As if Los Angeles Lakers fans needed any more heartbreak, they were introduced to a new low Tuesday night.
Draft lottery disappointment.
Dreams of moving up to a top-three pick—a 21.5 percent possibility, according to NBA.com—went unanswered. As a result, landing one of the guys Lakers management had already identified as a cut above all others (Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker) is suddenly out of the picture.
Los Angeles actually dropped from its mathematically probable spot of sixth overall and is now slotted for seventh. It was a lesson to Lakers fans unaccustomed to depending on the draft how imprudent it is to bank on this most traditional style of rebuilding.
Not only does the lottery scramble the order—the tanking movement hopefully suffered a deathblow with the Cleveland Cavaliers snagging the top pick despite a 1.7 percent likelihood—but these are just kids. It’s very difficult to predict how truly dedicated to developing they will be...or how fast the good guys will develop into great if they do.
So bank on this much: More surprises await.
And they might well be of this ilk:
Eighteen-year-old Australian Dante Exum, seemingly a perfect fit for a point guard-needing team that covets long-limbed athletes in Orlando at No. 4 overall, winds up lacking the requisite relentlessness that Oklahoma State sophomore point guard Marcus Smart has already displayed. (Smart could well be there at No. 7 for the Lakers.)
Or Parker’s basketball skill set isn’t enough to outweigh his middling athletic ability over the long term, and Arizona’s 18-year-old power forward specimen, Aaron Gordon, becomes one of the greatest defensive players of his era. (Gordon could also be there at No. 7 for the Lakers.)
L.A.'s brass did covet a top-three spot, but they really like at least eight players in this draft. Smart and Gordon are among them, as are Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh—someone the Lakers are already sold on but whose stock seems to be rising out of their reach—and Kentucky power forward scoring extraordinaire Julius Randle.
There is a good chance—far greater than the 6.3 percent chance the Lakers had at lucking into the top overall pick—that whomever they get at No. 7 could be better than half the guys picked before him.
And because it’s the Boston Celtics picking in the spot right in front of the Lakers, they will certainly be hoping the No. 6 pick winds up the biggest bust. Yet the problem with being seventh is that the Lakers, after all their predraft workouts and interviews still to come, will determine they like some of these top eight much more than others. And at No. 7, all they will be able to do is hope that one of their guys is still there.
For example, the Lakers already like Vonleh. His 7’4”-plus wingspan is on par with Embiid's, even if Vonleh’s athleticism isn’t as limitless. Vonleh has the second-biggest hand size in the draft, and he can fill a need when he grows into a center.
For all the trade speculation about Kevin Love, if the Lakers do make a trade, one of those aforementioned surprises could be the team trading up to No. 3 to get Embiid.
If Cleveland takes Wiggins, as is likely at this point despite its lack of a center, and the Milwaukee Bucks go with Parker because they have a whopping $44 million invested in center Larry Sanders over the next four years, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t need Embiid with center Nerlens Noel their top pick from a year ago and could trade down.
The issue with any trade the Lakers endeavor to make is that they have almost nothing to offer.
Their future draft picks are mostly locked up from the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash all-in efforts, and they can’t even trade this No. 7 pick without getting a 2014 first-rounder back because of NBA rules. (The Lakers could pick a player at No. 7 and then trade him, however.) Trading the pick for more immediate help that isn’t at Love’s level will be an option to explore.
But how the Lakers could put together a package good enough to get Love or even the No. 3 overall pick isn’t clear at all. So the team will probably wind up using the pick—meaning someone from the group of Exum, Vonleh, Smart, Randle and Gordon will be coming to town.
While it’s logical to talk about speed, size and athleticism needs for the Lakers, they also very much lacked intensity last season without injured Kobe Bryant. Guys such as Vonleh, Smart and Randle have proven they are high-motor guys, and that would be refreshing to get from a youngster at this time in the franchise’s existence.
Whomever it is will still come with question marks, which is par for the course when it comes to the draft. Smart and Gordon can’t shoot; Randle can’t defend.
Lakers fans got a dose of that flawed reality Tuesday night.
The draft is a crapshoot, and the best L.A. can hope for is to live with growing pains for years to come.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.