The Los Angeles Lakers have made a handful of decisions since moving on from the embarrassment that was their 17-win season under Byron Scott and none of it has been a surprise. They hired a coach that seemed destined to join the franchise in Luke Walton, drafted player 1B in what was considered a two-player draft when they nabbed Brandon Ingram, then added young talent to their most scarce position by selecting Ivica Zubac in the second round of the NBA Draft. No surprises, all strictly to the script, and it's about time.
Hiring Walton felt like a no-brainer for everyone involved. His ties to the Lakers franchise aside, it's what he (hopefully) picked up in his time with the Warriors that made it such an obvious play. The Lakers are moving into an era of fast-paced play headlined by who they hope becomes an elite point guard in D'Angelo Russell. Who better to coat Russell with lacquer than someone who's spent the last few years working with Stephen Curry and leading the Warriors?
Easy call for all.
The Lakers could have gotten cute with the No. 2 pick and turned it some sort of abomination of what it was always meant to be. They could have reached and taken three-point shooting extraordinaire Buddy Hield, especially considering how much the front office loves to grab multi-year college players. They could have made a serious push to trade out for an established all-star type player, but all indications point to other teams making that push and the Lakers sitting back without much intent to make such a deal. Mitch Kupchak and the basketball operations team took door No. 1 and showed no reason to believe their eyes were ever anywhere else.
Small forward has been a debilitating need for the Lakers for years and they just-so-happened to draft a player who fills that mold.
Wrapping up draft night by bringing enormous Lakers fan and human being Ivica Zubac to California was a nice cherry on top for the front office as they prepare for free agency. Zubac projected as a first-round talent, but limitations to his international play over the last few years due to injuries and contractual complications led to a slide for the 7'1 behemoth.
Maybe he pans out, maybe he doesn't, but there's no question the Lakers needed to start building up their prospects at center. Taking the best available big man with the 32nd-overall pick was a smart move for the current roster construction.
Everything seems so simple for the Lakers right now. They got their coach, they got their franchise small forward, and they injected additional youth in their frontcourt. Sticking to the script may not be as flashy as some of the swings we're seeing teams take around the league, but they've been writing lines for this moment since the summer of 2013. This young core that has fans squealing with excitement doesn't exist without Dwight Howard's departure and Kobe Bryant's Achilles tear leaving the franchise in a smoldering crater.
Now the Lakers are sitting pretty, loaded with high-end youth and more money than they can responsibly spend in free agency. It's easy to dump on the franchise because that's the kind of product they've put on the floor over recent memory, but if you take a look around you can see the flowers blooming. Those seeds were planted carefully by a front office who, with a helping hand from ping-pong ball luck, are witnessing roses grow from the concrete and around the garbage that's littered the outskirts of Staples Center.
It's been a painful waiting process, and it hasn't been without some serious swings and misses, but here the Lakers are. They've drafted incredibly well over the last three years and have been careful with their salary space. Now they're flush with possibilities, and it just so happens to coincide with the end of the Kobe Bryant era.
The bases are loaded with young talent and Mitch Kupchak's preparing to step up to the plate with a $70 million bat. Batter up, NBA.