2018 NBA Draft Lottery Means LA Can Finally Move on from Nash, Howard Trades

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterMay 18, 2018

Magic Johnson, left, listens as Rob Pelinka talks during a news conference introducing him as the new general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers, in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2017. The Lakers introduced Pelinka, Kobe Bryant's longtime agent, as their new general manager. Pelinka will work with Johnson to rebuild the 16-time NBA champions from the worst four-year stretch in team history. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Nick Ut/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — For the first time since 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers could comfortably skip Tuesday's NBA draft lottery.

No, the franchise still hasn't made the postseason since the year Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in 2013.

Instead, the Lakers will happily go without their pick, yielding their fourth and final selection traded initially to the Phoenix Suns for Steve Nash in 2012. The Philadelphia 76ers will draft in the Lakers' place, closing out the ill-fated deal once and for all.

Heavy pick protections and lottery luck landed the Lakers the No. 2 selection in three straight years (D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball). They have since improved enough on the court for their pick to drop to 10th.

Lottery luck could have jumped the pick to No. 1, giving the 76ers a chance at a player such as Arizona center Deandre Ayton.

Or even worse (as far as the L.A. faithful are concerned), the rival Boston Celtics would have gotten the Lakers' selection if it jumped to Nos. 2 or 3, giving what could be the best team in the Eastern Conference the chance to draft Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic, Ayton or Duke's Marvin Bagley III, among other prospects.

The Nash trade was an undeniable disaster but in more of a capsized-tugboat scope than that of the Titanic.

On paper, Nash was supposed to flourish while running the point alongside Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Bryant. Instead, the two-time NBA MVP couldn't stay healthy, and the Lakers gradually bottomed out.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Howard trade that same summer was also a washout, although none of the players Los Angeles gave up are still in the league (Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga) and protections kept the Lakers from losing both a first- and a second-round pick (instead they'll yield the 40th overall selection in June).

And the first three draft picks sent out for Nash weren't especially consequential. None of the players are in the NBA. Nemanja Nedovic (30th) and Alex Oriakhi (57th) were drafted in 2013, and the best player L.A. missed out on with those picks was Allen Crabbe (31st).

While the Lakers could have selected Nikola Jokic (41st) in 2014 had they kept the pick, the Milwaukee Bucks used the selection on Johnny O'Bryant (36th). The Jokic mistake is easy to recognize in hindsight, but most teams missed on the Denver Nuggets center. Later, the Charlotte Hornets dumped O'Bryant in a February 2018 trade to the New York Knicks, who subsequently waived him.

Even without their own picks, the Lakers do have a first-round selection, No. 25, after trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cleveland Cavaliers in February. The franchise has shown a knack for finding productive players outside the lottery such as Kuzma (27th in 2018), Josh Hart (30th in 2017) and Nance (27th in 2015).

Los Angeles could look at prospects such as Aaron Holiday (UCLA), Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova), Khyri Thomas (Creighton), Chandler Hutchison (Boise State), Grayson Allen (Duke), Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State), Jalen Brunson (Villanova) or Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Kansas), among many others.

The Lakers also have the 47th pick (via the Nuggets) acquired with Jose Calderon from the Chicago Bulls in 2016.

Perhaps a prospect such as Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech), Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), Chimezie Metu (USC) or Shake Milton (SMU) will still be on the board.

The Lakers need help at nearly every position, given the team only has five players under guaranteed contracts for 2017-18, one being Luol Deng, who is expected to stay out of the rotation. Outside of its two guards (Ball and Hart) and two forwards (Ingram and Kuzma), the franchise has Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant on non-guaranteed contracts.

Julius Randle, Travis Wear and Andre Ingram can all become restricted free agents in July, provided the Lakers make qualifying offers before the end of June. Everyone else on the roster will be unrestricted free agents, including Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Channing Frye.

Obviously, the Lakers have bigger aspirations this summer than the players they'll select in the draft. They'll have enough spending power to chase two maximum-salaried players, such as Paul George and LeBron James.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

If they are successful in their star hunting, they could retain Randle, provided they can find a team willing to take on Deng's remaining $36.8 million over the next two seasons. To do so would probably cost at least one future first-round pick (presumably two), though.

Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, who are going through the rebuilding process, may be willing to take on unwanted salary in return for draft considerations. The Lakers, however, won't know if they need that extra cap space until July. A predraft Deng trade may be unlikely unless executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are extremely optimistic going into the summer.

One additional wrinkle could be the status of Kawhi Leonard, who may have a fractured relationship with the San Antonio Spurs. If they cannot confidently move forward with Leonard, who can opt out of his contract after next season, they may look to move him.

Even if Leonard ends up on the trade block, the Lakers may not offer any of their top young players—given the team can try to hold on to enough cap space in 2019 to sign the forward outright.

The Lakers have tremendous flexibility this summer and clear goals. They'll get some answers with the June 21 draft and a feel for where they stand in free agency once they reach July.

That George and the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't get out of the first round and that James and the Cavaliers are struggling against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals may bode well for the Lakers' chances.               

          

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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