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NBA Draft 2014: Lakers got their guy in Julius Randle

The first step into the future has been taken, and the Lakers got their guy in Julius Randle.

Andy Lyons

The Los Angeles Lakers got their guy when they were able to select Julius Randle out of Kentucky with the seventh-overall pick. He hasn't played a minute of NBA basketball, but that doesn't matter right now. The front office may not have catapulted into the top-three, but they managed to maneuver through the prospects and land the player their hand-picked favorite. That's a resounding win for Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and the basketball operations team.

It's not surprising that Randle was the player the Lakers coveted, either. There have been enough bread crumbs -- the private workout that had multiple draft analysts citing "sources" revealed the Lakers were very impressed -- to have a fair idea Los Angeles was ready to bring in one of the top prospects at the start of the college year. He's an NBA-ready player who can be a building block for the team for years.

Marcus Smart is the other player that fits that category, but at point guard. Maybe he'll shake out a better career than Randle, maybe not, but the Lakers clearly favored Randle at No. 7. Look no further than the painting the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan painted of the Lakers war room when Smart was drafted by the Boston Celtics:

When it was revealed to be Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, the Lakers' brass burst out in excitement, smiles all around.

It allowed them to take power forward Randle with their highest selection on draft night in 32 years.

The Lakers were worried Boston would nab Randle, a double-double machine in one year at Kentucky.

That reaction likely echoes that of many fans who knew Randle would be available, yours truly included.

Expectations are a fragile thing to make for Randle and the Lakers going forward. It's universally accepted that he should be on the floor early and often in his career. His rebounding prowess, size and finishing ability around the rim should all translate while he continues developing his game. His mid-range game is a work in progress, but there's reason to be optimistic he can tune this area of his game.

The lefty looked smooth during his shootaround session with the Lakers, showing he can put the ball on the floor while draining one-dribble jumpers around the court:

The Lakers approached the draft in full force. They boxed out nearly any free agency talk, put the coaching search on the back burner, and are clearly confident in their decision to select Randle. For all the tumbling blocks the front office is trying to stabilize, this draft went about as smoothly as possible for them. They have an answer at power forward, an area they direly needed to address this summer after either having to play too big, too small or too slow last season.

Randle is in-between. He won't be a towering presence like Pau Gasol or even Jordan Hill, but he should be an athletic, strong, force that is going to bang against his opponents. It's fun to compare his ceiling to an NBA player, but what's more important is he seems to already be stretching out for it already. Insert short wingspan joke here.

The players who were or could have been available to the Lakers all have a chance to develop into quality NBA talent. Defensive specialists, generational big men, Canada's LeBron James and all sorts of off the wall possibilities. That the Lakers were able to reach into that pool of potential and confidently hand pick the guy they wanted is important. There's no reason to believe they had to settle after Gordon and Smart were off the board. Randle was clearly the target. Direct hit.

If Randle is the immediate-impact player he's projected to be, that's a great way to start restoring some faith among Lakers fans. They did their homework and should have a potent rookie, something fans have witnessed on nearly every other team but the Lakers over recent years. If he doesn't perform, however, expect the Buss administration to go under fire again.

The front office's quest for young talent is still engaged, as they've already begun constructing their Las Vegas Summer League roster by locking in LaQuinton Ross and DeAndre Kane. Jordan Clarkson, their second-round pick acquired from the Washington Wizards, should also make for an interesting prospect to watch. There's a clear dive into cultivating talent happening, something the team has been making great leaps in over recent years. Their Summer League last summer was one of their better collections of talents, and this one is looking even better, especially if Randle is able to play.

Operating a significant talent farm won't be an overnight change, but there has been steady improvement. Finally having a premium prospect to develop in Randle should only amplify the process. The Lakers now have their power forward of the future locked in as they transition to a free agency period that Mitch Kupchak told media he'd be going "all out" for during his post-draft press conference.

Yes, the Lakers would love a crack at landing Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. As would any NBA team or NBA 2K fantasy drafter. The plan, the process, has to be more nuanced than meeting with one of the high-profile free agents and then figuring out what's left around them. It has to be about which point guard they can possibly add into that mix. It's trying to find a value big man who can provide positives minutes while protecting the rim. It's about filling out a competitive NBA roster.

These are serious questions any player the Lakers covet as a free agent will have to ask and consider. As much as glitz, glamour and message the franchise will pay market value for their star players will weigh on any free agent's mind, more and more players are emphasizing a win-now situation. The group of players headlining this free agency class aren't players in the middle of their career. These are players in the final three-to-four years of the peak of their basketball powers. The last stop. It won't be easy for the front office to sell a player on the roster as currently constructed, and completing this puzzle in a single summer would be a very high bar to clear.

The marathon the front office has been running is about to go into full sprint mode. The opportunity to draft the player they wanted with the No. 7 pick has them in full stride heading toward an ocean of possibilities. Anything can happen, like a longtime rival's decision one pick ahead creating destiny on draft day.

Finally, a flash of that flickering Laker luck. We'll see if it carries over soon enough.

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