Thursday will officially begin the Victor Wembanyama-era in the NBA with the new wave of NBA players thrust into their new lives and careers as the NBA Draft starts on Thursday at 5 pm PST. There has been a fair amount of fodder surrounding this year’s draft, from who is going to land Wembanyama, to Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller (It’s Scoot by the way), all the way to varying reports sharing that not a single pick from 2-10 is safe from being traded.
While these reports are fun, and the very reason I was hoping for the snooze-fest finals to end, none of them are linked to what really matters here — the Los Angeles Lakers. The team is entering Thursday with the no. 17 and no. 47 picks and if you know the Lakers, you know those picks are slightly more lethal with us than in the hands of another scouting department.
While the organization does seemingly hit on far more draft picks, specifically late round to even undrafted, there is a conversation around whether or not to actually retain and use the pick or to use it in order to acquire a starting caliber role player. That’s what Rob Pelinka and company are going to have to weigh out over the next 3 days.
Utilize the Lakers scouting department and draft at 17
Thanks to a nasty legal battle with some family in the mid-2010s surrounding the team’s ownership, any Buss family outside of Jeanie is almost viewed as a detriment or danger to the team and its current ecosystem. However, her two half-brothers Joey and Jesse Buss have silently been the driving force behind the franchise’s recent success. The scouting department under their reign has brought in loads of talent.
Since 2014 the Buss Brother’s track record in the draft has been unparalleled in the league.
- Julius Randle (7th pick) 2014
- Jordan Clarkson (46th pick) 2014
- D’Angelo Russell (2nd pick) 2015
- Larry Nance (27th pick) 2015
- Brandon Ingram (2nd pick) 2016
- Ivica Zubac (32nd pick) 2016
- Lonzo Ball (2nd pick) 2017
- Kyle Kuzma (27th pick) 2017
- Josh Hart (30th pick) 2017
- Alex Caruso (Undrafted) 2017
- Thomas Bryant (42nd pick) 2017
- Mo Wagner (25th pick) 2018
- Svi Mykhailiuk (47th pick) 2018
- Talen Horton Tucker (46th pick) 2019
- Austin Reaves (Undrafted) 2021
- Max Christie (35th pick) 2022
- Scotty Pippen Jr (Undrafted) 2022
- Cole Swider (Undrafted) 2022
Outside of unsolvable injuries like Lonzo Ball, every player on that list is a valuable piece on an NBA roster some still with major upside. The scouting department has been in their bag for almost the previous 10 years, and the talent of the Buss brothers has led to much more than just these players as well.
Without the young core of the Baby Lakers from 2014-2017, there’s a very real chance that the summer of 2018 doesn’t end up yielding LeBron James. The team was objectively terrible, but because of that young core, it was appealing enough.
Without that same young core, there’s no way the team lands Anthony Davis; the next star pillar of Lakers basketball. And without the young player we held onto (Kyle Kuzma) they may not win a ring in 2020.
There are game-changers in this draft. There are 2-3 first-round guys I can see having an immediate impact on the team even still at 17. Between players like Jordan Hawkins, Bryce Sensabaugh, Maxwell Lewis, and Bilal Coulibaly, there’s more than enough skill to warrant taking a chance on a young guy.
Whether the player is kept and boosts the team while they’re here or ends up building up enough league equity to be a valuable trade piece, your faith can be well placed in the hands of the Buss brothers. There is another avenue the Lakers could explore, however.
The Lakers could Trade the pick for a win-now piece
Amidst the cloudiness of LeBron’s post-game retirement comments, most journalists as well as people within the organization fully expect James to don the purple and gold for the 2023-24 season. Although there is most certainly the fun of winning and championship contention, there is a slight downside to having LeBron on your team. If you are running an organization and employ LeBron James for a number of years, your sole responsibility is to utilize those years while you have him. Championship or bust.
The issue with that team model is that it makes it difficult to plan for your future, which is more or less the entire point of the draft. Yes, they’ve had to say goodbye to many of the aforementioned draft gems, but would you take it all back including the championship? This is the game you play when the greatest player of all time chooses you as home.
Typically there is some pushback from fans when it comes to this cycle of getting rid of picks and players constantly, but this season the pushback has some serious validity. James is set to enter his 21st season in the NBA at a remarkable 39 yrs of age and for all intents and purposes, he will still be either our best or second-best player on the roster, but will it be his last?
James’ contract runs through this upcoming 23-24 season with a player option the following summer to become a free agent, which would line up perfectly with his son Bronny James’ timeline of being a one-and-done after college. If you don’t know that LeBron wants to play with his son you’ve been living under a rock, and that timeline seems to match up almost seamlessly.
There are options out there if the organization decides to truly ramp up for LeBron’s last season. I’ve seen two fairly tantalizing moves to be made. Many around the league believe that teams like the Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls may be looking to move up in the draft, something the Lakers could certainly assist with. Whether it ends up being Malik Beasley and the 17th for Buddy Hield and the 26th or Mo Bamba, Malik Beasley and the 17th pick for Alex Caruso and Andre Drummond the team is getting objectively better (especially the Caruso route).
The debate of future vs win-now now becomes a lot more difficult. Do you capitalize on what will more than likely be LeBron James’ last season as Laker, or do you finally have a realistic view of what life without LeBron will look like and bolster your team’s foundation through a stud in the draft?
Regardless of which ends up happening, by the time the number 17th pick is announced on Thursday night the Los Angeles Lakers will be a better franchise. And by the way…the team still has the 47th pick and lord knows they can make some magic with that.