The Los Angeles Lakers jumped up in the 2017 NBA Draft lottery to not only keep their top-three protected pick, but jumped up to second-overall as a cherry on top.
That was the easy part for the Lakers front office. The hard part is what comes next. Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka will have to decide what to do with their lottery luck. Will they keep the pick, or use it as part of a trade in an effort to get better immediately?
We put the question out to our staff:
What should the Lakers do with their pick? Keep it or trade it? Why?
I've long been a proponent of the Lakers keeping their picks and continuing the youth movement. The biggest reason? The time to start accelerating rebuilding is when you feel you have a real stout foundation to build upon.
As we've covered time and time again on this site, no one is quite sure that the Lakers have that piece yet. Is Brandon Ingram a nascent version of Kawhi Leonard? Is D'Angelo Russell a late developing James Harden facsimile? Is Julius Randle anything more than a very, very good role player?
The truth is, we're not sure. And until we're sure of that, the Lakers are better off keeping this pick, selecting Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz or Josh Jackson and then seeing if that player, D'Angelo or Ingram are the true anchor towards the next title contender. Once identified, youngsters can start flying out the door for a more established player like Paul George or Jimmy Butler.
Barring an offer that blows the pants off the Lakers' FO (Editor’s Note: Really Ben? Are we not doing phrasing anymore?), they really need to keep this pick. The team should be in no rush to win anything (Jeanie Buss' fervent desire to have an All-Star next season for seemingly nothing more than PR reasons notwithstanding) and should instead prize the assets they have rather than burn them in an effort to achieve mediocrity.
This is accentuated with the fact that the likely pick in Lonzo Ball pairs quite well with the existing core as a shooter who can space the floor for a bunch of guys who want the ball in their hands and a top-shelf passer who can reward them in transition and as a secondary creator. There's little reason to blow this up in favor of a star who wrecks their future flexibility and accelerates the timeline to win now when the roster may simply not be ready for that.
Paul George is the big bugaboo here, obviously, but it is far easier to pick up George as a free agent in 2018 and try to offload Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov elsewhere when they have only two years left on their deals than it is now. The timeline for the team's rebuilding simply doesn't make a whole lot of sense by making a major move this offseason past selecting the best player available on their board (read: whoever the Celtics didn't select between Markelle Fultz and Ball).
Besides, blowing up the core makes far more sense after you get a much better sense for how good guys can be with the elusive secondary creator the roster has desperately needed now coming in the form of the pick. How good is Russell with Ball spacing the floor and setting him up for looks in semi-transition? Do Randle's numbers skyrocket now that he has an extra shooter who happens to be an elite passer? Does Zubac turn into a destroyer of worlds (trick question: he already is one) with Ball throwing entry passes to him on the block?
When Magic Johnson alluded to the team being quiet in free agency, it likely was an acknowledgment of the reality of the above. This is obviously a super exciting moment for the Lakers franchise and they have successfully dodged an enormous bullet, but they shouldn't squander the fruits of their good fortune in a misguided effort to prove that the Lakers are proverbially back.
The Lakers have a very clear path to take right now, and that's keeping the pick and drafting whomever they see fit. Should that be Lonzo Ball, that's all fine and well. The player they're inching closest to is Paul George, who could be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Why not give this young core a chance to see what it is before scrapping it, especially if you can keep the cabinets full of young, cost-effective talent.
Give the core a chance to grow for a year with a full summer working with Magic Johnson and the new front office direction, then re-examine where things stand with a season under everyone's belts.
The temptation to trade for a player like George immediately is almost overwhelming, but the flexibility the Lakers can attain by just holding out for one year while they develop from within is too juicy to pass up.
The Lakers should explore trade offers for the pick within reason. I don't see the Lakers trying to move outside of the top-five in any trade situation, but this is a deep draft and netting any additional picks would be a huge help.
The Lakers should keep the pick if they don't get a deal done with the Sixers, Suns or Kings to stay in the top five while also netting some assets. The youth movement is the best way to go given the current Western Conference situation (that team up in the Bay Area ain't going anywhere) and the more young, high-upside players the Lakers can add, the better.
Putting aside for a moment that the real story of the night is how the oft-unintentionally hilarious Magic Johnson out-meme’d Internet zeitgeist curator Joel Embiid (albeit, still unintentionally), I’ll go out on a limb and say that the Lakers should keep their pick regardless of what some nervous team from somewhere in the American Midwest dangles in front of them. Any single player reportedly on the market would not be nearly enough to elevate the Lakers to true relevance and would clash with the timelines of whoever remained of their young core. However, if the Lakers by some miracle had a clearly delineated plan to trade for one star with enough assets left over to leverage that trade into one for another high level guy, sure, I’d listen.
Given the extreme unlikelihood of that scenario coming to fruition, the choice here is simple: keep the pick, develop the kids, and let the ramblings of LaVar Ball wash over you in all their inane glory.
You can listen to SB Nation’s Mike Prada and Harrison Faigen debate what the Lakers should do with their second-overall pick on the latest episode of Locked on Lakers below: