After a tumultuous month since the 2018-19 NBA season ended, the Los Angeles Lakers received some help from the ping pong balls.
The Lakers, who had just a 9.4% chance of moving into the top-four, did just that when they secured the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
General manager Rob Pelinka immediately referred to the No. 4 pick as a ‘powerful asset’ for the Los Angeles and made it clear they plan on exploring all options.
The decision to keep or trade the draft pick is certainly a complex one. However, if the Lakers have any sense, they will make the selection as their own and wait to see if an Anthony Davis trade with the New Orleans Pelicans becomes realistic.
If it does, then use that recently drafted player to get him. If it does not, keep the pick and work to make him a solid rotation piece for the 2019-20 season.
As it stands with the No. 4 pick, the Lakers are projected to have around $34-37 million in cap space — should they renounce all free agents. That alone is enough to sign anyone with under 10 years of service to a max contract. In terms of 2019 NBA free agency, that is any max-level free agent not named Kevin Durant. As a result, the Lakers would have to do almost no work to clear the cap space necessary to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving if they simply keep the pick.
All that to say that essentially trading for Davis before making the selection comes with the likelihood of the Lakers losing that max-contract slot. Right now, everyone on the roster that is not LeBron James is making approximately $24 million combined. As for Davis, he will be making $27.1 million.
Since the No. 4 pick holds no monetary value until the deal is signed, the Lakers would have to eat into their cap space to get Davis while trading literally the whole non-James roster including that pick. There is no world in which that deal is worth it.
As a result, if the team’s grand plan is to trade for Davis while also signing a max free agent, they will have to wait 30 days after the incoming rookie has signed his deal when his money officially affects the cap. By that point, the Lakers will for sure know whether or not they have gotten that All-Star player and can plan accordingly.
This same logic applies to basically every other deal the Lakers may be considering with that draft pick whether it be Bradley Beal or a Lonzo Ball and Chicago Bulls deal. The Lakers must refuse all deals that take on added salary before July 1.
Now, that leaves the simple question of what the Lakers should do with that kept No. 4 pick. There are likely a few players the Lakers will strongly consider with this pick which likely consists of Darius Garland, De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver, and Cam Reddish.
To me, Reddish is absolutely undraftable. In a near perfect situation at Duke, Reddish failed in spectacular fashion to prove that he can be a useful role player. Reddish averaged 13.5 points on an abysmal 35.6% from the field while garnering more turnovers than assists.
Hunter — while not the worst choice — is a poor fit offensively on a team that struggled on that end of the floor. His offensive game is very reminiscent of Brandon Ingram and only slightly less efficient.
Garland is perhaps the best fit for the Lakers, but there is some risk as he played just five college games before tearing his meniscus. However, in those five games, Garland lit it up from the field. He averaged 16.2 points on 53.7% from the field and 47.8% from the three-point line — numbers that are just so rarely seen in a college player with a usage rate of nearly 30.
Finally, the player who is not the overall best fit but is the overall best player is Culver. Culver is an all-around excellent prospect. Offensive skills with hints of Joe Johnson and defensive tendencies similar to a young Paul George make Culver an intriguing option as their shooting guard.
Defensive lineups including Ball, Ingram, Culver, Josh Hart, and James could intimidate teams to the core and could only become scarier with an addition of a Leonard-caliber player.
At the end of the day, Culver would be my ultimate choice for the Lakers at No. 4. If the front office is dead set on trading this pick, there is just one intelligent way to do it.
The Phoenix Suns, who have the No. 6 pick, have reportedly been very high on Garland. If the Lakers determine Garland is not their player and the Cleveland Cavaliers will not select Culver with the No. 5 pick, it would make a ton of sense to trade down, let the Suns select Garland, and steal another asset from them in the process. All of this while still getting the player they always wanted.
As Pelinka said, there are countless ways the Lakers could go with this unexpected top-four pick. However, based on the salary cap hoops they would need to jump through, it is likely the Lakers will be making their own selection on June 20. And if they do, it should be either Culver or Garland.
If the Lakers follow these steps, the reported dysfunction of the past month may slowly begin to fade away.