But on June 26, the Lakers will enter the draft with the No. 7 pick, thanks to a dismal season in which the team won just 25 games, the fewest since the 1959-1960 season when the Lakers were still in Minneapolis.
However, if the team wants to reclaim its position as the best squad in Los Angeles and regain its form as an annual playoff contender, it will need to pair a healthy Kobe Bryant with an All-Star-caliber, immediate-impact player either through free agency or the draft. While the team will likely acquire quality players through both means, the Lakers can't afford to miss on their No. 7 pick in a deep and supremely talented draft.
Let's take a look at the latest news as to whom the Lakers may be targeting leading up to the draft.
Marcus Smart impresses
Marcus Smart is a do-it-all point guard with great skills and good size. He could have declared for the draft last year but instead chose to remain at Oklahoma State and continue to improve his game. Comparing his sophomore season to his freshman campaign, Smart appears to have made the right decision.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, Smart worked out for the Lakers, and the team really liked what it saw.
Spoke to a Lakers source who was very impressed by Marcus Smart's workout with them: "Tenacity was off the charts"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) June 17, 2014
Los Angeles would be wise to draft a point guard, especially considering Steve Nash's age and injury-prone history. Drafting Smart would fill that need while simultaneously giving the team another scoring threat to take some of the burden off an aging Bryant, especially if All-Star Pau Gasol leaves in free agency.
Australian Dante Exum, the top point guard in the draft, will likely be off the board by Los Angeles' pick. The Lakers desperately need an infusion of talent, and Smart would be a great second option if a point guard is the position the team values most.
Julius Randle falling out of favor?
Julius Randle had a terrific freshman season with Kentucky last year. On a team that had many great players and playing within an offense that doesn't allow one player to dominate the ball, Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting and just under 10 shots per contest to help lead the Wildcats to the national championship game.
The 6'9" power forward is very skilled around the basket. He has a soft touch and does a great job using his body to his advantage in the paint. If Gasol is no longer on the team next year, Randle could prove to be a natural replacement.
ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) had Randle going to the Lakers in his past couple mock drafts; however, a foot injury has led Ford to reconsider:
We've had Julius Randle here for the past few mocks, but issues with his foot that were detected at the NBA combine might lead to his stock sliding a bit. It depends on who you talk to. Several teams I spoke with weren't concerned at all with the injury, saying it was a minor procedure to fix it and of all the players that have had Jones fractures in the past, none have had lingering issues with it in the league. However, other teams have said that it concerns them enough that they'd pass in the mid-lottery. At this time of the year, it's hard to know who to believe. Given Randle's potential foot issues, Smart becomes a strong possibility here.
All it takes is one team to be sold on a player, and so if the Lakers feel Randle is too much of an injury risk, other teams behind Los Angeles will be happy to take the power forward.
Could the Lakers snag Elfrid Payton?
Elfrid Payton certainly isn't a big-name player like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, but he could be wearing a Lakers uniform in 2014. Per Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, Los Angeles liked Payton enough to invite him back for a second workout.
Keep eye on Louisiana Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton, who is working out for Lakers for 2nd time Friday, a source told a Yahoo Sports.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) June 17, 2014
Thanks to a series of strong workouts, the Louisiana-Lafayette point guard has impressed NBA scouts and executives. Payton has climbed Ford's draft board, going to the Sacramento Kings at No. 8:
Two months ago, having Payton this high seemed nuts, but he's been one of just two or three guys that have gotten rave reviews in every workout they have had. His size, toughness, defense and leadership abilities would all be welcome in Sacramento.
Payton has great size for a point guard at 6'4" and has a knack for making things happen with the basketball. He is a stat-stuffer, as he averaged 19.3 points (on 50 percent shooting), 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game last season.
If the Lakers feel that Payton has more potential upside than Smart and don't believe he will have a hard time making the adjustment from the Sun Belt Conference to the NBA, they wont hesitate to pull the trigger on the former Ragin' Cajun.
Note: All stats via DraftExpress
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