One of these days, we will all know and understand what direction the Los Angeles Lakers are heading in this offseason.
Today is not that day.
Tomorrow doesn't look good either.
The forecast for the day after that is cloudy with a 100 percent chance of "We still don't know what the hell they're doing!"
That's when we'll have a better idea of what the Lakers plan on doing entering a summer expected to be overrun with change.
Understanding L.A.'s Lottery Odds
It all starts with the lottery, when the Lakers' draft order will be determined. Once they know where they're slated to pick, the immediate future becomes a bit clearer.
Since they finished with the sixth-worst regular-season record, the Lakers can fall no lower than ninth on the draft board. Only the first three picks are determined by random-promoting pingpong balls. After those three are off the board, the remaining lottery order unfolds by increasing winning percentage.
Below you'll find the Lakers' lottery odds, courtesy of NBA.com:
|Lakers' Lottery Odds|
Where the Lakers fall dictates what they can do. There is no clear-cut No. 1 selection in this year's draft—bet on one of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker—but the Lakers should still have an idea of who will and won't be available.
Say they wind up with the sixth pick. They know Wiggins and Parker won't fall there, so they can plan accordingly.
How big of an impact will their lottery placement have on this summer's plans?
Allow me to rid you of any guesswork.
The NBA's lottery process is rigged, so the Lakers are going to get the first pick. The Philadelphia 76ers will get the second, but because this whole thing is scripted, they will forfeit it to the Lakers, since anytime you have a rookie point guard younger than 23 who undergoes surgery on his right labrum, your first-rounder automatically gets sent to the team with the top pick.
Got your fill of worthless conspiracy theories now? Good.
Like every other eligible team, the Lakers would love to nab the first overall pick. At the very least, they would like to fall into that top-three zone to ensure they get a crack at Parker, Wiggins and Embiid (assuming he's healthy).
Back in April, ESPN.com's Chad Ford also said the Lakers were interested in Australian prospect Dante Exum. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman has him going fourth in his latest mock draft, so he would be someone they consider if they fall in the top three.
Here's where things get a little dicey. Not one of Parker, Embiid, Exum or Wiggins will escape the top five. Maybe Embiid's stock plummets because of his back injury (unlikely), or because many of the top lottery teams—Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, Sixers, etc.—are set at center. More likely than not, though, each of them will be gone by No. 6. They've remained within the top five consistently all season. No reason that should change moving forward.
Those stocks are important to understand. The Lakers cannot pick fourth or fifth, and since none of these guys will be available at No. 6—drill that into your head—it's essentially top three or bust for them.
Not bust in the sense that this past season was all for naught; bust in the sense that the value of said pick in trades diminishes significantly. And the Lakers are considering trades, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
The suggestion is already in circulation that the Lakers will attempt to use their forthcoming high lottery pick in June to assemble the sort of trade package that finally convinces the Wolves to part with Love and end the uncertainty that hangs over this franchise even before the 25-year-old enters the final year of his contract. Yet there is just as much defiance emanating from Minnesota, as we speak, about the Wolves' ability to keep Love in town.
Ah, yes. The bearded elephant in the room: Kevin Love.
If the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to trade him before next season, they'll want a top draft pick. Should the Lakers fall in the top three, they'll have a significant trade piece to dangle in negotiations. That goes for any star, not just Love. Any established superstar who hits the chopping block is suddenly within reach if the Lakers have a top-three pick. Top six, seven, eight or nine won't hold as much weight.
Supersized stipulation incoming: The rights to Los Angeles' 2015 first-rounder belong to the Phoenix Suns (top-five protected), according to RealGM. Because the CBA's Stepien Rule precludes teams from trading two consecutive future first-round picks, the Lakers cannot deal their spot to another team.
What they can do, however, is trade the player they actually draft. If their plan is to do just this, they would essentially be picking for another team on draft night.
This means next to nothing if the Lakers don't fall inside the top three. They can try to make draft-day deals no matter where they pick, but their roster is already thin on assets. That top-three pick, along with their ability to take on salary, is primary bait. Assembling packages will be hard enough without much in the way of established assets, so the higher, the better.
Trading the pick, wherever it lands, feels wrong at this point. Not many superstars figure to become available between now and draft night. Dealing for a player like Love, who can be signed outright next summer when he reaches free agency, is impulsive.
But Kobe "win now or else" Bryant wants to contend immediately. Unless he's suddenly overcome with patience or the Lakers staple his mouth shut, appeasing him by any means necessary will be an option. It won't be one they necessarily explore, but it will still be one.
Expect the Lakers to retain their first-rounder through this summer—unless the Timberwolves are feeling incredibly generous—if it falls inside the top three. The opportunity to build around a potentially transcendent talent doesn't come around very often. Bryant has also said he'll mentor one of the top picks, so the Lakers don't have to live in fear of his reaction there.
In the (more likely) event it winds up outside the top three, they have a number of other options. Flipping said pick for a star will be out of the question at that point, but as ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin details, it could be used in another way:
Let’s say the pick ends up being worse than they were hoping for, in the Nos. 7-9 range. Maybe they fall in love with a prospect and take him at that spot, but maybe the pick is expendable. And while a selection that late in the draft surely wouldn’t be enough to land a vet like Love, it might be enough to convince the Chicago Bulls to let Tom Thibodeau out of his contract to coach the Lakers.
Once again, this is another long shot. Maybe the Bulls listen. Maybe they even like what they hear and are getting in return. But maybe, out of common sense or sheer spite of the Lakers, they realize what Coach Thibs brings to the table (everything...except minutes management).
Yet, even if a Doc Rivers-esque swap becomes unrealistic, the Lakers' draft position still impacts their coaching search.
Stein, along with ESPN.com colleague Ramona Shelburne, reported that the team is looking to make a major "splash" with its coaching search. Kentucky's John Calipari and UConn's Kevin Ollie are two collegiate studs the Lakers are expected to chase, and both are considered near-untouchable.
Coach Cal has repeatedly stated he plans to remain at Kentucky, while UConn is doing everything in its power to retain Ollie—like doubling his yearly salary, according to ESPN.com's Andy Katz.
Armed with a top-three talent like Wiggins, Parker, Embiid or Exum, the Lakers have some bargaining power. Ollie and Calipari might be less hesitant to take the NBA leap if they know one of those prospects is in Los Angeles. Perhaps the Lakers settle in at No. 6, select Kentucky's Julius Randle—who Wasserman has going sixth—and sell Calipari on coaching one of his own.
Beyond those scenarios, the type of coach they seek largely depends on the kind of team they'll be—title chaser or rebuilder—which is directly related to their draft pick.
Here's McMenamin again:
If they are going to be a rebuilding team, why not take a chance on a younger coach who can grow with those young players? It worked in Phoenix this season with first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek. Why not hire Kevin Ollie, fresh off taking Connecticut to a surprise NCAA title, to lead that transition and cut his teeth in the league without the pressure to win every night? Or maybe Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder becomes that guy. Or Derek Fisher should he retire from playing after the Oklahoma City Thunder finish their current playoff run.
General manager Mitch Kupchak basically confirmed this line of thinking during an interview with Lakers.com's Mike Trudell:
You do take into consideration the make up of your roster. Although I won’t rule out hiring a coach prior to the lottery on May 20, I think it’s likely that we don’t, because that’s really the first step in terms of additional information for this franchise. Let’s find out what kind of pick we have. That may even help us decide what direction to go with for our coach. It will be a consideration.
If the plan is to develop the draft pick, the need for an established coach isn't as pertinent. If the plan is to trade that prospect for an established star or impact player, then coaching candidates like Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott and Mike Brown George Karl become more suitable options.
The madness doesn't end here either.
Los Angeles isn't guaranteed to snag a pick of any real value. Once you fall beyond sixth, things get stale.
All it takes is one pingpong ball for the Lakers to be leapfrogged by a team with a better record than them, thus displacing them from that sixth spot and into seventh. Two leapfrogs could relegate them to eighth.
Worst-case scenario has the Lakers selecting at Nos. 7, 8 or 9. There aren't many, if any, players expected to fall that low who can have an immediate impact. There's always a chance, of course, but the latter half of the lottery pales in comparison to the attention the top half is receiving.
This is when Bryant could become an issue. Unable to mentor a preordained superstar and fully aware the selection won't be used in any blockbuster trades, free agency becomes an immediate concern.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding has already said the Lakers plan on preserving cap space for 2015 when Love, LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and so many others could be available. But if the Lakers are interested in remaining competitive after not pulling off a fortunes-turning trade or drafting a franchise-altering talent, they have cap space to burn.
Free agents such as Chris Bosh, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng, among others, would all become targets. They won't hold the same clout as a James or Love, but it gives the Lakers a puncher's chance of returning to relevance next season.
Coaching candidates would also be affected if the Lakers decide to go free-agency shopping. They could consult prospective targets on who they would like play for, thereby elevating the attractiveness of their situation.
So, Where To?
Phew. All this over one draft position. That's just how it goes.
The Lakers are in a unique state right now. Most teams in their situation don't have as many options at their disposal.
Some teams have to rebuild through the draft. Other teams rely on their market appeal. Certain futures are tethered to trades and trades alone. The Lakers can traverse any one of those paths, or some combination of all three.
We don't know. Not even the Lakers know.
But they will.
May 20, to be exact.
*Salary information via ShamSports.