dad, as far as I know. There is a vacuum of experienced leadership at the very top of the Lakers organization. I point out the Howard fiasco as proof. The consequences of not acting before the trade deadline before Howard walked will impact the Lakers for a decade or more.

  • Jim213

    Valid point raised as this will need to be addressed in the near future once KB24 retires. The team has to select a player come 2014 draft (per CBA) though can be traded away once selected but this is not likely to happen especially if they end up with a top prospect.

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