The Los Angeles Lakers haven’t had much recent success with high picks in the draft. After a front-office shakeup, will L.A. have better luck in the 2019 NBA Draft?
Historically successful NBA franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers don’t tend to have a lot of high draft picks.
The Lakers built some of their championship teams on the shoulders of homegrown top picks like Magic Johnson (No. 1 overall in 1979) and Jerry West (No. 2 in 1960), but most of their greatest players have been either trade acquisitions or free agent signings.
It’s a good problem to have, though. When you’re consistently a title contender — or at least making the playoffs — you aren’t going to get many high draft picks. That has been the reality for the Lakers for most of their existence.
The Lakers have not been to the playoffs since 2013 and as a result, have become regular attendees of the annual NBA Draft Lottery drawing.
Four times in the past five years, L.A. has landed a top-five pick. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Lakers had the No. 2 overall pick. This year, they got the fourth overall pick in the lottery. Barring a trade, it is the only pick they will have in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Prior to this current stretch of futility, L.A.’s last top-five pick was in 1982, when the reigning NBA champs owned the No. 1 overall pick thanks to a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They used it to draft James Worthy and strengthen the “Showtime” dynasty.
The Lakers have never before had the No. 4 overall pick, a spot that has produced more than a few current and future Hall-of-Famers.
Dikembe Mutombo, Dolph Schayes and Dave Cowens were all No. 4 picks. All three big men are in the Hall of Fame. Jerry Sloan was the No. 4 pick in 1965 and had an All-Star playing career before putting together a Hall of Fame coaching career.
Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Chris Bosh are former No. 4 picks who are surely headed to the Hall of Fame in the future. Multi-time All-Stars like Lou Hudson, Micheal Ray Richardson, Rasheed Wallace and Stephon Marbury were also fourth overall picks.
Recent No. 4 picks who are early into promising pro careers include Kristaps Porzingis of the Dallas Mavericks (drafted by the New York Knicks), Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, Josh Jackson of the Phoenix Suns, and Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Lakers’ recent history of top-five draft picks has been hit-and-miss.
Lonzo Ball, the second pick in 2017, was hyped up by none other than Magic Johnson as the “new face of the franchise” coming out of UCLA. Ball’s passing wizardry and defensive prowess has been a plus for the Lakers, but injuries and over-analyzed shooting woes have hindered his progress.
Brandon Ingram, the second pick in 2016, hasn’t yet lived up the Kevin Durant comparisons he was drawing at Duke. Ingram averaged 18.3 points per game this past season, however, and is viewed as a rising star.
Trading Russell and drafting Ball are two of the moves made by Magic Johnson during his tenure as team president that earned a lot of criticism. Johnson abruptly quit the position last month after the Lakers underachieved and missed the playoffs in LeBron James‘ first season with the team.
The new front office decision-makers — whoever they will be by the time the draft rolls around on June 20 — could start the post-Magic era off on a good note with a good pick at that No. 4 spot.
The Lakers’ last two top-five picks couldn’t have been better: Worthy in 1982 and Magic in 1979, both No. 1 overall selections. They won three championships together, after Magic had already collected two championships in 1980 and 1982, and both are deservedly in the Hall of Fame.
In 1975, the Lakers chose UCLA big man Dave Meyers with the No. 2 pick. His claim to fame is that he was subsequently traded to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of the deal that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to L.A.
Kermit Washington went to the Lakers with the No. 5 pick in 1973, joining a team that had lost in the NBA Finals the previous season. The Lakers also got that pick from the Cavs in a trade, making Washington only the third-best player they have ever picked up from Cleveland.
Washington’s most (in)famous moment as a Laker was of course the punch he delivered to Rudy Tomjanovich during a game in 1977 that broke Rudy T’s face and earned Washington what was at the time the longest suspension (60 days) in NBA history. The Lakers traded Washington shortly after the incident, and he went on to be an All-Star and All-Defensive Team performer with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Wayne Yates was picked by the Lakers at No. 5 in 1962. The center from Memphis only played one year in the NBA. He eventually went into coaching and led the Memphis program from 1974-79, guiding them to three postseason appearances in five years.
Jerry West was the No. 2 pick in 1960, and teamed up on the Lakers with Elgin Baylor, the No. 1 pick in 1958, to form what remains one of the greatest superstar tandems in NBA history. West, a guard from West Virginia, and Baylor, a forward from Seattle University, led the Lakers to six NBA Finals appearances together but did not win a title together.
West finally got over the hump in 1972 with the help of Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, after Baylor had retired earlier that season due to recurring knee problems. Baylor did get a championship ring for his contributions to the team, but he didn’t play in the postseason.
Baylor was drafted by the Lakers when they were still the Minneapolis Lakers. The year after Baylor went No. 1, the team took Notre Dame forward Tom Hawkins with the No. 3 pick. Hawkins had a 10-year career in the league that included two stints with the Lakers.
The year before Baylor went No. 1, the Lakers drafted SMU center Jim Krebs with the No. 3 pick. Krebs had a seven-year run with the Lakers before retiring at 28 years old with career averages of 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The following year, Krebs was killed in an accident when a falling tree limb struck him at his home.
Jim Paxson Sr., a guard/forward from Dayton, owns a piece of history as the Lakers’ first top-five draft pick. The Minneapolis franchise took Paxson with the No. 3 pick in 1956. He played two seasons in the NBA.
Paxson’s greatest contributions to the league were his two sons, Jim Jr. and John. The junior Jim Paxson was an All-Star guard for the Blazers in the 1980s who went on to serve as general manager of the Cavs in the 2000s. John Paxson won three championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and is currently in a top position in the Bulls’ front office.
The big question with this year’s draft is whether the Lakers will actually use the No. 4 pick to take a player.
It’s not a well-kept secret that L.A. wants to trade for a veteran star, someone like New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis or Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal. The Lakers’ most attractive asset right now may be that No. 4 pick, which could be packaged with a player like Ingram or Ball to bring in an established star who could put L.A. closer to a championship sooner than later.
With the front office currently in a state of flux, however, it’s impossible to predict what will happen or who will be the newest addition to the Lakers.