Mitch Kupchak of the LA Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers have made numerous transactions with their draft picks in the last decade, but no one is entirely sure where they all went.
Championship contenders will occasionally make small deals involving their picks because they typically choose late in the draft. In the case of the Lakers, they mixed and matched over the course of the last 10 years.
Los Angeles made an appearance in the 2004 NBA Finals and then opted to dismantle their core in the offseason. Mitch Kupchak traded away Shaquille O’Neal in a move that signaled the Lakers would become Kobe Bryant’s team.
With Bryant as the focal point of the franchise, the Lakers made moves to build around the 2-guard. It had an uneven record in the draft during the Bryant era, which prompted a few curious decisions.
Shaquille O’Neal wanted out of Los Angeles in the worst way, and the Lakers obliged. David DuPree of USA Today provided the details at the time: “O'Neal, disheartened at the departure of coach Phil Jackson and at the Lakers' refusal to give him a contract extension, demanded a trade the day after the season ended.”
They traded him to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, a 2006 first-round pick (that eventually became Jordan Farmar) and a 2007 second-rounder (Renaldas Seibutis).
With O’Neal gone, the Lakers unloaded the elder statesmen on the team in an effort to give Kobe Bryant some young players that could get up and down the court.
Thus, the Purple and Gold traded away Rick Fox, Gary Payton and a 2006 first-round pick (later became Rajon Rondo) to the Boston Celtics for Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm.
Needless to say, Los Angeles likely wants that deal back. The fascinating aspect involving Rondo is that, had the Lakers kept the pick, it’s quite possible they would not have selected him.
Phil Jackson might have found it difficult to incorporate a point guard with no jump shot into his Triangle Offense. Rondo flourished in Boston because they put the ball in his hands, but he would have been a spot-up option more than anything with Bryant running the show.
Still, in the event management brought Rondo to L.A., he probably would have become a slightly better version of Smush Parker for the Lakers. After leaving the Lake Show, Parker had some rather choice words for Bryant and it became a very public feud.
Oddly enough, Rondo eventually had a rift with a Hall of Fame guard of his own. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated shed some light on the situation at the time:
Yet as the years went by and Rondo's role with the team increased, the two drifted apart and the animosity grew. Sources say Rondo's rapid ascension irked Allen, and that as the relationship deteriorated, Allen felt the fallout was spilling onto the court. According to sources, at least once last season the two had to be separated in the locker room because Allen believed Rondo was intentionally looking him off.
Ray Allen reportedly departed from the Celtics partly because of his relationship with the former Kentucky Wildcat, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
The real issue for the Lakers is the fact that they lost an asset. Had Rondo not fit in the team’s system, his potential probably still would have attracted suitors. From there, the Lakers could have traded him for another good young player or a draft pick.
Instead, they have nothing left from that transaction, and that is not the only time such has happened. The Lakers also drafted Toney Douglas and Patrick Beverley in 2009 but instead of keeping them, Kupchak traded them both away for future picks that became Andrew Goudelock and Ater Majok. Yikes.
Goudelock suited up in 41 games and is now out of the league. Majok never played for the Lakers. Essentially, Bryant and company got no return whatsoever on their investments, and yet, it would occur once more.
The front office traded away Chris Mihm during the 2008-09 season to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2013 second-round pick.
They never actually received it because Memphis made sure it was top-55 protected. When Los Angeles was not busy making costly decisions such as these, they instead focused their sights on the wrong young players in the draft.
Selecting players coming out of college or from the international scene is a skill. It’s not always evident to figure out which athletes have both the drive to succeed coupled with the talent needed to become a good professional player but some general managers have a knack for it.
The evidence of the last decade suggests Mitch Kupchak is not one of those types. There are simply too many of his selections that are out of the league.
It’s one thing to pick one or two players and then watch them get phased out because they are not talented enough, but the Lakers have seen this reproduce itself time and time again.
For instance, the Lakers selected Marcus Douthit in the second-round of the 2004 NBA draft and never saw him suit up once, not even for another team in the association.
Javaris Crittenton was picked in the first-round and is now out of the league. To be fair, his reasons go beyond basketball. Still, look at the rest of guys L.A. picked in the second-round that are no longer members of the NBA (or who have never been):
- Von Wafer (2005, 39th overall)
- Sun Yue (2007, 40th overall)
- Joe Crawford (2008, 58th overall)
- Devin Ebanks (2010, 43rd overall)
- Derrick Caracter (2010, 58th overall)
- Alex Oriakhi (2013, 57th overall)
In addition, the Lakers drafted Darius Morris. He was in danger of not being part of any team this season, but he signed on to play with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was waived early during the 2013-14 campaign and then caught on with the Los Angeles Clippers.
To be fair, the Lakers also added players that are still on the team today in the form of Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly. They are marginal talents likely destined to remain in reserve roles during their respective careers.
The final “bad” transaction technically has an incomplete grade considering the youth of the athletes involved.
The Lakers traded away Jason Kapono, Luke Walton, a 2012 first-rounder (became Jared Cunningham) and a 2013 first (Nemanja Nedovic) for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga in 2012.
Los Angeles has nothing left from the swap, which makes it a poor decision. Should either Cunningham or Nedovic actually become good rotation players, it will simply make the franchise look a little worse in terms of their long-term planning.
The Lakers have had numerous misses with their draft picks, but they have also made some moves that paid off. Mitch Kupchak selected Andrew Bynum in the 2005 draft, and his play allowed the Purple and Gold to secure back-to-back titles.
Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic played alongside Bynum, and they provided key second-unit minutes to help the team win championships (Turiaf was only present for 2008 title). The Lakers drafted all three of them and made one big trade that put them over the hump: the Pau Gasol deal.
The Lakers traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol (drafted in 2007), Aaron McKie, a 2008 pick (turned into Donte Greene) and a 2010 first-rounder (Greivis Vasquez was later selected) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau Gasol and a 2010 second-rounder (Devin Ebanks).
The Lakers gave up two really intriguing talents in Marc Gasol and Vasquez, but one must assume that the Buss family is quite happy with the way things turned out. The transaction was the envy of the league, and it led to LakerLand getting back to the Promised Land.
The Lakers are one of the worst teams in the league, and that might be a good thing, surprisingly. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford (subscription required), the 2014 NBA draft might be the deepest the league has ever seen, and Los Angeles has a shot at a lottery pick.
That’s a godsend for the franchise because they will clear the books this summer in an effort to acquire a free agent. The Lake Show should have roughly $26 million in cap room, provided they renounce all of their free agents.
A great pick could accelerate the process whereby the franchise becomes competitive again. This offseason is likely the best bet the organization has as it pertains to the draft because their future picks are all going elsewhere.
Here’s a compilation obtained from Real GM:
- 2014 second-rounder to Milwaukee Bucks
- 2015 first-rounder to Phoenix Suns
- 2015 second-rounder to Orlando Magic
- 2017 first-rounder to Orlando Magic
The Lakers have a small window to potentially contend with Kobe Bryant. His contract runs out at the end of 2015-16 and it’s safe to say he will retire then. If the Lakers want to give him a shot at a final ring, the upcoming draft is where the future starts.
The picks in ensuing seasons come with several qualifiers, which means there is a good chance the Lakers will not be adding any young, talented and cheap players through the draft before 2017 potentially.