For the first time in a long time, the Los Angeles Lakers made a bold and decisive move that has been praised by fans and pundits alike. In hiring new head coach Luke Walton, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak knew who they wanted and acted quickly and aggressively to make it happen. This is in stark contrast to the indecision they showed two years ago when it took them months to hire Walton’s predecessor, Byron Scott.
Whether Walton can succeed where Scott failed – to get the players to work hard on defense and move the ball on offense – remains to be seen. Certainly Walton said all the right things so far, and his youth and energy are precisely what the Lakers so desperately needed.
In the past month, we’ve seen Kobe Bryant ride into the sunset in a blaze of glory and the team hire a new coach everyone is excited about. Now it is time to turn attention to the NBA lottery later this month and next month’s draft.
As everyone knows by now, when the ping pong balls stop bouncing, the Lakers must be in the first, second or third position or they will lose their first round selection this year to the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to the Steve Nash trade a few years ago. That would be awful after the dismal season the team just concluded, but there is roughly a 44 percent chance it could happen.
Last season, the team had the fourth worst record but in the lottery were awarded the second overall pick. The summer before they chose seventh though they had finished with the sixth-worst record. What the Lakers need to avoid is what happened to the New York Knicks last summer, when they had the second-worst record but fell to fourth in the lottery.
On the assumption that the team gets to keep their lottery pick, they will have three choices: Draft Ben Simmons; Draft Brandon Ingram; Or make a trade. There is reason to believe the front office may opt for the third choice and make a trade.
In a recent interview, Kupchak stated that it could take “ten or fifteen years” to rebuild through the draft which is why he stressed the importance of free agency and a well-positioned trade. It is unclear whether he believes this time-table or was downplaying the draft to temper disappointment should the Lakers lose their first round choice later this month.
This much is clear: Kupchak and Buss will lose their jobs in the next two years if they don’t turn the ship around. That likely means they will look to make a key trade using their only asset as bait: The young players on the roster.
The Lakers have a group of six young players with good potential in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance. Jr, Anthony Brown, and Tarik Black. No matter what, the Lakers will have a very high second round pick this summer. If they retain their first round selection, they will add two more rookies this summer to the existing group — meaning the team could have eight players on the roster with two years of experience or less.
Kupchak and Buss do not have the luxury of time, which means that a trade for veteran talent is likely.
That doesn’t mean they will trade the top pick, however. They might choose instead to part with one or more of their current young players. To understand why fans should not let their euphoria over the Walton hiring cloud their memory of recent events.
For one thing, Clarkson and Russell looked redundant this year, and neither resembled a real point guard. For another, DeMar DeRozan, who the team may have a legitimate shot at getting in free agency, is also a shooting guard. An argument could be made that the team would be better off going after a true point guard who can average eight assists per game than having three young shooting guards.
Another consideration is that Simmons, who many believe could be transcendent, plays the same position as Randle, and like Randle he is not a good outside shooter. Plus the team has Nance, who plays that same power forward position and showed as much promise as anyone last season. With so many holes to fill, does it make sense to have three young power forwards on the roster? It is a luxury the Lakers probably cannot afford.
This summer, It is imperative that the Lakers add legitimate starters at center, small forward, and, in the minds of many, point guard. Instead, they have the prospect of ending up with three young power forwards and three young shooting guards, if things go as hoped in the draft and free agency. In that event, a trade would seem very likely, and wise, to fill a bigger need.