The process is set to begin with the NBA draft on June 26. There will be several exciting players available in this year's draft, including Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker. However, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Fitzgerald, these players are all likely to be gone by the time Los Angeles is on the clock with the seventh overall pick.
But this doesn't mean that the Lakers can't still select the player that's the best fit for the team. There is a very good possibility they will find Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart still available. If he is, the team shouldn't hesitate to select their point guard of the future.
As Ehran Khan of Bleacher Report points out, there will be several other intriguing options for the Lakers at seventh overall, including Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle. Some have also added Embiid to this list, as it's now possible that he drops out of the the top five, but this is only because of the surgery he had on Friday due to a recently discovered stress fracture in his foot. Even if he is available, it would be too risky for the Lakers to gamble on a player that has already shown to be injury-prone.
The 6'3", 227-pound Smart remains the Lakers' best option.
The Orange County Register's Bill Oram points out that Los Angeles will have only three players under contract as of the start of free agency on July 1: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. This group is nothing to be excited about. Bryant is at the end of his career and coming off another major injury, Nash is no longer a starting-caliber point guard and Sacre is a willing, but limited, big man that is best coming off the bench.
The truth is that the Lakers have more needs than can be addressed in a single pick. What they need to find is a player to rebuild the team around, and they will get that with Smart.
Despite a frustrating season at Oklahoma State that included going on both a winning streak and a losing streak of seven games, and the unfortunate incident at Texas Tech, Smart still put up stellar numbers on both sides of the court. Per ESPN.com, he averaged 18.0 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals. Despite the challenges and distractions, he was able to perform well in every facet of the game.
For a team with as many holes as the Lakers, this is exactly what they're looking for. No, Smart is not going to solve all of the team's issues, but he will single-handedly address a lot of them.
Offensively, Smart would provide the leadership the Lakers have been searching for since they brought in Nash. A proven scorer and a willing passer, Smart showed he can effectively run an offense as he led the Cowboys to an average of 80.3 points per game, good for 16th best in the country, according to ESPN.com.
Smart would be just as valuable to the team defensively, where the Lakers ranked 28th defensively last season, per NBA.com. He is a tenacious defender, as shown by his propensity for steals, and he has the physical size and speed to take over primary defensive duties on the perimeter.
Bryant is under contract until 2016, and he will remain the team's unquestioned leader as long as he's wearing the purple and gold. But there is no denying that his glorious career is coming to an end. Just as much as the Lakers need talent, they also need to start grooming the team leader to take over once Bryant retires. Smart is a proven leader, and he's tough enough to flourish, rather than wilt as others have, under the demanding tutelage of Bryant.
Smart himself pointed out why he would be a good fit alongside Bryant, per the Los Angeles Times:
I hate to lose, just like he does. Everybody knows that Kobe Bryant is one of the more fierce competitors to ever play the game. So being able to play alongside of him and learn from him and take what he teaches is an honor in itself.
For all the potential upside, Smart is nowhere near a finished product, particularly on offense. According to DraftExpress, he made an underwhelming 28.4 percent of his jump shots in the half court. This will obviously not cut it in the NBA, as the Lakers would need him to stretch the defense. Still, this is something that can be worked on, and he has shown the willingness to do so.
There was also some concern regarding Smart's personality after he shoved a Texas Tech fan back in February, but According to Smart, this hasn't been too much of an issue: "Teams probably mention it but one or two words about it and it's done."
Heading into the draft, the rebuilding Lakers are in desperate need of two things in order to start on the long road back to championship contention: talent and leadership. In Smart, the team gets both of these.
Oram notes that, since 1982, Los Angeles has had only two selections in the top 10 of the NBA draft: Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum, both selected 10th overall. Although the Lakers have rarely been in this position, they have proven to make very good use of the opportunity.
Smart is just what this team needs. If he's available, the Lakers need to make the right selection and add to this list of success.