We can all finally exhale. The Los Angeles Lakers made it through another draft lottery with their pick, landing the second overall selection when the results were torturously revealed.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations, flashed his signature smile on stage when the results were revealed and created an iconic moment with a disappointed Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, who were hoping to steal away the Lakers’ pick this year. Johnson badly needs an infusion of talent to help rebuild the franchise he loves, and will now have the opportunity to add a prospect like Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, or a number of other talented players.
While adding another asset is certainly a major win for the Lakers, Tuesday’s lottery result also brings certainty to the ammunition that they will have moving forward. The 2018 first round pick will convey unprotected to the 76ers but the 2019 first round pick Los Angeles owed to the Orlando Magic will instead convert to a pair of second round selections, which is a much easier pill to swallow.
Praying for ping pong balls in a gut-wrenching all-or-nothing scenario is now a thing of the past, as is tanking to gain better odds. With their 2018 pick already in the 76ers’ clutches, the Lakers won’t benefit in the slightest by losing games next season.
Finally, it’s over, and Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka can set about their task of rebuilding the team with the maximum amount of assets at their disposal.
What they do with them, however, is anyone’s guess. Having the second overall pick is an enviable spot to be in, and there are a number of quality players who would love to come to Los Angeles. Still, trades will be lobbed their way. The Lakers have long been linked to Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, and will certainly be interested when any other star-level player becomes available on the open market.
After four straight years of missing the playoffs, the idea of moving an unproven draft pick for a sure-fire impact player has to have some appeal, particularly if it puts them in a position to be a more attractive landing spot for free agents.
On the other hand, adding Fultz, Ball, or another prospect to a team that already includes talented youngsters D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac, and more would be awfully enticing.
Regardless of which path the Lakers front office decides to take, getting through this draft lottery with the pick still in their hands has to be considered a massive win for the franchise. Rebuilding isn’t easy, and draft picks provide very little certainty, but having the second pick this year at least puts Los Angeles into the best situation currently possible to bring their team back from the brink.
Make no mistake, the sins of the past regime will still be painful for Johnson and Pelinka to deal with. They now must surrender their 2018 first-round pick to Philadelphia as well as a second-round pick in 2017 and 2018 to the Orlando Magic. The Lakers have something of a reputation for unearthing talent late in the draft, so those second-round picks are not nearly as inconsequential as some would believe.
Still, only surrendering one first rounder instead of two, even with the added value of a pair of second rounders, is by far the lesser of two evils. The Lakers will pay for the gambles taken in the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash trades, but it could have been much worse.
Moreover, keeping this year’s draft pick sustains the air of positivity that has surrounded the Lakers that originated with the hiring of Luke Walton and was boosted by the additions of Johnson and Pelinka. For the first time in a long time, it feels like things are looking up.
With one hurdle successfully cleared, the next month will be spent analyzing draft prospects, fielding trade offers, and preparing a strategy for free agency. It’s all intertwined, a careful balancing act that must be managed correctly to find the path that leads to redemption.
The important thing is that Lakers have their 2017 first-round pick, and as a result, their 2019 pick as well. Now the real work begins.