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Earlier we wondered how lucky the Lakers would be in the draft lottery.

Seems the answer is, based on your perspective, that their luck on Tuesday night was either slightly bad or neutral as the slid down a spot from their slotted 6th position to settle into the 7th selection in next month’s NBA draft. (As an aside, I don’t think you can argue they were unlucky considering the second most likely spot they would pick at was 7th and that’s exactly where they will pick. But I digress.)

Regardless of what is said in the aftermath, this is not the “worst case scenario” for the Lakers (that would have been falling to 9th). In fact, it’s not even that bad a spot to be in.

Most pundits would tell you that this draft, like every other, has talent that falls into tiers. The very top tier consists of 3 players — Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker. The next player on most draft boards is Dante Exum, a player who is the most intriguing prospect and has a high ceiling, but also someone we don’t know much about due to him being from Australia and not playing in a major European league. So, lets slot him in his own tier right below the aforementioned big three.

The next tier, however, is about four players deep and consists of Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, and Julius Randle. If the top four picks go as expected, at least one of these players will be available when the Lakers pick. Any of these players would instantly help a talent barren Lakers’ roster that only has 3 players under contract heading into free agency.

Of course we are early in the process. Player ranks are subject to change and are sure to fluctuate as guys go into their individual and group workouts. By the time we actually get to the draft, who knows how those workouts, agent maneuvering, team needs, and several other variables will shape draft boards of all the teams — including the Lakers’.

What we do know, though, is that the Lakers are very likely to have more than one very good player available when they pick. Will it be one of those top two to four players we all lusted after just 12 hours ago? Probably not. But it will be someone who has a chance to come in, compete for a rotation spot and, through hard work and proper development be a high level contributor for years to come for this franchise.

That, more than anything else, is my takeaway from tonight.

With Kobe and Nash the Lakers have name recognition and with Robert Sacre (and, if his contract option is picked up, Kendall Marshall) they have a young player who will work hard and fight for a rotation spot. But beyond those players, they are a blank slate. They need talent and especially young, athletic talent. The players likely to be available when the Lakers pick should be both young and talented. If they are also smart, hard working, and willing to take in some of what Kobe and Nash (and other veterans the team is likely to sign) have to offer in terms of experience and how to be a professional in this league, they can grow into the type of player we will all be proud to root for.

Time will tell what happens with this pick, but I’d be lying if I said I weren’t excited. The Lakers need good players and whoever they draft has an opportunity to be one.

Lakers’ beat writer for ESPN LA, Dave McMenamin told a great story once about the lottery. Back when the annual drawing of lottery balls was held in Secaucus, New Jersey and Dave worked for NBA.com, he was covering the event. When he went into the bathroom he encountered none other than Jerry West, The Logo, who was washing his hands. Making some small talk, the beat writer asked the executive how he was doing. West’s answer?

“Terrible. This is a celebration of losers.”

Classic Jerry West.

Tonight, the yearly celebration of losers retakes center stage. The teams who did not qualify for the playoffs will be sweating it out as the draft order of the first 14 picks is determined. The Lakers will be one of those teams hoping to have luck shine upon them.

They are certainly not used to this.

Since the inception of the “lottery” in 1985, the Lakers have only appeared at this event two other times. Both years they picked 10th, selecting Eddie Jones (1994) and Andrew Bynum (2005). This is the first time the team will select in the top 10 since the team selected James Worthy #1 overall in 1982. As a tie-in to that pick, the Lakers are sending Big Game James to represent them when the results are unveiled.

As you all know, the Lakers are currently slotted to pick 6th overall. Whether they stay there or not will depend on those lottery balls:

As the odds above state, the Lakers have roughly a 21% chance of jumping into the top 3 picks. They have much better chances — about 74% — of drafting either 6th or 7th. The odds, then, favor the team standing pat or moving down a slot much more than they do them jumping into the top 3*. It’s those slim chances, however, that will have all of us tuned in to see the results.

How lucky will the Lakers be?

Tonight we will find out. My guess? I think the Lakers either stay at six or move up to number two. My reasoning for this is scientific and involves a complicated algorithm. When playing for the Lakers, James Worthy wore #42: 4 + 2 = 6 while 4 – 2 = 2. There you have it.

Enjoy the “celebration” tonight, you guys. Hopefully, like the other times the Lakers have been at this event, they won’t make another appearance for at least another decade or so.

*Some are likely wondering why the Lakers have a zero percent chance of drafting 4th or 5th. The reason is that the lottery only determines the top 3 choices with the rest of the draft order being slotted accordingly. The Lakers, then, can only select at picks 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, or 9. And just as the Lakers can move up because of the lottery, if teams slotted to draft behind them jump up the Lakers will then fall. This is why the odds are so low that the team will actually pick 9th. Three teams slotted to draft behind them would all have to move up into the top 3, pushing everyone else down three slots. 

If you have followed me, or this site, for any period of time you know that I am not the biggest fan of the rumor mill. It’s not that potential deals aren’t exciting, but more about the fact that once pandora’s box is opened with the thought of the Lakers making a major deal, fans start to ignore some basic truths about how deals are made and let their imaginations run wild about making the best deal for the Lakers while ignoring that the other team actually has to accept this fictional proposition.

I bring all this up to set the stage for the latest rumor making the rounds. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, quoting another NBA executive, the Minnesota Timberwolves will consider trading all-star big man Kevin Love:

The Wolves are under pressure to start considering trade scenarios for Love, who’s anxious to exercise his early termination option (ETO) in the summer of 2015 and leave as a free agent, league sources said.

“For the first time, [Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option,” one rival executive told Yahoo Sports.

But that’s not all. With Love potentially available via trade, teams will be lining up the acquire the veteran. Including the Lakers:

The Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are among many teams determined to make hard runs at trades for Love, league sources said. Boston and Los Angeles plan to make high-lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft available in offers for Love, sources said.

No team is likely to trade for Love without an assurance that he’ll commit to a five-year, $100 million maximum contract extension. Despite a belief that Love prefers Los Angeles or New York as a potential destination, he’s open to deals in other markets where he can be part of an immediate contender, sources said.

It would be no surprise that the Lakers would want Love. Not only is he one of the top 10 to 15 players in the league, but he’s a local kid who attended UCLA and, as reported above, has expressed some interest in being a Laker. Put it all together and you have the ingredients for a deal, right? Well, not so fast…

The report above mentions that the Lakers would be willing to part with their lottery pick in the upcoming draft as a key piece to facilitating the trade. Only problem is, it’s really not that simple. On twitter I posed this question to the great Larry Coon:

Coon’s answer, spanning several tweets, in summary:

They can’t. (The Lakers) won’t have cap space until July 1st, and can’t absorb Love’s salary without similar salary going out. Also, Stepien Rule is in play. Best they could do would be to agree to terms of a deal at the draft, Lakers select a player of the Wolves’ choosing, and they complete a deal in July.

Let’s tackle this piece by piece:

  • As it stands today, and what will also be true on draft day, the Lakers do not have any cap space to simply trade their draft pick for Kevin Love. Instead, what they would need to do is trade a player (or players) who are under contract (and, presumably the lottery pick they are reportedly willing to include) for Kevin Love. This is necessary due to the salary cap rules that govern trades. When the Lakers make their pick at next month’s draft, they will only have 3 players under contract — Kobe, Nash, and Robert Sacre — and none of those players are a match in salary to do a simple trade with the Wolves.
  • Because of the Stepien Rule — named after former Cavs owner Ted Stepien — the Lakers cannot simply trade the “pick” to the Wolves in any trade. Because the Lakers traded last year’s pick, they must actually make a selection in this year’s draft. They would be able to trade the player they drafted, however. This is why Coon mentions that the Lakers would essentially be making a selection for the Wolves (in this scenario).
  • Any deal with the Wolves would need to be consummated in July because that is when the Lakers will either A). have the cap space available to make a trade due to the renouncing of enough of their free agents to get far enough under the cap to absorb Love’s salary without sending similar contracts back or B). be able to use the Bird Rights of one (or more) of their free agents to do a sign and trade with the Wolves where they send enough salary to Minnesota to make a legal trade under the CBA. Of course, it should be noted, that any sign and trade the Lakers do will rely on the player they are trying to trade agreeing to go to a Minnesota team that just traded away their best player.

If all of this sounds difficult, it’s because it is. And this doesn’t even take into account that, as Wojnarowski reports, other teams will be lining up to make offers to the Wolves which is sure to drive the price up. Considering that those other teams mentioned have some very good assets to offer (Phoenix and Boston have multiple first round picks this year and in the years to come while the Warriors have a combination of young talent and enough salary ballast to accept some of the Wolves’ bad contracts) and it is clear that the Lakers will face an uphill battle in trying to put the together the most attractive offer.

Long story short, if you were getting your hopes up that the Lakers would somehow find a way to trade for Kevin Love this summer, you shouldn’t be. The odds are stacked against them. Severely. And you were wondering why the rumor mill doesn’t really excite me.

The old saying goes, no news is good news…

But does that apply to the Lakers?

On Wednesday the two coaches most in demand to fill vacant jobs were snatched up as Stan Van Gundy signed on to be the Pistons’ Doc Rivers (SVG will get control of basketball operations along with his coaching title) while Steve Kerr spurned the Knicks to coach the Warriors. In the Lakers’ shotgun approach to searching for a coach to replace Mike D’Antoni, both Kerr and Van Gundy were rumored to be on the long list of interested targets. Now both are gone.

Meanwhile, in El Segundo, all is quiet on the western front.

Since an initial report of the intent to seek permission to speak to Tom Thibodeau and the aforementioned leaks of multiple candidates who would interest the Lakers, there has been no word of the team moving forward with scheduling interviews or even putting out feelers to gauge interest in their sideline vacancy. And, as far as what is public information, that request to Bulls has not yet been made.

The draft lottery is scheduled for Tuesday, May 20th. It will be that date that the Lakers will learn whether they luck out by jumping into the top 3, stand pat at 6, or fall to one of the 7 through 9 slots. And, I imagine, that will also be the date that the team starts to seriously consider how it will move forward with the hiring process of their new coach.

If this really is the plan, I am on board with it 100%. I see no reason to rush hiring a coach. The Lakers already did that when chasing Mike Brown and in choosing his successor. Doing so again would be a mistake. This hire will be the most important decision the organization makes since it took a chance on Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in draft nine summers ago. They cannot afford to get this decision wrong and the person who signs on must understand that he will need to navigate what will be a minefield of expectations and impatience stemming from the closure of Kobe’s career. And while there will also be the sentiment that time will be needed to make the needed strides to become competitive again, frustration will quickly mount if (when?) the team loses.

Handling this situation will take a special type of coach who can project confidence, insulate himself from the inevitable criticism and doubt that comes from losing, while also instilling the core values and work ethic that winning programs are built upon. Finding this person will not be easy and it will take time and patience to sort out who can actually fill this void.

In a way, it is the gravity of this hire that actually has me finding comfort with there being little movement to this point. Because once the decision is made, there really is no turning back. So better to take the time now and leave no stone unturned than think you have the right guy only to, in a year or 18 months, know that you actually do not. In other words, take your time Lakers. Because whoever the next coach is the clock starts ticking and with his hire there will be news whether they want it or not.

Just ask the last two guys who had the job.

General Thoughts on the Season

Like nearly every other player on the roster, Pau came into this season with something to prove and looking for redemption. After being pushed out of his comfort zone last year while masquerading as a “stretch” four in Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick and roll attack while flanking Dwight Howard, Pau would enter this season as the main big man and the key interior player.

Theoretically, then, Pau was set up for success as a fulcrum of the team’s offensive attack.In practice, though, what followed was season filled with ups and downs, bouts of poor health, and, sprinkled in, some of that redemptive play sought from the beginning.

If anything, what Pau showed is that he can still be a very good player in this league. After dealing with the repercussions of not training all summer (basically, Pau had to work himself into shape) the season did not start as many of us would have hoped. Already in athletic decline, Pau struggled even more to play with a strong base and get the lift he needed to excel as a post player. Further, his diminished foot speed affected his ability to get by his man offensively and contain his man defensively. The results were some ugly numbers that translated more to a player who was close to being done as a solid contributor.

As the season wore on, however, Pau got more healthy and the quality play returned (at least offensively, but more on that later). As a pick and pop player, Pau showed the needed lift on his shot to start making his mid-range jumper. As a post player, he was able to better work his full arsenal and finish on his variety of hooks and turnaround J’s set up through primary and counter moves.

In January he averaged 20 and 12 on 51% shooting. In February, those numbers dipped some to 18 and 8, but his FG% jumped to 54%. In March he put up 19 and 9 on 50%. Basically, he was back to approximating the player he was before last season. No, he wasn’t championship level Pau, but he was a featured player on offense who could score one and one, drew some double teams, and still passed the ball wonderfully.

In April, however, the unevenness to Pau’s year returned. Bouts of vertigo caused nausea and headaches that had him in and out of the lineup. When he tried to play and/or travel with the team, the symptoms only worsened and he ultimately finished the season on the disabled list.

Not necessarily the banner year that Pau (and fans) hoped for, but there were definitely signs that he’s still a very capable player. Though, clearly, not one that enjoyed playing in the all-up tempo-all-the-time style that Mike D’Antoni preferred.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Pau Shot Chart

As mentioned above, Pau showed that he can still be a very effective player on offense. As his shot chart shows, he was an excellent mid-range shooter from straight away and very good from the right elbow. A pet play the Lakers ran a lot after Kendall Marshall came on board was the pick and pop on the right wing where Marshall could drive hard to his left hand and Pau could float into the FT line area where he proved comfortable knocking down that open shot.

And while his numbers on the season don’t reflect it, Pau was a much better finisher inside — especially in the restricted area — as he got his legs under him. From January 1st through the end of the season, Pau shot 65.6% in the restricted area and 49.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area). Compare this to his numbers from the first two months of the season (62% in the restricted area, 35.4% in the paint (non-restricted area)) and you can see how he got stronger and was able to maintain better play over the season’s last 4 months.

Of course, basketball is played on both sides of the floor and while Pau flashed a worthwhile offensive game the same cannot be said about his defense. While he was better in the 2nd half of the season as a rebounder and paint protector, the fact is that Pau offered his worst defensive season as a Laker and probably the worst of his career outside of his rookie season. Pau was often late to help on penetration and too often didn’t help at all. His screen and roll D offered much to be desired as he neither had the foot speed to hedge and recover on ball handlers nor the needed burst to sag below the screen and still jump out hard to contest the mid-range jumper. This often left him in no-mans land, not really helping on the ball handler but not sticking to his own man either.

Pau could still be a good man to man defender in the post, but as the game has moved away from classic post up threats to more spread pick and roll attacks those skills of being able to bottle up your own man down low constitute a fraction of the defensive play types of what they used to. This didn’t necessarily render Pau useless on D — his length was still useful when he did rotate and led to him blocking nearly 2 shots a game post All-Star break, but all in all he left a lot to be desired defensively. Especially when he was asked to leave the paint and help anywhere near the perimeter. There used to be a time when Pau, though not an elite defender, could play from the rim to the three point line and back to the paint on a single possession and be somewhat disruptive. Those days seem very far behind him now and don’t look to be coming back.

Most Memorable Moment

I mean, how could it be any other moment?

Overall Grade and Summary

When you add everything up, and when grading on a curve towards individual performance rather than by team results, it’s hard to give Pau anything higher than a B or B-minus on the season.

His offense was good to the point that if you just looked at his numbers — especially after the turn of the calendar year — you’d see a player who was performing near the levels he did when the Lakers were making deep playoff runs. He may not have had any of those huge “wow” games that he was able to produce in past years, but he had a solid consistency to him where you could pencil in his 17 and 9 and call it a night. That’s not the Pau of old, but it’s close enough where you could justify having him be option 2B for a playoff level team.

His defense, however, knocked him down at least a notch (and probably 2). Too often he just wasn’t (or couldn’t) be where he was supposed to and that compromised the integrity of the defense. The team’s failings on that side of the ball aren’t just on him, of course, but a more active, engaged, and capable defender could have done more to help hid the team’s deficiencies on that end.