The Los Angeles Lakers' miserable 2013-14 campaign is slowly creeping towards an end, which will more than likely end with a terrible record and without a playoff appearance for the first time since 2005.
On the bright side, the team will have good odds in the lottery. It should secure a top pick in the loaded 2014 NBA draft and have plenty of money to spend in free agency.
There is a chance that the club executes a complete overhaul in one summer and is once again competing in the postseason by the end of the 2014-15 season.
Let’s take a look at the latest buzz surrounding the Lakers upcoming draft and offseason in Friday’s L.A.-centric rumor roundup.
Exum in Purple and Gold?
While the 2014 draft doesn’t take place for a few months, it seems that the Lakers may already have an idea of who they will be taking with their first-round pick.
Superstar prospect Dante Exum, a high school phenom from Australia, has made it clear that he is a big supporter of the organization and it’s future Hall of Fame shooting guard, Kobe Bryant.
I just want to know his work ethic, what he’s done to be where he is at the moment, because he’s definitely in the talk of one of the greatest of all-time. So I want to just pick his brain, what he’s done, how he’s adapted over the years and still been able to average over 20 points in the league.
Some general managers are reportedly concerned that he may parlay that fandom into an aggressive play to maneuver himself into a Purple and Gold uniform.
As per Sean Deveney of Sporting News, an unnamed GM had this to say about the situation:
When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing. We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.
Bryant was rumored to have threatened to play in Europe if any team but the Lakers selected him back in 1996. He was taken No. 13 overall by the Charlotte Hornets and immediately traded to L.A., insuring that he would not have to take his talents overseas.
Exum would be quite brazen to attempt the same tactic, but it is understandable front offices are bracing themselves for the possibility.
The 18-year-old point guard is an elite talent with the ability to completely change the fortunes of a franchise, so it’s no secret that L.A. would love to nab him with a first-round pick this coming June.
Whether or not Exum has the audacity to try and put his foot down to make that happen remains to be seen. The young guard and Bryant share the same agent, Rob Pelinka, but Exum’s comments don’t quite seem to indicate that he will only play for L.A.
In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling, the prospect said that the Lakers could use his skills and he likes the city:
Definitely L.A. is one option. I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city. And their fans are loyal and they have the rivalry with the Clippers. But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.
Will Exum end up with the Lakers on draft night?
It’s doubtful that Exum was trying to convey any ridiculous demands with that statement, as he seems to be a bright, humble young man. The comment is being blown out of proportion and it’s dubious that he makes any moves to impact the draft process.
If the Lakers land Exum, it will be a huge victory for the franchise. However, there are plenty of other talented players available who could alter the future of this club in a positive way.
L.A. Interested in Deng?
The Cleveland Cavaliers wound up holding on to Luol Deng at the trade deadline, keeping a player they acquired back on Jan. 7 for three draft picks and Andrew Bynum’s contract from the Chicago Bulls.
However, the Cavs may not be retaining the veteran swingman’s services for much longer. According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, Deng will be “gone” on July 1—the first day of free agency—and drawing a ton of attention from a number of prospective franchises.
Lawrence named the Lakers as one of those suitors, along with the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats, that will be gunning for Deng this summer.
It’s clear that the 28-year-old hasn’t had the impact he was expected to have in Cleveland. His shooting numbers are in the tank, averaging a mere 39.5 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from deep since being traded from the Windy City.
Deng is also contributing just 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in that 23-game span, numbers below his career averages.
ESPN’s Marc Stein reported earlier in the month that there is “little-to-no chance” that Deng will agree to stay with this dysfunctional Cavs squad. Ken Berger of CBS Sports put it quite bluntly:
Cleveland gave up multiple picks for Deng and now faces the prospect of him leaving them with no return on that investment.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) February 19, 2014
While he’s nursing an Achilles injury and putting up poor stats, the Duke product should still have plenty left in the tank heading into his 11th NBA season in 2014-15.
Unfortunately for L.A., Deng won’t come cheap. He reportedly rejected a three-year extension worth over $10 million annually from Chicago.
That number is likely the barrier for entry in contract negotiations and it’s more likely that Deng’s representation seeks a figure somewhere in the range of $12 million-plus with a full four-year guarantee from the Lakers or any of his other suitors.
It remains to be seen if general manager Mitch Kupchak will open the team’s wallet and pay Deng, but adding a versatile talent at the swingman position should be one of the team’s top priorities entering the offseason.