In Part 1 of this column I went through a few scenarios in which the Los Angeles Lakers can rebuild if they keep their top-five protected pick. Choices ranged from rebuilding completely through the NBA Draft and moving forward with a young, blossoming nucleus, to flipping their cupboard of assets for veteran players and reloading immediately... and everything in between. The possibilities are rife with risk on both ends, but if the Lakers end up keeping their pick, there's no doubt that the road to rebuilding will be laid out in front of them, clear as day.
But if they lose the pick? There's almost no telling which direction the Lakers could go.
In just over 24 hours, we'll know where LA will stand. If things don't go their way, how will the front office pick up the pieces and secure the rebuilding effort once more?
Sell their remaining assets for veteran players and go all-in on free agents, no matter what the cost
As I wrote, the Lakers have a choice to make with the assets on hand. Should they use their picks to draft young players in addition to the ones they have on hand...or trade them for proven vets who can help right now? A top-5 pick would definitely be a boon in that endeavor and provide a big fat chip in their negotiations.
However, even without the lottery pick, the Lakers still have a small fortune in assets to flip for veteran players. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle surely have some value on the trade market, as do the 27th and 34th picks which (for the moment) aren't going anywhere. Without a top-5 pick to build around and both Clarkson and Randle's statuses as franchise cornerstones a premature conclusion, it's less likely that the Lakers have their future championship nucleus on hand. The long-term rebuild with young talent isn't nearly as enticing without a legitimate blue-chipper on board.
So after losing that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers could very well go all-in with building their team with a bunch of veterans right now. With assets in hand, the Lakers could trade for guys like Deron Williams, Rudy Gay or Joakim Noah -- experienced players who might be on the block for a sundry of reasons (age, injury history, styles clash with their current squad, etc.). Then, with their remaining cap room, they could go after veteran free agents, throwing their financial weight to fill in the remaining holes in the roster. Perhaps that comes in the form of Rajon Rondo, Greg Monroe or Jeff Green.
Of course the Lakers will weigh their options with potential unrestricted free agents like Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan, but as the summer is shaping up, it doesn't look like those All-Stars would leave their current situations to go to an LA team starting from ground zero.
Without the pick, the Lakers have a ton of decisions to make and contrary to popular belief, still have a ton of assets to pedal. Those assets however, won't be quite as robust as they would be had the lottery been kinder.
Cherry pick the right free agents and maintain cap room for the next offseason
Like I've been writing for several seasons, the Lakers could also begin building a foundation with solid players over time, rather than trying to hit a single, solitary home run in one swing.
If LA so chooses, they could stop wasting their time trying to sign guys like LeBron James, Gasol, Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, who are all unlikely to leave their current situations and go for free agents that are more likely to take the money. What could this mean? Maybe taking a flyer on an injured Wesley Matthews. Or perhaps a modest deal for Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, Thaddeus Young or Monroe.
The Lakers need to create a situation in which a star free agent might want to leave his current situation and join theirs. That means creating a team with potential that combines up-and-coming talent like Randle and Clarkson with established stars. Convincing All-NBA players to come to a barren Lakers team isn't easy.
From there, the road map is set. The team "just" needs a star to compete. Those stars could be coming next offseason when Kobe Bryant comes off the books and the cap ceiling explodes. It's certainly a risky proposition, but could perhaps be the most sound course of action.
Maintain flexibility for the future. In short? Be bad...again.
Does this sound familiar? And fun?
Though incredibly unlikely, the Lakers could choose to run back their strategy that's been going on for three offseasons now: reloading with short-term contracts, taking flyers on young talent with thus far untapped upside and of course, waiting to see where their pick will fall in the 2016 Draft. What would this look like? We've seen it. Taking on players like Jeremy Lin to accrue assets, signing guys like Jordan Hill to short-term deals and taking a chance on guys like Ed Davis, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry on veteran's minimum contracts.
This will give the Lakers a lot of what they crave -- an ability to make a deal for a star player via trade and another chance to possibly reload instantly in the 2016 offseason. It's a risk to run this back yet again -- look at where the Lakers landed in the previous two offseasons and potentially in 2015. The problem with waiting for help is that the help may never, ever come.
Losing the pick Tuesday would be absolutely devastating to the Lakers and their fans. Regardless of whether you think the organization should be patient with their youngsters or flip them for vets immediately, there's no doubt that not having a top-5 pick limits the team's options going forward. The Lakers absolutely need talent wherever they can get it, and while a lottery selection doesn't necessarily guarantee that, it's certainly a huge step in the right direction.
This isn't to say that all hope is lost should they lose the pick. There are still options for LA without it, though it seems that building around a strong, young nucleus of first and second-year players would most likely be out the window. The Lakers will have their choices to make after Tuesday, but without that pick that the front office (and the fans) have been so worried about for so long, the outcome will be fraught with second guessing.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino