Lakers' Need to Prepare for Future Robs Them of Chance to Gain Big Piece of It

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 19, 2015

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LOS ANGELES — Any Lakers fan who wanted the club to acquire Goran Dragic at Thursday's NBA trade deadline doesn't get it.

The Lakers' path back to relevance, because of how few assets they have, requires them to get pieces for the future without giving up pieces for the future.

Yes, it was a downer for the Lakers that the Phoenix Suns accepted the Miami Heat's offer of two first-round picks to rent Dragic for the rest of this season, as reported by NBA.com. The Lakers' best bet to land Dragic or Rajon Rondo as their next point guard via offseason free agency was not to see them move this season to new locales they might adore.

Obviously, to give up so much for him, the Heat expect to re-sign Dragic after he opts out this summer. The Dallas Mavericks were thinking the same thing in surrendering draft picks and young talent to Boston for free-agent-to-be Rondo in December.

The Lakers weren't in position to do that sort of thing after already trying that to get Dwight Howard temporarily from  Orlando to team with Steve Nash. The Lakers still owe the Magic a conditional 2017 first-rounder to go with the 2013 and potentially 2015 first-rounders they agreed to give Phoenix for Nash.

So the Lakers have to value what precious picks they have all the more—they do also have Houston's first-rounder in 2015 for taking on Jeremy Lin's salary in trade—whether they want to build through the draft or trade the assets to get better quicker.

In any case, the Lakers will still be counting primarily on free agency—where you can add talent without yielding anything but money. They'll be watching to see if Dragic or Rondo wants to bolt anyway, along with indulging Jim Buss' ongoing hope that Kevin Love leaves Cleveland to be a free agent, too.

Dragic's sticking this summer with Miami, where there is a better core of players in place (including a Dwyane Wade younger than Kobe Bryant) and a greater chance for playoff success in the Eastern Conference, would definitely eliminate one of the Lakers' better options.

Dragic is a guy with a mentality that makes him unafraid of following in Bryant's footsteps and the pressure of a glamour franchise. He also has had intriguing brushes with the Lakers already—an enjoyably intense rivalry with fellow Slovenian guard Sasha Vujacic, being part of the nixed Chris Paul trade that would've set Dragic up to run New Orleans' team and taking an on-court punch from Nick Young last season.

A friend of Steve Nash, Goran Dragic had received warm reviews of the Lakers organization from L.A.'s sidelined point guard.
A friend of Steve Nash, Goran Dragic had received warm reviews of the Lakers organization from L.A.'s sidelined point guard.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Also, Dragic is a dear friend of Steve Nash and has a good impression of the Lakers organization from him. After failing to use Nash's expiring contract at the trade deadline to get an asset, the Lakers remain on the lookout for ways Nash can be useful (Nash did work out with Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson on Monday).

The bottom line, though, is that Dragic is an outstanding player—third-team All-NBA last season alongside Damian Lillard, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson. And he has a gritty competitive fire that has been sorely lacking in Lakers players recently not named Kobe.

Now, though, the Lakers can only wait and see if things might go wrong for Dragic and the Heat—the same way the Lakers have to hope things go wrong for other talented players wherever they are pre-free agency.

Since little can be done on that front until July, attention turns toward the draft, where the Lakers are well on track to have a top-five pick (and postpone giving up the owed Nash pick now belonging to Philadelphia until next season, when it would be top-three protected).

For the record, though: The 10-43 Knicks just shut down Carmelo Anthony, the 11-42 Timberwolves traded Thaddeus Young and the 12-41 Sixers dumped Michael Carter-Williams. The 13-40 Lakers did not get tangibly worse at the trade deadline with the jostling for losses and draft position only intensifying.

That's a credit to the Lakers' basic position that they oppose the tanking philosophy, even though Lakers fans are largely embracing the unknown upside of kids the draft can bring.

Jordan Clarkson has become a regular in the Lakers rotation with the season-ending injury to Kobe Bryant.
Jordan Clarkson has become a regular in the Lakers rotation with the season-ending injury to Kobe Bryant.John Raoux/Associated Press

What is fair to say is that things can't get any worse for the Lakers, even though they didn't improve any of their future prospects at the trade deadline Thursday.

These days of hoping bit players such as Clarkson, Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black get a little better will be replaced next season by some legitimacy: a free agent (even if it's not Dragic), almost certainly a top draftee, Julius Randle and Bryant's goodwill/farewell tour.

That's not a return to the glory days, but it'll be a lot more fun than this.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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