The Los Angeles Lakers got the lottery luck they needed on Tuesday night, receiving the second overall pick in the NBA Draft when the ping pong balls bounced their way in New York. After the worst season in franchise history, the pick is a much-needed reward for the franchise, even if their general manager did not expect to keep it.
"Getting the pick, to me, is a bonus and it's a wonderful asset to have," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak during an appearance on AM 570 LA sports with Bill Reiter and LeAnn Tweeden on Thursday. "At number two, you should get a good player."
A high lottery pick is a great asset for any NBA team. In a draft that is considered by most to have two clear top talents (although Kupchak himself said he wasn't sure the gap between two and three was as large as most think), the second overall pick is a great spot to be. The Lakers will either be able to take one of the most talented players in the draft, or trade the pick for an established star.
There have been rumors about the latter option, but Kupchak said that right now the team plans to add another young player to their core rather than trying to swap it for a veteran.
"If we use the pick this year, which is our intention at this time, that we'll get another great player," said Kupchak. "But between now and the draft I expect to talk to most GM's in the league, whether I reach out to them just to touch base or whether they reach out to me and inquire about players that are on our roster now or even the pick, there will be a lot of conversations."
Those conversations sound unlikely to lead anywhere short of a blockbuster deal, because Kupchak says there aren't very many players the front office values more than the opportunity to add the second overall pick to their "great core of young players" at an affordable price.
"Just off the top of my head, I don't think there's a lot of players we would trade for with that pick. Certainly there's a handful, maybe two handfuls, but I don't think there's a lot," said Kupchak. "One of the beauties of getting the pick and getting a young player that can be really, really good is for the first two or three years they're locked into a salary structure that's advantageous to the team. Once they become free agents and the salary jumps up to $20-25 million a year, now yes you're keeping a good player but you're also using a lot of your cap room to keep that player and that may affect your ability to put together a team that year."
So while Kupchak isn't completely closing the door on moving the pick, it doesn't sound like it's the most likely outcome. Most expect the Lakers to add whichever of the Ben Simmons/Brandon Ingram pairing the Philadelphia 76ers don't select first overall, and that seems like the right move for the franchise, both for the financial reasons Kupchak outlined and because that player will have the opportunity to grow up naturally with the rest of the Lakers' young core of Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance, Jr.
The Lakers have drafted well over the last several years, and by all indications, Mitch Kupchak plans to do so again.
All quotes transcribed via AM 570. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.