The Lakers are horrible right now - as expected. However, as I argued before the season started, this is a good development. The Lakers owe their pick to the Phoenix Suns if it lands anywhere outside the top-5. The Lakers were not going to make the playoffs, so instead of losing that pick, they should aim to keep it this year and build a competitive team for the 2015/16 NBA season.
With that being said. The Lakers must build through the draft. I see too much confidence by the fans in free agency. Yes, the Lakers are an attractive destination. But being able to get a superstar to change teams, let alone build the core of your team through free agency, is tough. Superstars just don't like to leave teams and turn down money.
Before I continue, I want to make clear what "building through the draft" means. It doesn't necessarily mean drafting players and developing them. It means using the draft to build your team it, be it directly (drafting and keeping the player) or indirectly (using the picks to trade for players). If you take a look at Lakers history, this is what the Lakers, for the most part, have done. They've either drafted guys, or have used draft picks to trade for guys.
Free agency has rarely brought in big name players. Don't believe me? Look at the list below. I went through the list of guys who the Lakers signed outright (meaning they weren't acquired through a trade) since 1982 (when Jerry West took over). Outside of the guy on top of the list, it's not that impressive.
(Note: Players are ranked based on level of performance at the time of the signing)
- Shaquille O'Neal
- Karl Malone
- Gary Payton
- Ron Artest
- Orlando Woolridge
- Sam Perkins
- Nick Young
- Antawn Jamison
- Derek Fisher
- Tie: Rick Fox, Brian Shaw, Jodie Meeks, Ron Harper
You can see, that list isn't that impressive. You're either getting solid role players, or really good players near the end of their careers. LA just doesn't have an extensive history of getting stars to flip over. Kareem, Shaq, Worthy, Wilt, West, Kobe - all we're brought to LA by the Lakers leveraging the draft to get them here. Betting on free agency, while an attractive option, has no guarantee.
Just look around the league today. Most teams were built through the draft, either directly (IE- Drafted a player and developed him) OR indirectly (used the draft to acquire another player).
Let's take a look at the "core-5 guys" of all the teams in the NBA. And you'll see what I mean. Guys who ended up on their respective teams via the draft, are bolded. Most teams have acquired at least 3 of their core 5 guys via the draft.
(For "core-5 guys" I'm looking not only into production, but also potential.)
Atlanta Hawks - Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll.
Boston Celtics - Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Green*
Brooklyn Nets - Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee
Charlotte Hornets - Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller
Dallas Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Brandan Wright
Denver Nuggets - Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov
Detroit Pistons - Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings
Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford
Memphis Grizzlies - Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Courtney Lee
Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Shabazz Napier, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng
Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Larry Sanders, OJ Mayo
New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Omer Asik
New York Knicks - Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr, JR Smith
Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson
Phoenix Suns - Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Markieff Morris, Alex Len
Portland Trail Blazers - Lamarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez
Utah Jazz - Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Dante Exum
Washington Wizards - John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter Jr, Paul Pierce
*LeBron James and Jeff Green were both drafted by their respective franchises, so it complicates the classification.
You can see, most teams have acquired their 3 of their core-5 guys via leveraging the draft (only unarguably the Hawks, Rockets and Mavs have not) . It's pretty simple. You cannot ignore the draft and must use it to build your team.
This is why retaining this year's 1st round pick is of the utmost importance. On top of that, trying to attain any other draft picks for the few assets we have, be it 1st or 2nd round pick(s), is also pretty important. Basically, you want to acquire as many picks as you could from teams that don't need it now. That's just how the NBA works.
So face the music. The Lakers suck. If we aren't winning now, I want us to win in the future. Do draft picks equate championships? No. But they are part of the first steps to building a team.
And lastly, here's a infographic breakdown showing that the Lakers DO build through the draft.
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