Listen. No one is going to credibly argue the Lakers weren’t wildly successful at Tuesday’s draft lottery. Rather than surrendering their 2017 1st round pick to the 76ers and, by domino effect and legacy of the Dwight Howard trade, their 2019 1st round pick to the Magic, the Lakers retain both.

Just having these two picks back in hand opens up opportunities and scenarios previously closed off. If the Lakers want to patiently rebuild, they now have two more 1st rounders (including this year’s #2 overall selection) in their coffers. If they want to try to contend now, they’ve added a top asset this summer as ammunition they can leverage alongside they young players they’ve added in recent years.

Solely from this perspective, the Lakers have made out like bandits and are now staring at a wide open field to chart their path back towards competitive basketball.

That said, the Lakers still have a penance to pay for those trades for Steve Nash and Howard. So, even though they undoubtedly were a winner on Tuesday, an accounting of what they still owe is also in order.

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I’m not sure if you heard, but THE LAKERS KEPT THEIR PICK. Even more, they moved up a slot into the #2 selection, hurdling the Suns who fell to 4th while the Kings (who will send their pick to the 76ers in a pick swap) jumped into the top 3. It was a pretty amazing turn of events that opens up a multitude of team building avenues that would have been closed off if the Lakers had fallen out of the top 3.

It is in the aftermath of all this, then, that I serve up to you our latest podcast. In this episode, Pete and I discuss the ramifications of the Lakers getting the #2 pick, get into whether they should keep or trade the pick (Paul George figures heavily into this conversation), and then start to dive in on some of the players at the top of the draft.

It’s a good conversation powered by pure joy. Click through to listen to the entire convo.

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How are you feeling?

Maybe a little sick to your stomach? Maybe a little excited? Confident? Anxious? Nervous? Tense?

When it comes to being a sports fan, my default position is almost always to hope for the best and expect the worst.

Actually, let’s go on a brief tangent.

When it comes to being a sports fan, my mind naturally veers towards the strategy and nuance involved with the games. Most of my in-game experience, then, is seeking out those details and tying them to what helps win or lose that particular contest. Are you tagging the cutter? Are you holding that screen? Did you open up to the ball when you were supposed to? Why are your hands below your waist? Are you playing a beat ahead or a beat behind the action? And on and on it goes.

The lottery, though part of being a fan, is not a game. There is no nuance. Back in some secluded room a machine spits out numbered ping-pong balls into a sequence. Each sequence is assigned to a team, with the teams that have the worst records getting more sequences assigned to them. Based on the order those sequences are spit out, we have our lottery results. Then, representatives sit on stage sweating out the results they were not privy to back in that secluded room.

It can make for great theater. Especially this year when there are several teams who are dealing with pick protections and swap arrangements that can make a one spot difference in the results a total nightmare.

The Lakers, as you are well award of, are one of those teams. This, in and of itself, can be nerve wracking. For three straight years the Lakers have dealt with this. Which, in some ways, that makes it easier. The Julius Randle year*, I was so stressed out I could not sit still. I paced and paced and paced until the Lakers’ slot was revealed. The D’Angelo Russell year, I was a bit better. The Brandon Ingram year was better yet. This year, I honestly cannot say how I feel. It changes from moment to moment, from somewhat stressed to not stressed at all to pretty (expletive’ing) anxious.

Overall, though, I must say that I will be okay with whatever result occurs.

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Welcome to part II of our series on Lakers team building options. The first option was laid out wonderfully by Reed, arguing the merits of a slow and steady approach to get the team back to contention. This is probably the most preferred course of action and the one which, in the big picture, makes the most sense. Watching the playoffs unfold, it’s easy to see the level the top teams are playing at and to then recognize how far away the Lakers are from that. Allowing their young assets to mature and reach their prime closer to the potential decline of the top teams while also leveraging those inexpensive rookie deals to sign players in FA down the line and build organically not only seems safe, but prudent.

That said, this is not the only viable approach. As Rob Pelinka has said many times, this front office must be prepared for multiple scenarios and, literally, have hundreds of plans and contingencies in place in order to pounce on opportunities that present avenues to improve the roster. What we’ll do today, then, is look at what steps the team might take in order to contend as quickly as possible — even as soon as next season. Now, to be clear, I don’t mean the Lakers would compete for a championship next season, but I am looking at a path to being a surefire playoff team and one that could make a run to the 2nd round or conference finals while possessing enough staying power to do so for multiple seasons.

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With a new front office entering their first offseason, and a collection of exciting but unproven young players, the Lakers’ future feels wide open. The team could literally go in dozens of different directions over the next few years, depending on the front office’s team-building philosophy, how the young core develops, and in response to countless variables (lottery luck, free agent decisions, trade opportunities). They could, for example, stick with a slow, patient rebuild, cash in their recent lottery picks for established stars in a push to quickly contend, or try something in between, and each path has its risks and benefits.

Team building is ultimately about being opportunistic and flexible, rather than having a rigid plan that you follow no matter what. Rob Pelinka has spoken several times of the need to be prepared for uncertainty by coming up with “Plans A-Z,” which account for various possible future events. In that spirit, Darius and I have thought about different ways the team can build towards a contending roster, based on how key events unfold (e.g., keeping/losing the 2017 lottery pick, using cap room on significant free agents at different points in time, trading for a star player, etc.), and have put together a series of posts that will explore different roster construction options.

One key in building a successful long term roster is having a clear vision of timing. Teams inevitably cycle in and out of contention based on the age/health of key players and various other factors. History shows that it is important to make moves based on a clear sense of when the team is trying to make the ultimate push to contend. Getting to the point of contention is very difficult in a league of 30 teams playing a zero sum game, and typically requires making sure your limited assets are all firing at the same time. In other words, contending teams don’t typically have the resources to combine developing, teenage lottery picks with an older, ready-to-contend core. And, conversely, rebuilding teams don’t typically have the ability to rebuild effectively if they have too many productive veterans taking prospect minutes, or driving too many wins… Getting stuck in the dreaded no man’s land can set a team back years (see, New York Knicks).

In thinking through the team’s future, Darius and I see three big picture paths forward, driven by the timing of when Magic/Pelinka push to contend:

  • Slow Rebuild: committing to a patient, slow rebuild, and trying to contend in 4-5 years, when the current core enters their primes.
  • Expedited Rebuild: pushing to acquire a foundation star as soon as possible to quicken the rebuild, with the goal of making the playoffs next year, and ultimately contending in 2-3 years.
  • Immediate Contention: cashing in the team’s young assets in a push to immediately become a legitimate contender.

The team could conceivably be successful under each path if they make smart decisions and things break their way, although the first two options appear more likely to succeed for obvious reasons. Darius and I will attempt to work through the pros and cons, and how the team might build towards contention under each path, considering the impact of the draft, free agency, and trades.

And, while having a clear and defined vision for the team’s timeline is critical, it is also important to recognize that team-building is inherently a fluid exercise, and sometimes your timing can become accelerated (or depressed) based on unforeseen events, which may result in a need to pivot towards a new timeline/objective. Sometimes you are Cleveland, mired in a messy rebuild, having drafted Anthony Bennett first overall, and Lebron decides to swoop into town and catapult you to instant contention… And sometimes you are Los Angeles, coming off two recent titles, and with a Kobe-Pau-Dwight-Nash core, and you suddenly find yourself in the depths of rebuilding… The best front offices always maintain some level of flexibility and understand when it is time to move from one timeline to another.

I will start this exercise by considering below how the team might approach option (1) – a slow, patient rebuild, with the hope of building a long-lasting contender when the current core enters their primes in 3-5 years. I am not necessarily advocating for this plan over others, but I do think it merits real consideration given the potential benefits.

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The NBA Combine has officially begun and with that executives and coaches from across the league are in Chicago to get a closer look at the talent of the future. That includes the Lakers’ decision making trio of Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and Luke Walton who will observe and likely meet with both top prospects and later-in-the-draft talents alike due to their potential to land near the top of the lottery while also possessing Houston’s 28th pick overall.

The draft, though, isn’t the only thing Lakers’ observers are interested in. The team’s entire summer plan offers intrigue and, when given the chance to speak with him during their combine coverage, ESPN asked Magic about potential scenarios this summer. Magic’s answer might surprise you:

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In our latest podcast, Pete and I are joined by Bleacher Report’s Lakers’ beat reporter and Basketball Insiders salary cap expert Eric Pincus. Eric goes into his recent reporting about the Lakers revamping of their scouting department, talks about the team’s overall FO structure, and then gets into potential off-season scenarios detailing how the Lakers might add to their roster.

Click through to listen to the episode.

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