In the annals of NBA history, no franchise has more persistently, or more successfully, taken a Babe Ruthian approach to personnel decisions than the Lakers. Sure, Mikan, West, Baylor, Goodrich, Magic, Worthy, Cooper, A.C. Green and, for all intents and purposes, Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant, head a mind-blowing assembly of talent for whom every meaningful NBA moment has unfolded in Laker garb, but every era of Laker glory has hinged upon management’s ability to swing for the fences.
In 1968, with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West approaching their still-ringless twilights, the most dominant big man in NBA history was added to the mix. Three conference titles and Los Angeles’ first banner later, and the legendary trio having departed the Association, the Lakers’ brass once again took to the market and returned with, get this, the NBA’s most dominant big man. Despite kicking off with a few (by Lakers standards) lean years, it’s probably fair to state that Kareem’s tenure in forum blue and gold was a relative success. In the 90s, what ought to have been a smooth transition out of Showtime and into Magic Johnson’s twilight was preempted, when the HIV virus forced the GLoAT from the game. A few more “lean” years (the worst of times still saw the Lakers nearly become the first #8 seed to upset a #1, the selections of Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones and a playoff series victory over Payton-Kemp Sonics), and…
Blah, blah, blah, most dominant big man of his (and perhaps all-) time, yeah, yeah.
ALL of that, and there is a case to be made that last summer’s (Seriously. How. The. Hell. has it not even been a year?) additions of Steve Nash and (at least at the time) the NBA’s most dominant big man represented the most euphoric offseason Lakerland has ever seen.
Amid competing tidal waves of upheaval, in-fighting and injury, the 2012-13 Lakers found themselves adrift. Unlike its splashy predecessors throughout franchise history, last season neither achieved the instant success for which they’d been united, nor did it feel like a unpleasant-yet-constructive element of a broader process.
From Jordan Hill starting the season on the shelf, to Steve Nash suffering a broken leg midway through the season’s second outing, to Mike Brown’s ouster just three and a half games later, to the bizarre non-courtship of Phil Jackson that delivered Mike D’Antoni, to R.I.P. Dr. Buss, to Dwight Howard valiantly battling through serious injury – though not without frequently looking disengaged – to Pau’s planar fascia, to this generation’s touchstone both enjoying one of the best campaigns of an utterly brilliant career and suffering the most debilitating of his myriad injuries, to Andrew Goulock, Playoff Catalyst, to Dwight’s Game 4 walk of shame, 2012-13 for the Lakers was a riddle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, floating in a heaping bowl of suck.
Given the transactional machinations through which this iteration of the Lakers was assembled and the drastically more punitive financial guidelines within which the organization must operate, these days the Laker Way has been placed on hold. With a shade over $78 million committed to nine players for 2013-14 – two of those players are Chris Duhon and Robert Sacre, none of them are Dwight Howard – virtually no cap flexibility, few (any?) trade chips of value, no first-round draft pick and a brutal “repeater tax” (a $3-for-every-$1 tax on teams whose payrolls exceed the league’s luxury tax threshold three times in four years) looming on the horizon and a desperate need for young talent, and the 48th overall pick in Thursday’s draft as their only means to upgrade the roster, the Lakers, more so than at any time in their history, will be looking to simply reach base.
On second thought, forget reaching base! Even at #48, home runs are there to be hit. The Lakers, the aging, hamstrung and shorthanded Lakers, will do quite well to take pause before desecrating another second rounder with the likes of Chukwudiebere Maduabum, Ater Majok, Cheikh Samb or Sun Yue, and consider the extent to which the bottom third of the draft has impacted the NBA in recent years:
- 2003: Zaza Pachulia, James Jones, Mo Williams and Kyle Korver all go between picks 42 and 51
- 2005: Not only is Monta Ellis selected #40 overall, picks #45-60 yield Lou Williams (45), Andray Blatche (49) Amir Johnson (56) and Marcin Gortat (57)
- 2006: Paul Millsap is nabbed at #47
- 2007: Ramon Sessions is drafted #56 overall and, sitting in the identical position in which they will find themselves on Thursday, Lakers selected Marc Gasol
- 2008: Goran Dragic is selected #45 overall
- 2009: The eight selections between #39 and #46 yield Jonas Jerebko, Jodie Meeks, Patrick Beverley (by the Lakers!), Marcus Thornton, Chase Budinger and Danny Green
- 2011: Chandler Parsons is selected at #38, and Isaiah Thomas slips to the 60th and final pick
- All that, and not a word about Michael Redd falling to #40 in 2000, and Luis Scola and Manu Ginobili lasting until after TNT’s last commercial break in 2002 and 1999, respectively.
Some 2013 options, perhaps?
Bojan Dubljevic – This guy smacks of a low-risk Andrea Bargnani. An intelligent Euro big who thrives in the pick and roll, can shoot (47.4% 3-point percentage in the Spanish League), doesn’t turn 22 until late October, apparently has a great attitude and is deemed to be very coachable.
Revives Steve Nash
Though neither particularly fast nor athletic, and a subpar rebounder for a someone standing 6’9”, 235, Dubljevic is at the very least capable in the post, and possesses the physical and mental tools necessary to carve out a niche in the NBA.
Carrick Felix – Felix improved markedly in his time at Arizona State (14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a senior, v. 10.5 and 4.0 in similar minutes as a junior), registering 13 double-doubles (the only ones of his college career) and, after barely hitting one out of every five 3-pointers he attempted as a sophomore, raised his percentage to 31.4% and 37.4% the past two years. Additionally, the All-Pac 12 defender is a workhorse (32.9 minutes per game as a junior, 35.3 as a senior), has got NBA size (6’6”, 203), is a ball hawk (50 steals as a senior) and sufficiently athletic to defend either the 2 or the 3. Hurting his stock are questions about his ceiling (he’s almost 23) and an inability to create offensively, though if he’s successful in impacting both ends of the floor in NBA anywhere near as much as he did in college, no one will regret burning a #2 on this guy. Strikes me as a bargain bin Battier.
Archie Goodwin – If there is a fence to be swung for, it may be right here. Goodwin is a good-sized wing (6’5”, 189 and, DRAFT ALERT, a 6’10” wingspan) with fantastic quickness and ball-handling, as well as the ability finish at the cup. He’s been a solid defender thus far in his development, and has the physical tools to become a stopper in the NBA. As one might imagine, however, young Mr. Goodwin is accompanied by some significant question marks as he enters the league: his shooting motion is neither fluid nor consistent, a 64% free throw percentage is subpar for a guy who’ll earn his early NBA paychecks attacking the paint, he can’t hit the 3-ball (26.6% in his one season at Kentucky), he’s got to learn how to play off of the ball and his affinity for hero ball led Coach Cal to declare “I can’t coach you.”
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the theater?
Thing is, this is pick #48. This guy entered his freshman season at Kentucky as a presumed one-and-done lottery pick. Had he stuck around Lexington another year, there’s a decent chance he’d have made it as a soph. Again, this is pick #48. Not a lot of John Calipari-recruited sub-drinking-age talent ‘round these parts.
Whether any of the above trio is a viable option come the Lakers’ selection remains to be seen. Whether any of the above trio is a viable option for the NBA team that secures his services also remains to be seen. There is, however, a case (however optimistic) to be made for these and numerous other underappreciated newcomers, because if recent drafts have taught us anything, it’s that, well, it’s going to be someone.