The last two seasons have been abysmal for the Los Angeles Lakers. The worst part of everything wasn’t the ridiculous amount of losses or the never-ending stream of injuries, but it seemed to be no end in sight to this unmatched Lakers down period.
The Lakers had no intriguing young players to develop, no way to attract top-tier free agents other than money and the “We’re the Lakers” argument, and still owe two draft picks from the failed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades. For a franchise unaccustomed to long spells among the NBA’s cellar, there looked to be no way for the Lakers to turn things around.
Now that the ping-pong balls bounced the Lakers way, allowing them to move up to the second overall pick in next month’s NBA Draft, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
First and foremost let me say this: I do not care which of the two big men the Lakers take as long as they take one of them.
No disrespect to D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, but the potential of both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor is vast and either could be the next great Laker big to follow in the footsteps of Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, and Gasol before him.
Okafor is one of the most polished post players to come out of college in years. He already has more moves than the vast majority of NBA centers, and has the potential to be a 20-10 player almost immediately in the NBA. Towns is a versatile big man who can score down low and on the perimeter. He also is a true rim protector who has the athleticism to switch out on guards on the pick-and-roll. But this more than just which player the Lakers bring in.
Armed with the 27th and 34th picks in the draft as well, the Lakers have a number of ways they can go in the draft. Packaging picks or players to move up, gaining future draft picks, or other young players is a legit possibility. With general manager Mitch Kupchak saying that bringing in three rookies would be too much, the likelihood of the Lakers making a deal would seem to be pretty high.
The addition of a couple more young pieces to go along with a returning Julius Randle and First Team All-Rookie selection, Jordan Clarkson gives the Lakers a promising young core that they have lacked. This comes in to play when trying to attract free agents as they now can show players that things are headed in the right direction.
By no means does this guarantee the Lakers landing a big-name such as Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, or Jimmy Butler, but it does increase the franchise’s attractiveness and thus, chances of bringing one in. Even if they strike out on the big names, they will still spend money, possibly on players such as Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll, or Kosta Koufos.
While not the best case scenario, it does further position the Lakers for the 2016 free agency class headlined by Kevin Durant. With the salary cap expected to jump by about $20 million, and Kobe Bryant’s contract coming off the books as well, the Lakers will have max money available regardless of who they bring in this summer.
The Lakers are still a long ways away from contending in the Western Conference and there are still a lot of question marks going into free agency, but the second pick could be the first step in the Lakers’ return to glory. For the first time in two years, the arrow is pointing up for the Lakers future and the fans have more to hold on to than blind hope.
Lakers Nation NBA Draft Podcast: Lakers Move Up To Second Overall