November 16, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Former pro basketball player "Julius Dr. J" Irving sits next to Los Angeles Lakers Mitch Kupchak during the ceremony unveiling the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Los Angeles Lakers: Draft Lottery Doesn't Save Poor Season

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Tanking.

It’s not what the Los Angeles Lakers did in 2013-14, but it sure mirrored it.

“Fans actually want the Lakers to lose, tell me the last time that’s happened” was at the basis of many stories throughout the second half of the season, seeing as how Los Angeles was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in early March.

They’re the Lakers, and they’re supposed to redeem themselves with another run at the top, right?

Lakers

Dec 8, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant before the game against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

After Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery, what many fans swarming the Hollywood streets hoped was certain, is now as cloudy as ever.

As I stood anxiously in the media room, awaiting the fate that could either drive a 10,000 pound wrecking ball into the remainder of Kobe Bryant’s tenure or offer him a future shot at his sixth title, it dawned upon me.  It must have hit Michael Wilbon as well, who stood a foot away in utter shock of the Cavaliers’ method of making everyone in the league despise them.

All of this season’s losing, this dreadful disguise Los Angeles owned during the 27-55 embarrassment …. has been for almost nothing.  Understand something very quickly:  Mitch Kupchak didn’t orchestrate a tanking program where he would set this team up for failure during the season.  Mike D’Antoni put the best players on the roster out there on the floor, and the medical staff worked some extensive overtime.

Injuries happen, yes.  They frequently and unexpectedly happen to the Lakers.  Steve Nash‘s body deteriorating, Bryant’s leg knee taking a hit, Nick Young‘s knee, Xavier Henry‘s bone bruise, Steve Blake‘s elbow, Jordan Farmar‘s hamstring …. you name it.  While the loss column increased by the day, so did their chances at getting a cornerstone player for the future, in the life after No. 24.

The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce to the Pacific, as the Lakers claimed the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, six spots below what everyone was crossing their fingers for.  The sneaky little devils from Cleveland — I’ve surely said this statement once before — stole the top pick, with only a 1.7 percent chance heading into the lottery.

In a flash, Mitch Kupchak was forced to say goodbye to the top four prospects (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum) before he could even say hello.

Heading into the eventful night — that was supposed to be headlined by Miami and Indiana — the Lakers could’ve landed in two potential ranges.  The way the lottery operates — don’t you dare ask me why! — Los Angeles was guaranteed to draw a pick between 1-3, or 6-9.  The fourth and fifth pick were out of the scenario. leaving room for error.  The error took over, and the Lakers no longer have their eyes set on a top five pick to go alongside Kobe, and lure free agents.

With Minnesota Timberwolves’ owner, Glen Taylor, making it clear they planned to retain Kevin Love through the 2014 Draft, the thought of trading this No. 7 pick is unlikely for the Lakers.  At least to Minnesota, this is.  Love wants to walk away, however, meaning Minnesota can’t close the doors completely on making a trade.  Why not steal someone’s No. 7 pick in a package deal that would help you at least receive something in exchange for Love?  You can’t let him walk away and leave you hanging out to dry.

For what it’s worth, every “big board” and mock draft revealed undergoes changes between now and June’s draft, so teams may not be completely sold on the projections of 4-7 as they stand now.  After Wiggins, Parker, and Embiid, the best available prospects ranges from Exum (Australian sensation), Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, and Noah Vonleh.

A cloud is hanging over Los Angeles, one that’s covering up any certainty Kupchak and Jim Buss can have heading into June.

With a top three pick, it still may be uncertainty since you can’t predict what type of player Wiggins, Parker, and Embiid will translate in to on the pro level.  However, you feel a lot more comfortable taking one of the three guys people have fallen in love with throughout their freshmen year in college.  Now, the Lakers must dig through the weeds, find a place to plant their flower, and hope it blossoms.

LALDRAFTJulius Randle, if available at No. 7, is the popular choice.  It’s likely the route Kupchak would go if the Kentucky one-and-done is still on the board.

Randle was the second coming of Michael Beasley strictly from a double-double standpoint, collecting 24 of them in his only season with John Calipari.  Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are the only other Kentucky freshmen to have grabbed at least 20 double-doubles in a season, which just shouts that Randle is a demon on the glass.

The issue?

To Randle and everyone emotionally invested into the college game, there is none.  He will flourish at the next level, as long as he matures and develops footwork.

Wait, you better hold your Texas-raised horses on that one.

Randle is arguably the strongest, bulkiest bull in this year’s draft, but how does that resonate with the fact he’ll be placed against the trees of the NBA next season, having to challenge the Dwight Howard‘s or the Roy Hibbert‘s of the world in the paint?

Lakers

Mar 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against Louisville Cardinals forward/center Mangok Mathiang (12) in the second half in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Standing at 6’9″ and weighing a solid 250 pounds, Randle will have more of a learning curve than people realize.  Stop, Kentucky fanatics, he’s not going to have as big of an impact on a franchise as Mr. 44-inch vertical Wiggins will.  End the blasphemy just because Kentucky marched to the National Championship game.

What’s the one facet of the game where majority of the NBA’s power forwards and centers are having to adjust to?

The mid-range — or even long-range — jump shot, and adapting to the newer, cleaner style of basketball.

Take a look at Randle’s common comparison, the grizzly bear in Memphis, Zach Randolph.

Randolph, at his strongest, has learned how to bully his way into the paint against the top frontcourts in the sport, and he’s naturally the exact same build as Randle (6’9″, roughly 260 pounds).  It’s nothing Randle can’t learn with time, especially since most offenses in today’s game are pulling centers away from the basket, thus having a cleaner way to develop position with mismatches.

There’s one glaring strength to Randolph’s game, however.  The ability to shoot the ball from multiple areas, ranges, and situations is what makes him Memphis’ grit-and-grind leader of the pack.  This season, Randolph took 197 shots from mid-range (15-19 feet from the basket).  That’s 2.5 attempts from beyond the free throw line per game.  Of those attempts, Randolph connected on an impressive 44.7 percent of the time.  Put that into perspective, and realize Kevin Durant took just 70 more shots from that same range (15-19 feet), and was effective 42.7 percent of the time.  Randolph can shoot, and defenses are actually concerned when he rises from mid-range, or even near the perimeter.

Randle has a bit of a shooting touch from his days in high school, but it has to nurture into a formidable weapon, one that he can use to create spacing for the Lakers (if he lands in L.A.).

Bryant’s biggest pet peeve with current forward/center Jordan Hill was that he couldn’t rely on the big man to step out and make defenses chase him.  Randle bodied the entire SEC in the paint during his one year at Kentucky, but we rarely saw him stretching defenses to the likes that Michael Beasley did at Kansas State.  Beasley shot 38 percent from long range during his freshmen year in 2007-08, but never had the girth that Randle has entering this year’s draft.

There are other viable options for the Lakers with the No. 7 pick next month, and we’ll dive into those in the coming days.  Randle isn’t an option in which you hang your head and ask God over and over why your life is ruined, by any means.  He’s just not what the city of Los Angeles needs in two years after Bryant hangs up the illustrious career.

The franchise has to move on from their superstar for the first time since 1996 …. they just hoped it would be with another sensational wing threat.  That ship has sailed, and Wiggins is off to the sea of fortunate Cavaliers.

 

Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com.   For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.

 

 

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Tags: Dante Exum Julius Randle Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Noah Vonleh

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