For one, Garland is a promising prospect who would be worthy of consideration for the fourth overall pick regardless, due to his superlative shooting range and handles. Helping matters (at least potentially) is that — like LeBron James — Garland is repped by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, meaning that he was almost always going to get connected to the Lakers no matter where they were picking in the first round. There have also been rumors circulating around the league that the Lakers have already promised to draft Garland if he falls to them.
But to hear Garland tell it on ESPN’s “The Jump,” he doesn’t have a preferred team he wants to end up with in the draft:
“Nah, I don’t have a team. It’s been my dream to play in the NBA, so I’m happy wherever I go.”
When host Rachel Nichols presented Garland with all the speculation connecting him to the Lakers, however, Garland couldn’t help but show the slightest hints of a smile before stepping back into his talking points:
“It’d be an honor to play with Laker Nation. It’s a legacy. Just to be in the arena, it’s crazy. But my dream is just to play in the NBA, so I’m happy wherever I go.”
And despite their Klutch Sports connection, Garland said he wasn’t trying to get James to push the Lakers to draft him:
“No lobbying, not at all.”
Still, the speculation about Garland and the Lakers will continue up until the moment they make (or trade) their pick, and the reasons go beyond mock drafts and small smiles on television.
A year ago, before it was known that the Lakers would have a high pick in this draft, and before Garland had even began his first and only season at Vanderbilt, he admitted in an interview with “Overtime” that his favorite team growing up was the Lakers (skip to the 3:30ish mark of the below video):
“I gotta go with the Lakers.”
And it also sounds like the purple and gold runs deep in Garland’s blood, because it isn’t just his connection to James that draws him to the Lakers. As he said on “The Jump,” his love for the team goes back further, back to Kobe Bryant being his favorite player growing up:
“Yeah he was, for sure. My family has been a Kobe family for a long time.”
The Klutch connection with James is real though, as the two have been spotted together a few times, but most notably with Garland showing up in videos with James and his son at the latter’s AAU games, and even in videos from said games that James himself has posted on Instagram:
.@KingJames at Bronny’s game w/ @dariusgarland22 (Klutch Sports athlete) who is rumored to be a top pick in the lottery w/ some mock drafts having him @ #4 to the @Lakers. #LakeShow #Lakers #NBA pic.twitter.com/jm0OV1Rqp1— Audel Del Toro (@AudelDelToro) May 26, 2019
Now, does any of this mean with certainty that Garland will be the Lakers’ pick at No. 4 when the draft rolls around on June 21? Of course not, as it’s far from a guarantee they won’t trade the pick. Still, the signs connecting Garland to L.A. have been building for a while now, and will almost assuredly only continue to crescendo as we get closer to draft day.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. An updating list of every player the Lakers have worked out so far can be found here. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.