Lakers' Ideal 2021 NBA Mock Draft

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2021

Lakers' Ideal 2021 NBA Mock Draft

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers have one summer to get their roster back into championship shape.

    Since they're already short on cap space, they need to maximize every move they make over the upcoming offseason. Acing the 2021 NBA draft will be a big part of that.

    Barring a trade, though, they only have one crack at the draft board with the 22nd pick. Let's examine the ideal possibilities for that pick.

Spend Pick on an Immediate Contributor

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    A lot of teams are searching for upside at the draft. The Lakers should go a different route.

    LeBron James is 36 years old, and Anthony Davis is 28. The time to go championship chasing is right now, so if L.A. keeps this pick, it needs to spend it on someone who can contribute to that effort.

    Oregon's Chris Duarte could offer the perfect blend of readiness, shot-making and perimeter defense. This past season, he averaged 17.1 points while making 42.4 percent of his threes and a ridiculous 63.1 percent of his twos. He also earned All-Defense honors in the Pac-12 while swiping 1.9 steals in 34.1 minutes per game.

    His 24th birthday is behind him, so the upside is minimal at best. But again, that's a concern for clubs on a different timeline than the Lakers. For them, his team defense, perimeter shooting, basketball IQ and polish could check both boxes as the best player available and the one who most clearly fits their needs.

Trade Pick for Win-Now Player

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Technically, the Lakers can't trade this pick, since they already owe their 2022 first-rounder to the New Orleans Pelicans. But they can get around the Stepien Rule by agreeing to a deal at the draft and executing it at a later date.

    L.A. might prefer this option, since it eliminates the guesswork on how a draft prospect will transition to the NBA. The Lakers could instead walk away with a sure thing while their trade partner takes on the risk of an unproven prospect for the potential reward of what their future might hold.

    They might find that trade partner in the Orlando Magic, who took the rebuilding plunge at the trade deadline but left themselves with one final trade chip in Terrence Ross. The scoring swingman can be a little streaky, but he's a flamethrower when he has it rolling. He only played 46 games this season and still finished 15 of them with 20-plus points.

    Whether L.A. deployed him as a starter or a spark-plug sub, his shot-making and shot creation would earn him a spot on the closing lineup.

Package Pick in Blockbuster Trade

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Lakers don't have the trade chips to win any superstar sweepstakes. So, if you were hoping to read some Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal fan fiction, this is not the place.

    L.A. could cobble together something for a discounted star, though. Pair the pick with Kyle Kuzma and either Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Montrezl Harrell, and that might be enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder to bite.

    In return, the Lakers could walk away from draft night with four-time All-Star Kemba Walker. Yes, he's a 31-year-old in a year-plus battle with his balky left knee, but he's also one of seven players to average at least 19 points and four assists in each of the past six seasons.

    If the Lakers can get him back to full strength, they'd have a dynamic scorer and capable creator to play third banana in the Association's newest Big Three. There's risk involved, but the possible reward of a world championship might be too great to overlook.