The Last Laker Lottery Party

 —  March 21, 2005

While Donald Sterling throws one seemingly every year, it’s been 11 years since Jerry Buss had occasion to throw a lottery party. That’s so long ago, many of you may not remember that draft and the season that led up to it. Heck, many of you may not remember 1994 period. (I was living is Silverlake at the time and spending a lot of time in bars, so it’s a bit fuzzy for me.) So, pretend this is the VH1 flashback show “I love 1994” and let’s take a look at that year that brought us a movie that really summed up the Lakers’ at that point, Reality Bites……

It was the end of a disappointing season, one that involved a dramatic mid-season coaching change — Randy Pfund was out and Magic Johnson was in. His vision and passion inspired the team to go 5-10. Together, the coaches could only pull a Vlade Divac-led Laker team to 33 wins, putting them just 30 games behind division-winning Seattle. All those losses meant that before the lottery the Lakers would pick 10th. Thanks to the lottery, they picked 10th.

I’m sure Jerry Buss threw a nice little party attended by beautiful people, but I wasn’t invited. I likely watched the draft on my 12-inch television screen with stolen cable (you think I remember where I watched it? I barely remember what I did yesterday let alone 11 years ago). But I’m sure that didn’t lessen the drama.

Gone with the first five picks were five quality players — Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Donyell Marshall and Juwan Howard. Laker GM Jerry West waited and looked at his draft board.

Then Philadelphia took Clemson power forward Sharone Wright. That worked out well for them. The Clippers passed over Brian Grant to get Lamond Murray. Laker GM Jerry West waited and looked at his draft board. Right in front of the Lakers, the Celtics drafted their center of the future to replace Robert Parish — Eric Montross.

When the time came for West to make a move he made what some considered a reach — a skinny guard out of Temple named Eddie Jones.

In retrospect West made the right call, there was not anyone else on the board that turned out better. The next best player was Jalen Rose who went with the 13th pick. Still on the board was the much-hyped Yinka Dare. Eric Piatkowski came later on. The real steal down the board was Voshon Lenard with the 46th pick (although he might have gone higher had he not been drafted by the Bucks in 1993 then decided to go back to college and re-enter the draft the next year).

Jones started contributing immediately. He averaged 31 minutes per game as a rookie and scored 14 points per game. He shot 52.1% eFG%, his PER was 16.3, and he scored 21.7 points per 48 minutes played. All very respectable numbers.

The Lakers that next year improved to 48 wins, good enough for the fifth seed in the West. In the first round they faced a Seattle team headed in the wrong direction and beat them three games to one. In the second round it was David Robinson-led Spurs, and the Lakers fell 4-2. Ironically, that year the NBA title went to Rudy Tomjanovich and his Houston Rockets.

But that draft, and the following season, started an upswing in the Laker franchise that, after a few years of being good, led to the next set of needed moves — signing Shaq and drafting Kobe — which soon brought more titles to town.

I can only hope that this year’s lottery party starts the same momentum.