The Los Angeles Lakers exited the evening of the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery in a much stronger position than they entered it, with general manager Rob Pelinka sitting in the back room watching the team’s pick jump seven spots from where it was projected (No. 11) to the fourth overall pick.
The major question facing the franchise in the aftermath is simple: Will the Lakers keep the pick, or trade it? During a conference call with reporters immediately following the lottery, Pelinka said he is still deciding, but that the Lakers are in a much better spot than they were entering the night (via Mike Trudell of Lakers.com):
“We had scouting meetings with (Director of Scouting and Assistant GM) Jesse Buss and our scouts, and of course our focus was more around 11, because that’s where the huge probability was resting. But now it shifts, what we can get at four. I will tell you there are some incredibly talented, impact players there that we’re going to study deeply. And then of course we’ll canvas the league and see what value that pick has. But either of those options is an extraordinary win for the franchise … I already talked to Jeanie Buss and she is just thrilled. I think it should really be exciting for our fans. It’s an unexpected event for the Lakers and we’re certainly really blessed.”
Pelinka is not wrong, and the most obvious move this opens up is a potential trade for Anthony Davis. And sure enough, immediately following the lottery, Davis’ camp put it out there that his mind still hasn’t changed in the wake of Zion Williamson’s imminent arrival with the New Orleans Pelicans via the No. 1 pick, and that Davis still is requesting a trade.
Whether the No. 4 pick is enough of an extra sweetener to get this deal over the goal line in the wake of Brandon Ingram’s health situation is still an open question, but it would seem unlikely that the Lakers actually keep the selection, regardless of where it ultimately ends up being sent. The Lakers presumably want to get the most out of the remainder of their time with LeBron James, and in a draft widely considered to be pretty mediocre outside of Williamson, it’s not probable that anyone they could get with the No. 4 pick could be a big contributor right away.
So where does that leave the Lakers exactly? Well, seemingly with the pick being a bigger trade asset than the actual player, even if it’s not in a Davis deal.
And I know what you’re thinking: If this is such a mediocre draft, why would another team want that pick? The reality is that teams talk themselves into players every year, and all it takes is one general manager to really see the fourth pick as someone they can reboot their franchise around — or sell tickets around as the first cornerstone of a rebuild — for a deal to come into focus.
The Lakers will obviously still evaluate players as Pelinka says. Their scouting department surely already has, and will work out a few more until they find which ones they like best. But while the Lakers theoretically could keep this pick, all logical signs point to it getting moved, either as part of a Davis deal, or in some sort of smaller package for a lower-tier star like Bradley Beal. Pelinka said the Lakers will canvass the league, and as front offices around the NBA solidify their plans for the offseason now that they know how the draft stands, expect the Lakers to be active in seeing what the best way they can utilize this pick is as well.