For Hollywood’s glorious franchise, the NBA Draft this Thursday is a step in the right direction. Even if they don’t make a selection in the top 10.
With the No. 7 pick in this laden draft, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss can repair a handful of wrongs they’ve done in the past few years. The biggest mishap that still strikes people as mace to the eyes is the hiring of Mike D’Antoni.
That move, for what it’s worth looking back in retrospect, murdered everything.
It made Phil Jackson laugh out by the lake of his Montana home, and broke Jennie Buss’ heart. It aggravated Dwight Howard, who Kupchak promised a statue for outside Staples Center one day. It changed the outlook on Lakers basketball, as everyone already knew what was in store; an up-tempo, pace-pushing offense with two older guards in the starting lineup. The coaching choice shocked Bryant, the fans, and D’Antoni himself. When Phil is on the dinner table, he’s never pushed aside for a different dish.
Nash’s age caught up to him after a freak accident sidelined him in just his second game as a Laker, and D’Antoni’s overwhelming use of Bryant down the stretch of the 2012-13 season didn’t protect the Achilles tendon. Not saying it caused the tear, but don’t be foolish. Play more than 40 minutes a game within a month — at age 34 and in pursuit of a playoff berth — and tell me what happens. You might get lucky.
Dwight left, while smiling in an interview when asked “If Phil Jackson had been hired, would you have stayed?”
That couldn’t have made Buss & Kupchak feel too good inside.
So, it becomes a process of a slow rebuild.
It can’t be a full-blown rebuild, as their longest-tenured superstar will be under contract for two more seasons — at the very least. When Bryant turns 38 and his contract has expired, he’ll have to evaluate if he wants to continue the grind. If he’s able to average upwards of 24-25 points per night in these next two years, there’s no way he’ll be able to walk away. It’s not that easy when you’ve been playing in one city for over half your life.
The rebuild will still be centered around Bryant. But, if management is set to keep this No. 7 pick for Thursday, they seriously need to have completed their studying. These pre-draft workouts better have given them an indication if their choice can be a successor to Bryant’s duties.
This is Los Angeles, and star power always seems to be apparent. However, if they’re unable to draw in a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James this summer, or Kevin Durant in 2016, the Lakers will have another taste of mediocrity, with no box-office caliber players. They witnessed that last season, with Nick Young serving as the backup Mamba. We see where that got them.
Falling all the way to No. 7 in the draft lottery hurt, since each top prospect (specifically Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker) claimed it would be a blessing to play for Los Angeles. High-profile organizations are rarely near the top 10 in drafts, and the league has two this year (Lakers, Celtics) in the top seven.
Left on the board by the time their pick arrives, the Lakers will likely have to choose from a pool of Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, or Zach LaVine. Of course, one or two of those could be gone by the time Los Angeles has their pick, but those are the only names ESPN’s Chad Ford believes the Lakers will focus on.
It’s got to be a Smart decision.
Marcus Smart is the youth along the perimeter the Lakers need, given that Nash is planning to return and play at 40 years old next season. Smart, sophomore out of Oklahoma State, presents the scoring option they’ll be looking for, and can also be pesty defensively; his body size allows for that. Bulky, 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Smart is an undersized shooting guard that has point guard qualities.
Julius Randle seems to be the guy Kupchak and company loves, and he has the attitude to step in and make an immediate impact. He grew up the biggest Lakers fan in his area, and has the build to be a powerful force. However, I’ve been on record numerous times saying I’m concerned about his shooting ability, especially out of pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop situations. It has to improve, and I’m not sure the Lakers want to take a gamble on a tweener. Randle’s too bulky and big to be a small forward, and doesn’t have the perimeter ability. But he could be too small to fit into the league’s dominant frontcourt scorers.
Zach LaVine seems to only be considered by the Lakers due to his freakish athleticism. I’ve never understood it. Why do teams — and the media — buy so much into a guy being able to jump 46-inches on a vertical? Sure, Blake Griffin rings a bell in terms of how an athletic player can affect the game. But, I’d rather closely examine his basketball skills, and things he’ll have to do with the ball in his hands.
Noah Vonleh may just be the best big man capable of putting the ball on the floor in this draft. He’s 6’10” and a mere 240 pounds, and can create his own looks by banging bodies in the post. If Los Angeles wants a presence for the frontcourt, they have their options with Randle or Vonleh. If backcourt is the way to go in 2014, Smart or LaVine will be the primary options.
Keep in mind, the Lakers cost themselves for crucial draft picks in the future. They no longer have a 2015 first round pick, due to trading it away to Phoenix for Steve Nash. Yeah, that’s disgusting. What about the 2017 first round selection? Sent to Orlando in the Dwight Howard fiasco. Neither of the them are positively affecting the Lakers at this point, with Howard even leaving Los Angeles in the dust.
There’s also talk of Kupchak trading Nash, along with the No. 7 pick on Thursday, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young.
That’s something the Lakers have to take a long, hard look at. Sure, Carter-Williams has proven himself as a starting point guard, one worthy of Rookie of the Year honors. However, were his numbers inflated? The 76ers played zero defense last season, residing on the embarrassing end of multiple 30+ point blowouts. Their youth allowed them to play at the fastest pace (99.2 possessions per 48 minutes), but they also allowed a league-worst 109.9 points per contest. Carter-Williams and Brett Brown could focus on offense, knowing the season was going to be a tanked one anyway.
Whether or not Carter-Williams can step into a franchise that demands excellence and play next to Bryant, remains unclear. It should go down, though. The Lakers should give him an opportunity, and head that route — if they don’t want to keep the No. 7 pick this year. Remember, you’re likely losing Pau Gasol — because the Spaniard may not want a tremendous pay cut — you’ll need an aggressive, established player for a replacement.
Thaddeus Young, who just averaged 18 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting, fits that description. Young will face an early termination option in his contract next summer, so it could just be “borrowing” a player. Many tough situations for the Lakers to deal with, and choices that could either help their cause for immediate success, or hurt their future.
As for the coaching situation, Los Angeles will finally make the right move in this department.
Byron Scott, an historical Lakers figure, has already had three interviews for the head coaching position. Scott is also engaged in talks with Bryant, who definitely appreciates and respects his coaching principles. The two spent time together briefly, before Scott left the Lakers in 1997 as a player. Scott coached against Bryant and Shaq in the 2002 NBA Finals, before being swept. He also took the New Jersey Nets back to the Finals in 2004, losing to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. He’s been around the block as a coach, handling situations with two All-Star point guards, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving.
Scott likely won’t be hired until the first or second week of July, as the Lakers will need time to meet with either Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James and see if they have any coaching preferences, should one of them sign in Hollywood.
The NBA is all about a waiting game, and forecasting for the future.
Los Angeles, more than anyone, faces the toughest challenges.
Keep the draft pick, take Smart or Randle, make an all-out pitch to unrestricted free agent Carmelo Anthony, and hire Byron Scott. Life will be much less brutal than it’s been the past two seasons.