• Nikola Cuvalo

What Does No. 4 Mean For LakerLand?

Courtesy of Heavy.com (Getty)

We should’ve seen this one coming. The Los Angeles Lakers, despite being projected to pick around No. 11 in the 2018-19 NBA draft lottery, hit a patch of unexpected luck amid an offseason rife with organizational turmoil and a distinctly Buss-tinted stench of desperation. Yes, we all know how important this summer is to the Lakers, who have a top-2 all-time player to please and a fan-base raucous for a return to contention. It is no secret that the legendary franchise cannot afford to waste any more of LeBron’s ever-shrinking championship window, and that developing youngsters will almost certainly take a back seat to exploring trades for superstar players and veteran, rotation-filling types who can defend and space the floor.

But will their surge up the lottery order actually have an impact on their ability to meet their offseason goals? Sure it will. No. 11 to No. 4 is no small leap in terms of asset valuation, even in a draft class many consider to be only three players deep (with a significant talent drop-off after Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett).

Certainly, many options are available to the Lakers with that No. 4 pick. Do they use it to sweeten a trade package for Anthony Davis? Another under-contract superstar? Do they make a selection with the pick first, likely taking one of De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, or Jarrett Culver? Could they actually keep the rookie, give him some playing time, and hope to increase the trade value of their young core for an in-season trade? Let’s explore.

Scenarios in Order of Approximate Likelihood

1. Lakers go all-in for AD.

This scenario still just makes too much sense. With Kyrie likely leaving the Celtics, it’s difficult to imagine Danny Ainge making a godfather offer to poach Davis from the Pelicans if he’s just going to create yet another one-man show. Boston has the goods to be contenders in the East for a long time, and they’ll have opportunities to develop or trade for a star at some point in their future – thus, emptying the cupboard with Irving leaving just isn’t a smart move. With the Celtics gone, the Knicks picking third (and not first, which would’ve propelled their trade package above Los Angeles’), the Raptors having to hedge their bets on Kawhi Leonard (an AD trade makes no sense if he doesn’t promise to re-sign in Toronto), and the Clippers unlikely to sacrifice their ready-bake roster (as they are just two star free agents away from Finals contention), that leaves the Lakers standing with the NBA’s best AD trade package - grudges be damned. With those teams eliminated, there is simply no package that even comes close to something like Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, the No. 4 pick and a future LAL first. David Griffin is a smart guy, and if that’s the best offer remaining on the board, he’ll surely reach for it instead of letting Davis walk for nothing.

2. Lakers make a trade for a star.

Jrue Holiday, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, you name it. If Anthony Davis is traded elsewhere, the Lakers will undoubtedly do their due diligence on these other stars whose teams may be open to some serious shake-ups. If their package isn’t appealing enough for NOLA to deal them Davis, maybe they can re-tool some things and instead land star two-way guard Jrue Holiday. Seeing as the Wizards are hiring a new GM, perhaps the organization would now be open to trading Bradley Beal (a fantastic fit alongside James) for a haul of rebuild-oriented assets. While the last two may be super-duper longshots, remember that Lillard has long been a target of James’, and Portland may be due for some regression this season – perhaps now is the time for some blockbuster trades that could unjam their financial ledger? Portland has generally shown a knack for drafting well, and are completely capped as far as the overall talent of their current roster, with no obvious means of hopping from the tier of pretenders to contenders (if you think the return of Nurkic does that, then more power to you, and maybe send me your magic mushrooms). The Thunder organization may have hitched their wagon to Westbrook for the long haul, but rest assured that in an offseason full of organizational turnover, Sam Presti will consider all of his options (plus, Russ and LBJ seem to be really hitting it off this summer). Imagine a Thunder team with a lineup like Ball, Ingram, PG13, Kuzma, Steven Adams (not to mention Roberson, Ferguson, and Jerami Grant off the bench) and some cap flexibility to flesh out the roster. George is 5 years younger than LBJ, and could afford to season the Lakers youngsters for a season or two before re-entering the contention conversation.

3. Lakers retain the pick, draft the player, and keep their young core heading into the season.

This scenario is unlikely, as it essentially guarantees yet another lost season, and perhaps signals the failure of the LBJ contract. Los Angeles cannot afford to spend another season outside of the playoffs, and this would be a near-lock for them if they cannot sign or trade for a star to play alongside James (now, if they were to only sign someone like Leonard or Durant, perhaps they could get away with having a young, deep, high-potential supporting cast). Make no mistake about it; the Lakers are not aiming to develop any more draft projects, even at No. 4 – they will have their eyes set on a home run trade to pair with a superstar signing, with the intention of filling out their roster behind a superstar triumvirate. If this writer had to take a guess at the order of events, I’d say the Lakers sign Kyrie Irving and trade for Anthony Davis. A different, yet similarly stacked take would be trading for Bradley Beal, and signing Jimmy Butler.

There are many avenues for the Lakers to take, but the question is, will they choose the right one? A wrong choice this summer could spell disaster for a franchise desperate to find its championship footing.

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