The frustration finally ended. Two painful seasons filled with lots of injuries and lots of losses finally became a brief afterthought amid some rare good news.
The Lakers won the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft lottery this week, prompting general manager Mitch Kupchak to pop a bottle of champagne, a moment the Lakers have since posted on their Twitter account.
“I’d prefer to do the champagne thing five weeks from now and not celebrating the No. 2 pick in the draft,” Kupchak said on “SiriusXM NBA Radio” with Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg. “But we had a season that was tough. We had two seasons that were tough. So it would’ve been real difficult not to get a pick. But we got the pick.”
And now that the Lakers have the pick, how long will it take for the Lakers to start popping those champagne bottles in June?
“There’s probably nobody on a good team that can have the kind of impact that’s going to lead a team to a championship,” Kupchak said. “But any of these guys could have a big impact next season. But you’re going to have to surround them if you want to be in a championship position.”
Kupchak still argued that this year’s draft class has “four or five players that are very very good.” He then added “they could be All-Stars” 10 years from now. The top of the most mock drafts include Kentucky’s Karl Anthony-Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. Other options could include point guards, such as Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, who played in China instead of Southern Methodist. Duke’s Justise Winslow and Arizona’s Stanley Johnson (a Santa Ana Mater Dei standout) are strong wing players. Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is another prized big man.
Yet, Kupchak said, “there is a possibility we will use the pick or trade the pick.”
“Just to move up two or three or four slots, normally it’s hard to do,” said Kupchak, who will also have the 27th adn 34th overall picks. “The price that team would pay would be high because they’re targeting a player they really want.”
Kupchak still highlighted numerous other factors that would determine the Lakers’ success.
He mentioned about Kobe Bryant’s health, mindful that he is rehabbing an injured right shoulder that has marked the third season-ending injury in consecutive years. Though Kupchak said Bryant has “on track for” a full recovery, the Lakers’ star will still have to prove he can play both effective and last through the full 2015-16 season in what would mark the 20th and perhaps final year of his career. Kupchak brought up the team’s nine vacant roster spots, singling out Wayne Ellington and Ed Davis as two unrestricted free agents he would like back. Kupchak brought up Julius Randle’s expected recovery from a season-ending right leg injury he suffered in the season opener. Kupchak praised Jordan Clarkson’s development where he morphed from the 46th pick to a member on the NBA’s all-rookie first team.
“If there is a player that plays like him, it’s Russell Westbrook,” Kupchak said of Clarkson on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” “I’m not saying for a second that Jordan Clarkson is the next Russell Westbrook. Btu he’s that kind of a ball handling guard. But he’s that kind of a ball handling guard. He looks to attack the rim. He’s aggressive offensively. He’s not going to walk the ball up the court. He’s not going to make an entry pass and cut through. He’s going to push the ball, look for a crack and try to get for the rim or try to make a play. When he comes off of a pick, he will look to shoot. He’ll pass the ball. But he’s not your typical prototype ball handling point guard.”
That begged the question: With Clarkson’s emergence and the hype surrounding Anthony-Towns and Okafor, are the Lakers putting the most priority in adding a center?
“We haven’t worked anybody out,” Kupchak told Cowherd. “We haven’t interviewed anybody. Clearly, at the top of the draft there are two bigs and we have the second pick.”
The Lakers may have won 16 NBA championships partly by relying on established centers, such as George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. Yet, the modern NBA has put a higher premium on quick, playmaking point guards and wing players, two assets that can both stretch the floor and hit three-point shots at a prolific rate.
“The jury is still out, but you could argue that,” Kupchak said. “There is no doubt that the game that is being played today is very different than the game that was played eight to 10 years ago.”
“The teams that have had great success still have centers,” said Kupchak, who then indirectly referenced San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Golden State’s Andrew Bogut. “You still need size in this league. You need a rim protector and a guy who takes the pass and a guy to pass the ball to run the offense through.”
All of which leads to more uncertainty on what the Lakers do with their No. 2 pick and the exact impact that asset will have.
But those unanswered questions sure beat the ones that lingered last week over whether the Lakers would have a lottery pick at all, something they would owe Philadelphia as part of the Steve Nash trade if it landed sixth or seventh. Instead, the Lakers will send their 2016 first-round selection to the 76ers next season so long as it falls out of the top three. Unlike this year, the Lakers will gladly not have a first round pick, Kupchak aware that would mean they had a successful 2015-16 campaign.
“It was fun to be rewarded for a terrible season,” Kupchak told Fox and Greenberg. “It was fun to pop the cork. But that’s behind us now. Now we have a lot of work to do.”
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