The Los Angeles Lakers are one week away the most important decision they've made since signing Kobe Bryant to his massive contract extension and are laser focused on it. What the team does with the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft is the most controllable, and important, decision of the summer.
The Lakers are creeping forward one step at a time, zeroing in on the draft up to the deadline. They've held multiple workouts and still have more to come. Friday they hosted another group highlighted by Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon, and the team is expected to squeeze in more looks leading up to the draft. Their next stop is bringing in Zach LaVine for a second, private workout. The Lakers have shown a commitment to taking in all of the information they can on the rookie class, pulling in players they may have interest in beyond the available prospects at seven.
Trading down is the first thing the Lakers will need to consider if they are on the clock without the right players available. Finding a way to land another first-round pick while holding onto No. 7 is the second thing the Lakers look ready to swing for. They are doing their homework on players like Elfrid Payton, Doug McDermott, Zach LaVine and Nik Stauskas; even reaching low to players like P.J. Hairston, who spent a year in the D-league after he was suspended indefinitely instead of playing for North Carolina. Does anyone believe they'll be pulling any of those prospects at seven? That's a Dhalsim arm extension of a reach, at best.
It's preparation for all scenarios.
The front office has proven it's capable of orchestrating the kind of process needed to evaluate a wide spectrum of talent over the last month. Now, they have to stick the landing. Lakers reporter Mike Trudell had a fascinating Q&A session with Ryan West -- Jerry West's son and assistant director of scouting for the Lakers -- and shared details on the evaluation practices. Here are his thoughts on the importance of the workouts and how they'll be making their decision:
The workout is just a piece to the puzzle. The thing that has to carry the most weight is what you saw in games throughout the previous season if he's a freshman, or up to four years if he's a senior. That's the most important thing to me. A workout is just another viewing tool to watch a guy. But sometimes it's nice to see a guy out of his system, and every little piece of scouting we can do on a guy is beneficial. We may not take anything from a workout; a guy may have a bad day. We aren't going to base our decision on who to draft based just on how a guy works out.
If there's a word to define how the Lakers have approached life since the season ended on April 16 it'd be "cautious". They didn't commit extra money and two more seasons of baggage with D'Antoni, instead letting him leave on his own terms without a backup plan. The coaching search is hauntingly silent, the most noise actually coming from the candidates dropping soundbites. The team is working out groups of players at a time and bringing in prospects for second looks, covering their bases with a handful of guys who will be available in the first round beyond the seventh pick. There's been no significant chatter or rumor spreading about the free agency period beginning on July 1, instead just an onslaught of draft-focused reports and updates.
This isn't a front office getting ready to court Carmelo Anthony, it's a team meticulously preparing for the NBA Draft. The big crapshoot is coming.
Slow and steady, taking the fragile rebuild one step at a time, seems to be the medicine Los Angeles has self-prescribed after dragging through the worst season in franchise history. And sure, there were silver linings, like Ryan Kelly contributing and playing actual NBA minutes. The 48th pick getting experience under his belt was arguably the most important development of the season. His ability to space the floor at the four is something the team can improve on and involve going forward. Another prospect they kicked the tires on, Kendall Marshall, became the first Lakers point guard to average at least eight points and assists per game since Nick Van Exel in 1997. Neither of them is a franchise player, but the Lakers need to begin cultivating talent somewhere. Making use of their one-to-one D-league affiliation is going to be important going forward. Finding players to develop is crucial to improving their talent farming process.
In the end, the seventh pick isn't a bad payment for their troubles once the burning debris littering Figueroa St. clears out. Los Angeles can't sit back and bank on landing a big name free agent and is out of assets to trade for the type of player needed to catapult them back into contention. Getting this pick right remains the Lakers' best opportunity to add a foundational player immediately. The team clearly has their priorities lined up, focusing on who and how they draft.
We're still a long ways away from understanding what the front office has been thinking since the season ended. There are still big questions and leftover despair from a lost season lingering in the air. What matters, though, is the Lakers know exactly where they need to allocate resources and are pumping all they can into it. They are now less than one week away from using the seventh pick, the first significant decision of an important summer, and look prepared on all fronts.
The Lakers front office is getting ready to ace the big test on June 26. Nail this draft and stop the bleeding.