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Lakers May Not Say It, but Desire to Go Big in NBA Draft Impossible to Hide

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJune 10, 2015

CHAPEL HILL, NC - MARCH 07:  Jahlil Okafor #15 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after scoring against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at the Dean Smith Center on March 7, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Mitch Kupchak is skilled at using words without saying anything.

When the Los Angeles Lakers general manager wants to stick to his conservative nature, protecting his information and keeping his plans private, he'll fill space with circuitous phrases that travel roundabout paths to, well, dead ends.

"Having said that, you can argue that maybe…"

"That could be a factor…"

"I understand why people would think that. But to say I'm thinking that, I'm not sure…"

Except…some stuff is obvious.

And when stuff is as obvious as the two big men, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, being the best bets in this NBA draft, no matter how much fans might want to stir that pot, even Kupchak will forget to raise the veil.

If you read some of the plain words the Lakers GM spoke Tuesday after working out likely No. 2 overall pick Okafor—with Kupchak expressing ongoing determination to get the other center, Towns, in for a workout—there are no twists and turns.

"We're going to look at the bigs and the guards," Kupchak said, "and see if there's a guard there that—despite being just a guard—you don't want to pass on him."

Kupchak has been consistent in his statements for months that logic suggests Towns and Okafor are the gems, and there might be some clarity in the next three weeks, but that subsequent area needs to be sorted out.

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Certainly it's Kupchak's prerogative to change his mind now that this is happening in real time. The Lakers do want to see Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis' workout Sunday in Las Vegas and might have guards Emmanuel Mudiay and D'Angelo Russell back in for additional one-day workouts.

But sometimes when Kupchak's way with words seems convoluted, that doesn't mean he will be misleading.

As often as he said Tuesday that it can be sensible in today's NBA to build around a guard, the reality is that size is fundamentally valuable and thus almost never underrated in the draft.

"The Clippers got DeAndre Jordan, and he was in the 30s," Kupchak said. "That does not happen very often."

Kupchak also brought up Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals as proof that it's not always about the interior. However...

"Neither team really has a dominant center, so you don't have to get to the Finals with a dominant center," Kupchak said. "But we've had great success with dominant centers."

Truth be told, both Finals franchises' fates were shifted because of their centers:

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 9:  Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors goes up to shoot against Timofey Mozgov #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Three of the 2015 NBA Finals at The Quicken Loans Arena on June 9, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Cavaliers' January trade of two first-round picks for 7'1" Timofey Mozgov changed their whole defensive structure, with Mozgov surprisingly becoming a more valuable piece to the team's frontcourt than Kevin Love.

The Warriors changed their direction in 2012, when they shifted course from prioritizing entertaining offense. New owner Joe Lacob traded popular guard Monta Ellis for injury-prone, defensive-minded Andrew Bogut, who happened to be 7'0".   

Bogut is a former No. 1 overall pick because he's that big. While he did not come right in and dazzle the league, topping out five years into his career as third-team All-NBA in 2010, Bogut has carried consistent value.

On this point of bigs taking longer to emerge in the NBA and not being the natural dominators that guards or wings are, Kupchak shared some keen insight.

"Bigs typically have been slower to develop, and you can argue why is that," he said. "My theory is big players kind of get selected to play the game because they're big, and they're taught to play the game—and then they love the game. Whereas with other players, when they're four or five years old, they just picked up a ball and loved to play the game."

Kupchak is a big himself—6'9" from a previous era—so he knows of what he speaks.

To take it a step further, which big player loves and will love the game more between Towns and Okafor?

While Towns' skill set seems off the charts, Okafor possesses the more natural basketball passion.

Towns is a sweet free spirit who has always been interested in a variety of things. There is said to be footage of Okafor in diapers wobbling over to dunk on a makeshift basket—and then he used basketball as his escape after his mother's death when he was nine.

Towns chose Kentucky because of its kinesiology program and still aspires to become a doctor. Okafor chose Duke to represent an elite basketball empire and bring it back to power.

Okafor actually drew the Duke comparison himself Tuesday on Los Angeles' practice court, explaining his desire to lift the lagging Lakers back to prominence. Okafor's longing to join the Lakers was asserted to reporters even more clearly than assistant coach Mark Madsen's enthusiastic post defense against Okafor in his just-completed Lakers workout.

"When I first thought about the NBA, I first thought about the Lakers," Okafor said. "They have a winning tradition: 11 championships [in Los Angeles]. That's what I want to be a part of."

The debate over how much size matters will nevertheless continue until draft day, but Okafor has a final word about that.

"I still think big men run the game," he said, smiling.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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