LOS ANGELES — For Los Angeles Lakers fans with eyes only for the future, feel free to read what you want into the fact that in this big college conference tournament week, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is personally attending the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
Kansas will be without injured center Joel Embiid, so small forward Andrew Wiggins gets a chance to carry his team and show why he was once considered the consensus No. 1 NBA prospect. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart will be there also and have plenty to prove as his disappointing sophomore season winds down.
It's still unclear how good the Lakers' pick in the draft will be—they're currently the sixth-worst team in the league, with plenty of movement still coming in the final month. The draft lottery is May 20. The Lakers are not allowed, by NBA rule limiting trading picks in consecutive years, to trade the pick unless they get another 2014 first-round pick back.
Embiid was recently in Los Angeles to see back specialist Robert Watkins, according to Bleacher Report's Will Carroll. Watkins' name might be familiar to Lakers fans, as he performed Dwight Howard's surgery and advised on Steve Nash's back problems.
Embiid remains a candidate for the top pick and offered this tweet on Sunday:
I want to live in LA so bad #beautiful— Joel-Hans Embiid (@jojo_embiid) March 9, 2014
The Lakers certainly could use a rim protector such as Embiid, but a draft decision of this magnitude is about far more than team need. Embiid, Wiggins and Duke small forward Jabari Parker might be seen as the top talents in the best NBA draft in a decade, but the Lakers don't even know if they'll have a chance at them.
The Lakers' research for this precious pick will obviously not be conducted by Kupchak alone, and there are two familiar names who will be part of the process. Jesse Buss, the youngest of Jerry Buss' six children in the trust that owns the majority of the Lakers, is the team's scouting director. Ryan West, son of Lakers legend Jerry West, is the assistant scouting director and is often out in the field seeing college players firsthand.
How dependent are Mike D'Antoni's Lakers on the three-point shot? Pretty much entirely.
The Lakers are tied for the NBA lead in three-pointers made per game (9.5) and make them at the third-best rate in the NBA (38.3).
In the Lakers' historic 48-point loss to the Clippers last Thursday, the Lakers shot 8-of-30 (27 percent) on three-pointers with Wesley Johnson missing all seven of his attempts. In their 36-point loss to the Clippers on Jan. 10, the Lakers made just four of their 16 three-point shots (25 percent) with Nick Young missing all five of his attempts.
But in their opening-night victory over the Clippers, the Lakers made 14 of 29 three-pointers (48 percent) with point guards Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar combining to make 5-of-6.
Nearly every Lakers game the rest of the season shapes up to be like an NCAA tournament contest, with the team cast as the lower seed trying to pull an upset by getting hot from deep.
Same initials, but otherwise ...
Newcomer Kent Bazemore absolutely idolizes Kobe Bryant and has a level of athleticism that the Lakers clearly can use going forward. But it's going to take Bryant some time to warm up to Bazemore given Bryant's hard feelings over Blake being moved before the deadline.
Bryant brought up the Blake trade to the Golden State Warriors for Bazemore and MarShon Brooks again Wednesday when complaining about lack of communication from Lakers management.
"I just want to get a phone call when somebody gets traded," Bryant said about his influence in personnel decisions. "Let's start there first."
Bryant had tweeted after the Blake trade that he was "not cool" with the deal. It turns out, though, that Bazemore could be a useful piece for the Lakers' future. He is foremost a defensive force with his long arms, but he has shot 40.4 percent on three-pointers, moved into the starting lineup and averaged 14.6 points with his new team.
Bazemore, 24, is also one of the few players the Lakers have control over going forward. They can issue him a qualifying offer of $1.1 million for next season and make him a restricted free agent.
Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report.