What Does Slip in NBA Draft Lottery Mean for Los Angeles Lakers' Rebuild?

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What Does Slip in NBA Draft Lottery Mean for Los Angeles Lakers' Rebuild?
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It's been more than 34 years since the Cleveland Cavaliers practically gift-wrapped the pick that became the No. 1 selection in the 1982 NBA draft, and James Worthy therein, to the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade that saw Butch Lee and Don Ford swap cities.

On Tuesday, the Lakers finally got their comeuppance for that Showtime-fueling fortune—and the Cavs some cosmic redemption for one of former owner Ted Stepien's myriad mistakes—when Cleveland hit the jackpot in this year's draft lottery.

With "Big Game" James in studio representing the Lakers, no less.

That pushed L.A.'s slot to No. 7, down from the sixth spot to which the team's record would've otherwise entitled it.

The Lakers may be upset that their chances of adding either Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid to their barren roster have likely gone up in smoke, but L.A.'s bad luck with pingpong balls needn't, shouldn't and probably won't have too dramatic an effect on its impending rebuild.

The seventh pick should still afford the Lakers a purple-and-golden opportunity to pluck a promising, young prospect out of a draft pool replete with them. At present, Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report's draft guru, has the Lakers taking Kentucky freshman phenom Julius Randle on June 26. Said Wasserman of Randle:

Randle measured in at 6'9" with a 7'0" wingspan, so there shouldn't be any concerns regarding his size or length. He's a bully on that low block, whether he's initiating contact to separate from defenders or he's outworking them on the offensive glass. 

For opposing bigs, he's a mismatch in space facing the rim, with the foot speed and handle to attack and score on the move. 

Not bad, especially when factoring in the perimeter shot that Randle didn't get to trot out very often during his lone season in Lexington.

L.A. could have plenty of other juicy options at its disposal, too. Arizona's Aaron Gordon, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Croatian sensation Dario Saric all figure to be available when the Lakers are on the clock. Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart could "slip" out of the top six, as well. According to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, the Lakers are eyeing Indiana youngster (and Chris Bosh doppelganger) Noah Vonleh:

And there's always an outside chance that Dante Exum, the teenage combo guard from Australia, could maneuver his way to the Lakers, by hook or by crook. As Forbes' Mark Heisler noted:

However, there's widespread suspicion that Exum's agent, Rob Pelinka, who's also Kobe Bryant's agent, may not let the Australian point guard work out for anyone but the Lakers. Exum, who has been in Southern California, working out, attending Laker games and meeting the guys, called them his 'best option,' although he backed off that last week in Chicago.

In any case, the Lakers aren't likely to find themselves an instant savior. Nor is any other team, for that matter. As many potential All-Stars as there may be in this year's draft, none projects as anything close to, say, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin or even Anthony Davis.

That's not to suggest the Lakers won't wind up with an excellent player out of all this. So much of a team's success in a given draft comes down to how it handles the development of the players it acquires therein.

L.A. can speak to this from relatively recent experience. The last time the Lakers owned such prime real estate in the draft, they took Andrew Bynum 10th overall and groomed him into an All-Star, injuries and all.

Historically speaking, the seventh pick has often proven even luckier than that. The Golden State Warriors snagged Stephen Curry at No. 7 in 2009—a coup not unlike their addition of Chris Mullin with the seventh pick in 1985. Luol Deng began his career with the Chicago Bulls from that spot in 2004. The New York Knicks nabbed Nene outside of the top six in 2002 before trading him to the Denver Nuggets.

Kevin Johnson (1987), Rip Hamilton (1999) and Greg Monroe (2010) also rank highly among the No. 7s of the last three decades. Names such as Alvin Robertson (1984), George McCloud (1989), Damon Stoudemire (1995), Tim Thomas (1997), Jason Williams (1998), Kirk Hinrich (2003) and Eric Gordon (2008) may not move the needle on the superstar Richter scale, but all have gone on to enjoy no worse than solid pro careers.

Which is pretty good, as far as picks outside of the top three are concerned. According to FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver, the No. 7 slot has actually outperformed the No. 6 slot—in which the Boston Celtics now find themselves—over the years in terms of wins produced.

If numbers are any comfort, they should've prepared the Lakers for an outcome like this one. L.A. came into Tuesday's proceedings with only a 21.5 percent chance of moving into the top three according to SI.com, as opposed to a 74.4 percent chance of ending up sixth or seventh.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Of course, those probabilities won't do much to quell the Lakers' concerns when considering that the Cavs had only a 1.7 percent shot at their third No. 1 pick in the last four years.

But Cleveland's lack of tangible success with the likes of Kyrie Irving (No. 1 in 2011), Tristan Thompson (No. 4 in 2011), Dion Waiters (No. 4 in 2012) and Anthony Bennett (No. 1 in 2013) should remind L.A.'s disgruntled masses that winning the lottery hardly guarantees on-court success thereafter.

In fact, David Robinson (1989) and Tim Duncan (1997) are the only No. 1 picks to win championships with the team that drafted them since the lottery made its debut in 1985.

What matters most is everything that comes after the draft—namely, fostering the growth of a raw prospect into a bona fide rotation player (and then some) and surrounding him with complementary talent. Much of the latter can and often is accomplished by way of trades and free agency.

Especially in the case of a destination franchise such as the Lakers.

Who should the Lakers aim for with their pick?

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To be sure, there's a lot riding on this draft for L.A. Had that pick landed in the top three, it might've put the Lakers in better position to make a play for Kevin Love. Then again, the Lakers' lack of tradable contracts, much less ones of any interest to the Minnesota Timberwolves, probably put L.A. out of the running for a blockbuster summer trade in the first place.

Assuming the Lakers hang on to the pick, there will be plenty of pressure for them to nail it. The demands of the team's fans aside, there's little incentive for L.A. to suffer through another train wreck of a campaign in 2014-15. Their 2015 first-rounder is already betrothed to the Phoenix Suns as payment for the Steve Nash trade from 2012.

Once the 2015 draft comes and goes, the Lakers will turn their attention to what figures to be a star-studded free-agent class. Love will likely be available if he's not dealt before then. LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Jordan are among the other prominent players who will test the market next July. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have options to do the same.

It's imperative, then, that the Lakers take some serious steps back toward respectability next season. They can't expect stars to flock to L.A. for the local amenities and the brand recognition alone. The NBA's best and brightest want to win and should have little trouble finding other opportunities to do just that if the Lakers aren't ready in time.

As such, the Lakers would've found themselves in something of a quandary this summer, regardless of where their pick landed. It'll be up to the organizational brain trust of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss to determine how best to assemble a quality club in time for next season.

At present, Kupchak and Buss don't have much to work with.

Lakers' Guaranteed Contracts for 2014-15
Salary
Kobe Bryant $23,500,000
Steve Nash $9,701,000
Robert Sacre $915,243
Guaranteed Total $34,116,243

Basketball Insiders

Bryant and Nash are both coming off injury-riddled campaigns, with retirement right around the corner for each. Robert Sacre is a solid backup big who may be better suited to sideline celebrations than anything. On the bright side, that leaves the Lakers with more financial flexibility than they've had in years.

But the upcoming crop of free agents isn't exactly brimming with bank-breakers and game-changers. Assuming Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and the Miami Heat's Big Three all stay put put, this year's group will be led by the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.

Pau Gasol might leave L.A., and the Lakers could extend offers to some of the top restricted free agents, including Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe and Gordon Hayward.

So far, all indications are that the Lakers would rather preserve their cap space for the following offseason than blow it all on long-term deals this July.

In the meantime, the Lakers could attempt to do what the Dallas Mavericks did after their championship run in 2011—and what they did themselves last time around: Sign a slew of mid- and lower-tier players to one-year deals, try to win with what they have and take aim at bigger names thereafter.

As such, L.A.'s lackluster lottery results don't do much to change the short-term picture one way or another. The core of their roster would consist of unknown quantities (i.e. Bryant's knee, Nash's back and a talented rookie), whether the Lakers jumped up to the top spot or slid back to ninth in next month's draft.

The only real difference at this point? The pool of players from whom the Lakers will look for the Black Mamba's heir apparent just shrunk by one.

 

For more on the Lakers' rebuild, follow me on Twitter!

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