Unless Lebron James decides to take his talents to California, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t competing for a championship in 2015. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the future.
Coming into the summer of 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers, after a season of turmoil and ineptness, were given the opportunity to kickstart the future with a bang as they obtained a high lottery pick in the biggest draft since 2008. But on the lottery night, those dreams came to a crushing blow as they landed the seventh overall pick instead of a top-four pick, missing out on a chance for a predicted franchise player in Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Dante Exum, those four likely off the board once the Lakers pick is on the clock.
Missing out on that crop of potential franchise changing players, the Lakers are in prime position to capitalize off the batch of new players expected to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft.
We all remember when the Lakers traded for Steve Nash in 2012. In retrospect it felt like the ideal trade with Nash leading the force alongside Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol, competing for a championship while setting up for the usual Lakers domination in the future while Phoenix was handed two draft picks that’d likely place toward the back-end of their respective drafts. But with Dwight in Houston and Gasol possibly on his way out while Kobe and Nash fight nagging injury that have depleted their worth on the court, those picks, the 2015 first-rounder in particular, has the potential to turn into an All-Star player based on recent Laker projections.
Nabbing Carmelo Anthony in free agency seems less and less an option as Mitch Kupchak has chosen to look elsewhere for a marquee talent. The ability to acquire Kevin Love died when the Lakers landed the seventh overall pick due to the lack of assets to pair alongside the pick. As mentioned at the top of the article, James is out of the question as the Miami Heat are making their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, also knocking Chris Bosh off the potential free agent list. This leaves the likes of Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, Zach Randolph to “save their franchise”. Neither of the mentioned players and those who weren’t mentioned change the immediate future of this franchise.
What’s the difference in a 25-win team and a 37-win team? In my eyes, only the draft pick slot and the Lakers know all about what useless wins can do to draft position come lottery time. That’s what a second- or third-tier player brings to Los Angeles, a higher (and worse) lottery pick.
A successful season forces the Lakers to miss out on their 2015 draft pick. Will the draft be good enough to forgo minimal success for a second consecutive season? Depends. For a franchise like the Lakers, where success is far more common than failure, the concept of slowly building is unfamiliar, but we’ve seen teams choose not to maximize their current abilities in order to prepare better for the future. And this is a concept Laker fans are slowly beginning to understand. Prior to last season, the idea of Carmelo Anthony in a Laker jersey was a dream. Now? It’s shunned upon due to it limiting the ceiling of the franchise going forward.
Imagine a core of whoever the franchise chooses this year, likely an Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart, or Julius Randle, depending on how the players fall, combined with whoever is selected in the 2015 NBA Draft as players such as Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Karl Towns, etc. are expected to be the marquee players from the draft. Match those players with the bevy of cap space that’ll be available for the summer of 2015 (insert Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, etc. to Los Angeles rumor), and that’s the future of the franchise.
You’ll have a tough time selling some of Lakers fan base on the idea of mediocrity for a second straight season and you can’t blame them because relative success is all they know. Kobe wastes another prime year and the fans become the butt of basketball jokes for another year, but if Mitch Kupchak and company have the franchises best interest on their mind, the tank will be in full force come free agency and the 2014-15 season.