CHICAGO — It only seemed inevitable that 18-year-old Australian prospect Dante Exum would angle his way to play with the Lakers after moving out to Los Angeles this year, attending a handful of games and sparking a relationship with Kobe Bryant.
But Exum said that “the media twisted” his view on the Lakers, reiterating that he maintains having an open mind toward all teams.
“Obviously the Lakers are a great organization, but I’m in this draft to go to someplace where I feel best that is a good fit for me,” Exum said here at the NBA pre-draft combine. “Whatever team that is the best place for me, there’s no one team that I really want to go to.”
The Lakers will mark a number of teams scheduled to meet with Exum. He reported talking with Phoenix, Philadelphia and Detroit along with meetings with Milwaukee, Orlando, Sacramento and Lakers later on Thursday. He plans to speak to Boston and Utah on Friday.
One of the Lakers’ advantages entails Bryant, who has invited Exum to view some of his private workouts. Exum has also signed with Bryant’s agent (Rob Pelinka) and Bryant’s personal trainer (Tim Grover). Beyond admiring Bryant’s skillset, Exum finds value in his perspective. Bryant entered the 1996 NBA draft after playing four years at Lower Merion, a suburban high school outside Philadelphia. The Lakers traded Vlade Divac for the rights to the Charlotte Hornet’s 13th draft pick, which went to Bryant.
“It’s basically there will be a lot of distractions off the court,” Exum said about Bryant’s advice. “It’s about how you handle those and focus on he court. That’s what’s going to define my career.”
Exum drew the most interest from reporters on Thursday, who crowded around his table 40 minutes before he was even scheduled to speak. He is also considered among the top draft prospects attending this event after the sparking buzz in his native Australia with video clips that show him exploding. Numerous headliners, including Kansas’ Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker skipped this event. Embiid is monitoring a back injury, while various league sources believe Wiggins and Parker have nothing to gain from participating in drills because of their current strong draft stock.
Exum did not take part in Thursday’s drills, but he is expected to compete in Friday’s This bodes some importance namely because he doesn’t have the material NCAA players have compiled through a year. He also will not be able to play in any five-on-five drills until he plays in Summer League and for his native Australia in the 2014 World Cup of Basketball, which takes place Aug. 30 to Sept. 14 in Spain.
“Definitely going into the individual workouts, it’s important for me to perform,” Exum said. “They’ve seen me a couple of times. I need to build up and catch up on the exposure the guys the other had.”
Exum, who reported his measurement 6-foot-6 wearing shoes, has attracted buzz for showing off his foot speed, ball handling and driving during both the Nike Hoops Summit and FIBA U19 World Championships. Exum likened those skills to Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili. But skepticism remains on his shaky outside jumper and how quickly he could adapt to the NBA after playing overseas.
Exum said he has spent the majority of his workout regimen improving his jump shot. He also downplayed the adjustment after playing in his native Australia. Warriors center Andrew Bogut also resides from there.
“In Australia, I’ve always been the main guy there,” Exum said. “Coming over from the States, I;m a dish in the sea. It’s nice to get all the attention, but I’m taking it one stride at a time just to soak in the moment and enjoying it.”
Exum moved out to Los Angeles with his mother in mid February and has trained there ever since then, an experience that took a few on and off-court adjustments.
With his native Australia featuring citizens driving on the left side of the road, Exum reported his mother accidentally driving in the wrong lane.
“It was a scary situation,” Exum said, laughing. But she adjusted well.
Exum also reported adjusting well to Grover’s training sessions where he said he learned about “the little things” surrounding subtle movements in his workouts. Exum also spent his time in Los Angeles attending three Lakers games at Staples Center, which he likened to “one of the pinnacle arenas.” Exum also conceded wondering how he could fix the Lakers after they hobbled this season to their worst record in L.A. franchise history.
“They were reliable with 3’s. When they were working for them, it was great. When it wasn’t working for them, it wasn’t,” Exum said of the Lakers. “I think giving that option of that attacking guard adds another aspect of the game.”
He also sounded thrilled that the Lakers have expressed hope they could add a starting caliber point guard while leaning on the 40-year-old Steve Nash as a reserve, both to preserve his unpredictable health and have him provide a mentor role.
“I think that’s a great thing to have in a professional like that in Steve who has had a long successful career,” Exum said. “Being able to mentor me in a way. Having Steve Nash would be good. The way he creates his assists is important and you see he’s very crafty. His floaters are another level.”
Whether this actually materializes remains to be seen.
The Lakers are currently in place to receive the sixth draft pick and have only a 6.3 percent chance to land the top pick in the NBA draft lottery on May 20 in New York.
“I want to go to a team where there is good team chemistry and somewhere I can fit into,” Exum said. “I’m willing to go to a role where I can learn from experience. There’s really no bad situation, but there’s better situations.”
For example, Exum suggested who the team’s coach will play a large factor into his comfort level with the team.
“Definitely being in a system where it’s a good coach and a stable coach that can teach me in a system that suits my game and my game style,” Exum said. “An uptempo team ready to run and being able to control the tempo when they need to.”
Incidentally, the Lakers had a coach that fit that description in Mike D’Antoni. But he resigned two weeks ago after the Lakers refused to guarantee his team option would be exercised to secure him for the 2015-16 season. The Lakers do not plan to hire anyone before the draft lottery, but are currently open minded toward a wide-range of candidates, including veteran head coaches, NBA assistants, college coaches and ones that lack previous experience.
“I’m not looking at the position of the draft and where teams place themselves,” Exum said. “More importantly for me, I want to be a good fit.”