Below is a recent conversation I had with James Worthy, who will be the Lakers representative for the NBA Draft lottery on Tuesday in New York City. Worthy, who won three NBA titles with the Showtime Lakers, is currently an on-air analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Lakers’ flagship station.
If the Lakers are able to get a top pick, who should they draft?
Worthy: I have not talked to [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kuphcak or to anybody else about what they’re looking for. But I love that kid out of Kansas, Joel Embiid, that guy is tough. You look at what the Lakers have been missing on defense – it’s points in the paint, transition buckets and no resistance. We had Dwight Howard help us out a little bit the other year. But this year was really a concern and was the major cause for us losing game. There were games we that we scored 125 points, but it didn’t matter because we gave up 80 points in the paint. To me, there is no comparison. He is a mean tough kid.
I played against Hakeem Olajuwon when he was a freshman in college. He wasn’t there yet and didn’t start, but Joel reminds me of a little bit of that. If you got physical with him, he responded. He’s talented and I like him. But there’s so many guys. People talk about Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle and Wiggins and Randle out of Kentucky. It’s a tough call considering the talent that is available.
How concerned are you about Embiid’s back injury?
Worthy: “I’m not too familiar with it. I saw him in L.A. and think he is affiliated with the Wasserman group and he was working out and he looked pretty good. Anytime you have a back injury, I’m not sure the extent of it if it was a minor injury. These general managers and doctors don’t do anything without medical clearance. From what I saw him, he looked good. He has a big upside.”
What was your reaction when you learned you would be the Lakers’ draft representative?
Worthy: “I was pretty honored to be the guy to go and represent the Lakers on that all important day. I can reflect back over the years and remember guys like Chick Hearn and Bill Sharman being a lucky presence. It’s nice that the organization is reaching back and looking at some of the old Lakers nostalgia since I was the last No. 1 pick they had. I knew Bill Sharman was extremely influential in getting both Magic Johnson and I. I feel pretty good. I feel like I’ll be a good lucky charm (laughs). I go with pride and will represent the brand. I know our percentages aren’t as high as we’d like to be. But there’s always hope until we get a top three pick. That would be pretty successful. I’m looking forward to it.
Do you believe in good luck?
Worthy: “That’s all I got right now. I’m taking that to New York with me. The Celtics have the Celtics mystique with the lucky charms. The Lakers have the luck with their mystic cool. I’m going with the fact that we’re going through some growing pains right now. We thought we had [Chris Paul] and that crashed on us. We’re due for something. I’m going with all that energy in mind. I’m taking after Chick Hearn and Bill Sharman and taking all that with me. That’s who I’m representing. All those guys. It’s going to be interesting.”
Do you think they can get the top pick?
Worthy: “I know our percentages is 6 percent. But I really believe that we’re due for something. It’s our time. We had some bad luck the last couple of years with injuries and Dwight Howard exiting. I’m thinking we can conjure up that magic from the Lakers’ past and bring something forward. If not, we’ll deal with what we get. It’s a methodical process and we know the last couple of years will be critical on how they go forward. It’s exciting.”
With all the success the Lakers have had, is it going to be weird being at the draft lottery?
Worthy: “We’re not accustomed to being in this position and it’s not something we welcome. We’re not excited at getting a top lottery pick. This isn’t something we’re celebrating in Los Angeles. But we found ourselves in this position because of a collaboration of things, different coaches, a slew of injuries and the core of our nucleus being out and having young guys having to step in and play starter’s minutes.
I had to step back myself and try not to be so critical. With all that mind, we don’t use that as an excuse. We’ve seen other teams deal with certain situations. But we still have to think positive. That’s the cards we got right now. We have to deal with that.
Are you doing anything superstitious for the lottery?
Worthy: “Not superstitious. I just always have hope and I’ll have a strong mind. I’m not going to wear the same underwear for a week or anything like that. I’m not carrying a championship ring or taking a photo with me of Chick Hearn. He was there when I got drafted. It’s all ingrained inside and whatever superstition is, it’s already spoken for on my behalf. I’m just going and waiting for the results and then we’ll move on. I’m hoping it will be a good pick for us.”