The Los Angeles Lakers have once again hit the lottery. After finishing with a franchise-worst 17-65 record, the Lakers needed to keep their top-3 protected pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. As the second-worst team in the league, LA had a 55.8 percent chance of landing a top-3 pick and eventually stayed in the second spot after the ping pong balls settled. A year after taking D’Angelo Russell with the second-overall pick, the Lakers have a shot at drafting another potential franchise player. In a draft where there appear to be two elite prospects, the Lakers are in a great position to take one of them.
Or both of them.
You may be thinking it is impossible for the Lakers to land Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, the consensus top players in this draft. However, Simmons' camp has made a lot of noise that the LSU power forward will only play for the Lakers. These are only rumors and the extent to which Simmons actually would force his way to LA is not known at this time, but that’s what makes this situation possible. If there’s any truth to rumors from Simmons' camp, this is another sign the Lakers might be bouncing back. A star player hasn’t "forced his way" to LA for such a long time, this comes as refreshing news for Lakers fans.
If the Philadelphia 76ers are convinced Simmons is the better prospect but are also convinced he wouldn’t play anywhere except LA, they may be forced into drafting Ingram. That’s not a bad alternative for the Sixers, but they might be shopping the top pick, if for no other reason than to see what offers are out there. While the Lakers won’t have nearly the arsenal of other teams to make a run at the top pick, they have to make the attempt to maneuver into that spot without sacrificing the second-overall selection. It’s a long shot, but the Lakers have to pick up the phone and see what it would take.
LA can start by taking the protections off the 2017 pick. An unprotected pick is the ultimate prize (as Boston is finding out) and the Sixers would listen to any offer surrounding the pick. LA would have to part with Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, and likely give up one or even two additional unprotected future first-round picks, probably 2019 and 2021. This is where not extending Clarkson’s contract when the Lakers could have hurts the cause. LA technically cannot include Clarkson, a restricted free agent, in any deal until he has a new contract, meaning he would have to be traded after free agency. This brings about added complications because the Lakers would have to match any offer Clarkson signs if they have already agreed to a trade in principle and the Sixers would have to accept his new deal. It’s a lot to give up and it’s a major risk, but I believe it is a risk worth exploring.
Randle and Clarkson have developed into solid players in their first two seasons and both can certainly be solid contributors going forward. But the Lakers go for championship seasons, not solid seasons. Randle is a double-double machine, but his poor shooting percentage from the floor and his lack of floor spacing could make him expendable. Clarkson improved his outside shot, but his overall field goal percentage went down. These two players can be above-average starters, but the Lakers have to take a hard look and decide if they are part of a championship-caliber team. Simmons and Ingram are younger and bring more potential to LA. Simmons is a ball-handling power forward that put up spectacular numbers at LSU, averaging 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on 56 percent shooting. Ingram was an offensive juggernaut at Duke, putting up 17.3 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from deep. In any trade scenario, the Lakers have to be confident about two things. The first is that Randle and Clarkson have leveled off as NBA players and won’t become championship-caliber starters. The second is that both Simmons and Ingram will be All-Star and All-NBA candidates after one season.
There is an argument to staying put and simply taking whichever player the Sixers pass on and that is valid. The above scenario isn’t a move LA should make at all costs. The Lakers can add another franchise player without giving up anything and still give Randle and Clarkson the opportunity to grow under new head coach Luke Walton. But for a franchise that takes risks whose standard for excellence is the Larry O’Brien trophy, a Simmons-Ingram-Russell trio is at least worth a look.