The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off a frustrating season that saw them finish near the bottom of the Western Conference while getting just six games out of Kobe Bryant. The draft marks the beginning of the process to get things turned around quickly.
Los Angeles owns the seventh overall selection in a class with good depth. The franchise should be able to grab a very solid prospect, but there's a lack of certainty at the top. That's made it tough to forecast exactly which coveted players will still be on the board when the Lakers are on the clock.
But it also adds to the drama heading into draft night. With that in mind, let's check out some of the latest talk concerning the Lakers' potential draft options and examine how they could help the team right now and in the future.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Embiid was a virtual lock to get drafted inside the top three before his agent, Arn Tellem, confirmed he needed surgery to repair a foot injury, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com. Now his stock is very much up in the air as teams will surely have questions about his ability to stay healthy moving forward.
It brings the Lakers into play to grab the prospect with the highest upside in the class at No. 7. Bill Simmons of Grantland reports the Kansas product's agent will work to make him land in a big market like L.A. should he not be the first pick:
Also hearing that Arn Tellem wanted Embiid to go first... but if that can't happen, he's going to push hard to steer him to Boston or LA.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 19, 2014
Obviously the Lakers and other teams will want a medical update first. Yet, it's hard to see landing Embiid as anything other than a major coup for Los Angeles. Assuming he's able to make a full recovery, he would be a great short-term teammate for Bryant and an ideal long-term building block.
Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Which prospect will the Lakers take?
The one thing that's always allowed Bryant to stand out is his very high level of competitiveness on the court. Smart is the same way. Putting them together in the starting lineup would ensure the Lakers' backcourt is never going to get outworked in a key game.
Smart is a point guard with terrific across-the-board ability. He can attack the rim off the dribble, set up teammates for easy looks, grab rebounds and defend. Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles reports at least one Lakers scout was extremely intrigued by his workout with the team:
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
One thing Smart must work on is his outside shooting. He checked in below 30 percent on three-pointers in both of his college seasons. If he can develop a more consistent shot from beyond the arc he would be the complete package for the Lakers over the long haul.
Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Randle is another player frequently linked to the Lakers. He's a power forward with the potential to become a force in the paint. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News notes his quick development gives him the edge over other possible top-10 big men with at least one person in the organization:
Lakers source I talked to gushed about Julius Randle's "diversity." Believes he was more polished than Vanleh and Gordon— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) June 17, 2014
He isn't the most athletic prospect in the draft and his defense needs some work. Yet, he's ready to make an instant impact on offense and would help improve the 25th-ranked rebounding team. Randle also believes his versatility is a major asset, as illustrated in comments passed along by McMenamin:
I'm very versatile as far as things I can do on both ends of the floor. And I think I can play in many different styles. I don't think there's one style that's going to fit me and what I'm going to do. I think teams are going to see my versatility and know that they can use me in many ways. Whatever way is best for the team.
Few prospects in the draft are as prepared for the NBA jump as Randle. That makes him a very attractive option if the Lakers are looking to expedite the turnaround. He should become a double-double machine once he gets settled in at the next level.