The stakes were high- this was a lottery class that was talked about when the players were in high school. So the anticipation was thick. Would the Lakers shock the world? Or, would they get their comeuppance for all the years they tormented the league? The rhetoric reached epic levels. Some sports hosts vowed not to come to work if the Lakers got the #1 pick. Others watched amazed. By the time the unveiling happened it seemed like water torture, it was just that slow. And then there was no escaping the truth. This was not the year for the Lakers to shock the world. There will be no Jabari Parker in purple and gold. No Andrew Wiggins on Time Warner commercials. No Joel Embiid to compare to a young Lew Alcindor. The Chick Hearn bobblehead did not bestow fortune. The Lakers will pick 7th. They will have to shift their attention elsewhere.
For the past few months, in lieu of watching the disaster that was on the court, Lakers fans engaged in a game of what if. What if we get a top three pick? What if we land someone to deliver us out of the darkness and into the promise land? Yes, that’s it. That is the reason we are having the worst season in Lakers history- now it makes sense. This is our self-inflicted punishment for Mike D’antoni and his defense and his hatred of Pau Gasol. The pendulum will have turned back to goodness, in our favor; we will reap our rewards.
This kind of thinking helped ease the pain of 30 point losses. But it always was a long shot to move up in the draft which proved true on Tuesday night. You have to be lucky and the Lakers were not, even as they trotted out their last number one pick, James Worthy as a charm. Cards were turned over. Logos were revealed. Dreams fell to the earth. The Lakers will pick 7th.
They cannot trade this pick as many have speculated, NBA rules don’t allow it; they traded last year’s pick in the Steve Nash deal. There will be considerable debate and discussion and contemplation on which of the remaining players are the best fit for the Lakers future. At the NBA Combine the players measurables were as expected. Noah Vonleh had incredible hands. Dante Exum was an agile guard and very young. Aaron Gordon could jump out of the gym. Julius Randle had short arms. Marcus Smart was quick. But there is no test to measure heart and desire and toughness. There is nothing to determine if a player is resilient, can take criticism and has a work ethic. There are leaders. They are winners. They are fighters. And there are losers. Every lottery has one of each, often several.
The question to be answered by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss and their scouting staff is which of the players available to them at the seventh pick have the best chance at avoiding the negatives. Which player has the best chance at being an All Star because that is the expectation of lottery players: All Star talent. But talent does not always deliver on its promise. The last 5 lottery classes have produced 9 All-Stars (Blake Griffin, James Harden, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, Paul George, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard). 9 All-Stars out of 60 lottery players.
We know this. We know Ben McLemore was picked #7 in 2013 and shot 37% his rookie year. We know Harrison Barnes was picked #7 in 2012 and had a disastrous second year. We know Bismack Biyombo was picked #7 in 2011and averages three points a game. We know Greg Monroe was drafted #7 in 2010 and has a good shot at an All-Star selection sometime in his future. We know Eric Gordon was drafted #7 in 2008 and has had an injury riddled career. We know Corey Brewer was drafted #7 in 2007, has developed each year but will never be an All-Star (12 points, 3 rebounds). We know Randy Foye was drafted #7 in 2006; he too will never be an All-Star (13 points, 4 assists). We know Charlie Villanueva was drafted #7 in 2005 and is an underachiever. We know Luol Deng was drafted #7 in 2004 and has had a very good career.
We also know Steph Curry. He was the #7 pick in 2009. He is the best shooter in the NBA. He is a 20 point, 8 assist player. But he was not in the playoffs his first three years. Steph Curry was in college for three years. He developed each year, he got better each year. He matured each year. No one the Lakers will pick will be as polished as Steph Curry. The experience of a three year player and his maturity hardly compares to that of a freshman.
There is no player at the 7 spot that is a slam dunk. Even worse, the Lakers do not have a coach. They do not have a leader. They do not have a philosophy. They do not have a defense. They do not have a system. They do not have a face.
College coaches have began to pull back. Kevin Ollie has signed a new deal with Connecticut. John Calipari has renewed his commitment to his “kids”. Roy Williams has not said much about whether he is interested. That leaves the rest. Byron Scott. Mark Jackson. Jeff Van Gundy. Ettore Messina. Quinn Snyder. Mike Dunleavy. Lionel Hollins. George Karl. The interviews will be lengthy. Remember they hired Mike Brown because he killed it in the interview. Then there were only three viable candidates. Now there are close to a dozen. They hired Mike D’antoni because of Steve Nash. And Dr. Buss wanted a fast paced style. Two failures in three years have defined the Lakers front office as much as the players they acquired whose skill set was mediocre.
Mitch Kupchak has repeatedly said that he wants a coach by draft night, June 26th. After that the world is fast moving. Free agency begins July 1st and the Lakers aren’t the only ones with money to spend. No other team has so few players. These are not your father’s Lakers. These Lakers have the most work to do, more than anyone else in the league. On Tuesday night it got a little clearer, their path. From here, it looks like the road with a lot of bumps and curves and hills is the one they have to travel. It may be a rough ride.