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Julius Randle is your next Laker. After starring at the University of Kentucky and helping to lead them to the national championship game, Randle was selected by the Lakers with their 7th overal selection.

In our post leading up to the draft, this is what I said about Randle:

He has his detractors, but the more and more I have watched of him the more and more I believe he will be a very good player in this league for a long time. He has good size, skill, and by all accounts is a hard worker who has a drive to be a great player. Also, I find comfort in bigs who compete and have the motor he does to continue to get after it even when things go against him. Things may be hard for him in certain match ups, but I don’t see him as a guy who will quit. Instead I see a player who will take up the challenge and find a way to be effective. Other players have more upside, but this guy just seem to know how to play the game while finding ways to maximize his strengths. I’d be more than happy if he ended up a Laker.

So, needless to say, I am indeed happy. Randle provides post scoring, fantastic activity on the glass, and a non-stop motor that will serve him well for his entire career. We will have more analysis later, but for now comment away about your thoughts on the pick.

Welcome to the Lakers, Julius Randle.

Draft Day Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 25, 2014

For the purpose of this post, I am not going to explore the idea that the Lakers trade this pick as part of some deal for a more NBA-ready veteran or in some master scheme to clear more cap space in their pursuit of a certain free agent (or two). Instead I will focus on the Lakers making a selection in this draft with the idea they will keep the pick. Which, you know, could totally still happen.

I won’t pretend to know what the Lakers will do with their pick. In fact, I doubt their front office does either. Sure, there are scenarios and contingencies but in reality there will be more than one good choice on the board when the Lakers select from their 7th slot. When the clock starts for their pick they will have to trust their evaluations, throw in some gut feel, and dive into the prospect pool in hopes of nabbing a difference maker.

To this point in the process, I really haven’t found a favorite to root for the team to pick. The Lakers have not selected this high since before I was in elementary school. The idea is so novel to me that it seems strange to fall in love with just a single prospect when there is potential for so many of them to help the team in one way or another. As I’ve said many times before, I could make a case for any of the top eight players on most draft boards to come in an be a rotation player on next year’s team.

At this point in the process, however, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees. You can only watch so much tape on a prospect before your start to either overly nitpick or praise. Watch too much of Julius Randle or Marcus Smart and you might become too concerned with a lack of length or a style that is too dependent on bullying players who are in the same class physically. Or you go back and watch Dante Exum look amazing against a team of top american prospects and forget that it was only one game. This is the nature of evaluating and a reason why I am happy the draft is finally here. There is no more film to pour over in order to evaluate how good a player might or might not be. There is only making the pick and starting the process of prospect development that will be a much bigger factor in the player reaching his ceiling than any of those games we have watched over and over again on our TV and computer screens.

With that being said, here are my final thoughts on a handful of prospects who the Lakers may have the opportunity to draft. Who knows, one of them might actually end up being a Laker later on today.

*Joel Embiid, C: First off, I don’t think he falls this far. When it comes right down to it, someone will gamble on him in picks 3 to 5 via their own pick or trading up to get him. Guys with his size + burgeoning skill are rare and someone will take him even with the specter of Oden/Yao/etc out there. So, in saying that, if he were to somehow make his way to #7, I’d want the Lakers to draft him. Yes there are injury concerns and those certainly worry me. If he ends up not recovering or having a limited career because of recurring issues either with his foot or his back, I’d probably look back and wonder why the team was so silly to take the risk. But, today, I’m all for the gamble. Players with his measurables who flash his ability don’t come around too often and at the 7th pick in the draft I think the risk is worth taking.

*Dante Exum, G: Another player who I don’t think will last to this point but am hopeful who will. I am just too intrigued by his measurables and the little tape I have seen of him to let go of the idea that I’d want him to be a Laker that I have to include him here. I think he can be a true difference maker in the league as he develops physically and learns how to use his physical gifts. I know there are real questions about whether he’ll develop well and if he can truly be measured against other top players due to his background and lack of exposure against top competition. But in 5 years I could see him being one of the best 2-3 players from this class in the same way that Wade was from his draft. If that sounds like too much praise or a reach, it may very well be. But when I watch him on tape I see a smooth athlete who understands angles, how to use a change of pace, and who sees the floor well. I also see a guy who has pretty good mechanics on his jumper and looks like he can finish in traffic against bigger players. Add in his pedigree as someone who grew up around the game and I can imagine a development arc similar to Tony Parker — another foreign born prospect with an american father who came into the league young.

*Julius Randle, PF: I don’t know if Randle will last, but he’s someone who continues to end up being the Lakers’ pick in mock drafts. He has his detractors, but the more and more I have watched of him the more and more I believe he will be a very good player in this league for a long time. He has good size, skill, and by all accounts is a hard worker who has a drive to be a great player. Also, I find comfort in bigs who compete and have the motor he does to continue to get after it even when things go against him. Things may be hard for him in certain match ups, but I don’t see him as a guy who will quit. Instead I see a player who will take up the challenge and find a way to be effective. Other players have more upside, but this guy just seem to know how to play the game while finding ways to maximize his strengths. I’d be more than happy if he ended up a Laker.

*Aaron Gordon, PF and Noah Vonleh, PF (tie): I honestly can’t decide between these two. Vonleh has the measurables and I think he will probably develop into a fine offensive player who can rebound. But whispers about how intuitive he is as a player concern me as players like that end up plateauing in their development because they never figure it out. Will he be one of those guys? I’ve no clue, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it. That said, while he didn’t flash the defensive ability I would like, he has great two-way potential due to his size and a big like him who can stretch the floor and hit the glass is pretty rare. Will he ever be as good as, say, LaMarcus Aldridge? I’ve no clue, but his ceiling is probably that (or a bit higher) and that is very intriguing.

Gordon to me, in a way, is the opposite. He comes off as a very smart player who will take to coaching well and develop positively as he learns to channel his athleticism. And that athleticism is considerable. I don’t know if he’ll be a SF or a PF long term and his jumper is very concerning. But as a P&R dive man and a weak side slasher who can finish above the rim and hit the offensive glass I see him having a niche he can slide into early in his career offensively while being an excellent defender. I’d add, that his positional versatility is something that works in his favor for me. The league is moving more and more towards Forwards who can start the game as a 3 but soak up minutes as a 4 and Gordon seems like he’ll be able to do that throughout his career. With his defensive potential what it is, I think you have to take notice and rank him accordingly. I guess in the end I’d go Gordon over Vonleh which is something I didn’t think I’d say at this point in the process. I know he has his detractors and the idea of him floating around the wing while his man helps off him is a concern, but he is skilled and smart enough that I think he will be able to compensate.

*Marcus Smart, PG: Before I take too much heat for not mentioning Smart until now, let me just say that I’d be happy if Smart were there and was the pick. I think he’d contribute more, in year one, than a couple of guys I have higher on this list simply because he does have pro-size and seems to have a plan in how he attacks on both ends. Knowing how you want to do things is important for a young player and with his competitiveness I think he will be a fine pro early on. That said, I think in 5 years every player (save Vonleh, maybe) listed above him here will be the better player and I might even say that a guy like Zach LaVine will be as well (and maybe even Elfrid Payton). This is nothing against Smart and like I said if he is the pick I will slot him into the rotation as either a starter or the 1st guard off the bench and a guy who can play 20-25 minutes a night and even close games as a defensive wing in certain match-ups. That has real value. And if he ever finds his range as a shooter I think his ceiling raises exponentially. But as I’ve watched him more, and when taking stock across the league in positions that have talent and what helps win games, I just think the bigs offer more as a foundational player long term.

As I said up top, I don’t know what the Lakers will do with this pick. Even when Magic Johnson and James Worthy were selected by the Lakers with the first pick in their respective drafts, there were viable alternatives that the team was supposedly considering in Sidney Moncrief and Dominique Wilkins. Of course, Magic and Worthy ended up being Lakers and the rest is history. And while I don’t expect whoever is selected by the Lakers at #7 to end up having their number hanging in the rafters one day, the promise of getting a good talent at that spot is intriguing nonetheless.

Trying to guess what another human being will do is usually very foolish. We’re not in that person’s head, do not know what he or she values, what might motivate them to choose option A over option B. There are simply too many unknowns to try and guess what choice will be made in any given situation.

In saying that, when dealing with sports there are usually two things that matter most: money and winning. In today’s NBA, for the top stars, the latter is usually more important than the former as long as they are still getting paid somewhere near what their maximum salary is.

This brings me to LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, Carmelo Anthony. After Anthony informed the Knicks that he would opt out of the final year of his contract on Monday, LeBron told the Heat the same on Tuesday. Both will be free agents and instantly jump to the top of every team’s list as the most sought after targets on the open market.

If you are a Lakers fan, this probably excites you. After all, this is the moment the team has supposedly been building for over the last several years. It is why nearly every player’s salary came off the books this past summer; why the front office has preached “flexibility” as often as possible when it comes to explaining nearly every roster move they have made recently. The Lakers want to sign star players and rebuild as quickly as possible. Now, two of the biggest stars in the league (and two excellent players — LeBron’s case, the league’s best) are there for the poaching. Again, this is the Lakers’ moment.

There’s only one problem. Despite having money to spend, the Lakers still aren’t necessarily in a very good position to snag LeBron or Anthony, much less both.

Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to get there and these are the ways that the fans who believe this is possible will rattle off from now until some point in July when everyone’s minds are made up. In no specific order:

  • The Lakers have the ability to free up around $30 million in salary cap space to chase two star players. If LeBron and/or Melo take less than their max salary, they can sign with the Lakers and the team will still have room to chase another big time player (or, in the case of the LeBron AND Carmelo dream, both can sign for around $15 million each).
  • This is the Lakers. They have the franchise history, the Los Angeles market, the stars in the stands and banners in the rafters. Not to mention, they always treat their superstar players well and will always go the extra mile to accommodate them. This matters to players and when the front office pitches players, they will remind them off all the above.
  • The Lakers have not yet hired a head coach. To outsiders, this may seem like a deterrent, but this is just one more sweetner the team can offer any prospective free agent. We want your input on who the next coach should be.

I do not deny there is some merit in thinking this way. There is nothing outlandish in the bullets above and any actual pitch the Lakers make to one (or more) of the top free agents will include this logic.

However, what this line of thinking ignores are some of the basic realities about team building and what the Lakers would need to do in order to get to the point where some of the above statements are even true. For example:

  • In order for the Lakers to get upwards of $30 million in cap space, they would need to renounce every free agent on their roster while trading Steve Nash and the #7 pick while taking close to no salary back in return. The former is expected at this point and is only a formality. The latter, while doable, isn’t so simple. The Lakers would likely need to use the #7 pick as sweetner to take on Nash’s deal which makes the process easier, but also uses a very good team building asset in a poor manner. The idea in chasing star free agents is at least somewhat connected to how close a team is to winning. Getting zero return on a good asset makes you further away from a better foundation to help lure good players.
  • The history of the Lakers is one thing, but the present can be perceived as quite another. As I wrote when discussing Phil Jackson taking the Knicks’ job, there is a perception that Jim Buss is not good at his job. Whether this is true or not doesn’t mean as much as the idea having traction. I don’t think whatever views are held of Buss erase the Lakers storied past, but if players are concerned about ownership or the direction of the franchise, that will affect the pursuit of free agents.

I don’t say any of this to say that the Lakers should not try to sign the best free agents. Having LeBron hit the open market is exactly why they have a max salary slot open heading into the summer. They wanted to be able to sign any single player of their choosing at any salary he can command under this CBA. Now that this is actually possible logistically, you bet they will try to make their pitch. If they can convince guys to take less and try to sign more than one of these players, more power to them.

Just don’t expect the Lakers to come out victorious in this and have LeBron and/or Carmelo actually playing at Staples as part of the home team next year. Because much like looking in your side mirror while driving, as close as the Lakers may seem they are still quite a ways away from luring one of the top free agents. Yes, they can offer the money (at least to one of them), but offering the chance to win right away is much more complicated.

The draft is less than a week away. Remember that timing when the rumor mill starts to ramp up with trade scenarios that involve any team, including the Lakers. This is the time of the year where everything leaks — front offices, agents, family members — and there is always motive from some party to getting information out into the public.

With all that said, the LA Times is reporting that the Lakers may be more keen on a certain Pacific Division wing player than their number 7 pick in next Thursday’s draft and would be willing to make a clean swap of the two:

The Lakers have been in discussions to acquire Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson for the seventh pick in next week’s draft, The Times has learned.

The deal would be part of a larger three-way trade that sends Minnesota All-Star power forward Kevin Love to the Warriors. The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

First, let’s understand why the Lakers would want to make this deal. They want to win as quickly as possible and acquiring an established player, with experience and success in the league is a way to do that. Thompson fits the bill here. He averaged 18 points a game last season, shot over 40% from behind the arc, and is a versatile defender who Mark Jackson felt comfortable deploying on players ranging from point guard to small forward. In a vacuum, Thompson is the type of asset any team would want to have and is proven enough to be worth a pick in the range the Lakers are drafting.

Saying all that, I would not support this trade in the least bit should it happen.

One of the allures of Thompson, as it is with any young player, is that his production comes at a fixed, inexpensive cost. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and will make $3 million next season after making $2.3 million last season. His production at that salary is what helped allow the Warriors to be such a good team because they could pay him so little while splurging on players like David Lee, Andrew Bogut, and Andgre Iguodala. (As an aside, the same can be said about Steph Curry’s under market contract. After dealing with all those ankle injuries, Curry signed what is now a very team friendly deal well below his max level production.)

Thompson, though, won’t make so little for very long. Going into his 3rd season he’s eligible for an extension this summer. If he doesn’t get it, he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. The reality is Thompson is about to go from one of the best values in the league to one of the most average ones (or even a bad one) in the span of a season. With the strong possibility Thompson seeks a max or near max on his next contract, he could be making upwards of $12 million a season on his next contract.

In other words, the Lakers would be trading the 7th pick for the right to pay Klay Thompson and do so right at the time that Kobe’s contract would be coming off the books where they would, theoretically, want to make a major splash in free agency.

And this isn’t even getting into whether Thompson is even worth that money. I, personally, don’t think he is. As much as I love his shooting and think his size gives him defensive versatility, he actually reminds me a lot of the Blazers’ Wesley Matthews. I mean, look for yourself. Would you want to pay Matthews $10-12 million a season? I would not. Of course, Matthews is four years older and there’s an a development arc that, at Klay’s age, implies he will improve and continue to get better.

But Thompson’s weak areas — passing, rebounding — are areas that players typically have or they don’t. Can he make a more concerted effort to go the glass or try to see the floor better? Sure, but I don’t expect him to suddenly become a player who is grabbing five to six rebounds a game or a guy handing out four to five assists — numbers in both categories that would basically double his output from last season. This isn’t to knock Thompson. Right now he’s a shooter/scorer and a burgeoning defender — these traits have tremendous value. But he doesn’t do much else; he doesn’t initiate the offense, isn’t particularly adept at handling the ball, and doesn’t stuff the stat-sheet in a variety of ways.

Trading the 7th pick for the right to make the free agency decision on that player? Not something I’d be into at all.

With less than two weeks before the NBA draft, teams continue to bring prospects in for workouts and interviews to get one last look at these players before having to make a final decision on who to select. The Lakers are no different and, after hosting several big name prospects two weeks ago, are bringing in another well known prospect on Tuesday. From Eric Pincus of the LA Times:

The Lakers will work out Kentucky forward Julius Randle on Tuesday in El Segundo at the team’s practice facility.

Randle is a 6-foot-9, 19-year-old power forward who helped the Wildcats advance to the NCAA championship game, before falling to the Connecticut Huskies.

Through 40 games at Kentucky, Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds. The left-handed freshman projects to be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft on June 26.

In several mock drafts, including those from ESPN’s Chad Ford and Draft Express, Randle is the player who ends up going to the Lakers with their 7th selection. So, the fact that the team is bringing him for a workout should not be a surprise. Randle is seen by several analysts as one of the more NBA ready prospects and considering the Lakers are hoping to have a quick turnaround next year, that fact may hold extra weight when it is the Lakers’ turn to make a selection.

Despite a recent report that Randle will need to have foot surgery to remove a screw that was part of an earlier surgery, Randle is still projected to go in the top 10 picks. The procedure is seen as relatively minor and though it will keep him out for most of the summer, he is expected to recover in time to be ready for the start of training camp.

All that said, while Randle was plenty productive at the University of Kentucky, he does have his detractors as a prospect. Due to physical measurements and athleticism that are only average for NBA power forwards, there are questions whether his bullying style will translate to a league where he will no longer be a man among boys physically. He is seen as a player who will need to make adjustments to his style, develop a more consistent jump shot, and learn how to finish around the rim against players who offer more height and length than he saw on a nightly basis while in college.

The flip side to that, however, is that Randle’s dimensions are almost exactly the same as David Lee — a player who matches up quite well with most NBA PF’s physically. Further, Randle’s motor and aggressiveness should help off-set some of his physical limitations. After all, going hard all the time is a skill too and Randle seems to have that in spades.

In any event, after getting up close looks at potential picks Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, and Doug McDermott the Lakers will now get to see how Randle performs. And while it will not be in a group setting where they can see how he measures up against his peers, they will still get to run him through some drills and get a better sense of who he is as a person. Whether all that adds up to him being the Lakers pick on June 26th remains to be seen, however.