The 2014 NBA Draft Lottery was a disappointing day for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the fact that they finished the 2013-14 season with the sixth-worst record in the league, they ended up with the No. 7 pick in the draft because the Cleveland Cavaliers defied the odds and won the No. 1 overall pick. Going into the lottery, the Cavaliers had a 1.7% chance of landing the No. 1 pick.
However, as disappointing as the night was for them, they still had a high draft pick to kick their rebuild off with, or use in a trade. At the time, the No. 7 pick was their highest draft selection since they drafted James Worthy with the No. 1 overall pick in 1982.
The Lakers ended up keeping the pick and drafting Julius Randle, a high-energy power forward out of the University of Kentucky. Even with the help of hindsight, that pick is defensible, but had they moved a few spots forward instead of backwards, they would have had the opportunity to draft three-time All-Star center Joel Embiid.
Embiid has an injury history that dates back to well before he was drafted with the No. 3 overall pick, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most dominant big men in the NBA, and his personality is perfect for Los Angeles.
That’s probably why Embiid himself wanted the Lakers draft him, according to an excerpt from Yaron Weitzman’s new book Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers that was published on Bleacher Report on Tuesday (emphasis mine):
That wasn’t good enough for the Cavaliers. Griffin had a mandate from ownership to win and needed a player who could immediately help the team. Even if he wanted to take Embiid, the Cavaliers’ doctors wouldn’t give him the green light. The Bucks, meanwhile, had locked in on Parker, another Tellem client, at No. 2, and anyway, Embiid had no interest in playing there. “That place is corny,” he told Nyam. What he really wanted was to fall to the Lakers at No. 7. He’d been living in Los Angeles and grown comfortable in the city. “Work your magic,” he told Tellem. Tellem knew there was no chance of Embiid plunging that far, so instead he and Nyam sold Embiid on Philadelphia. Tellem had grown up there. Nyam had moved there to play high school basketball. It took a bit, but Embiid bought in.
If the Sixers wanted him, he was theirs.
Of course, Embiid wouldn’t have have changed the Lakers’ fortunes in the 2014-15 or 2015-16 seasons because he sat out of his first two seasons with a stress fracture in his foot, but he would have been the perfect building block for the post-Kobe Bryant era with D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Beyond that, it’s hard to guess which direction the Lakers would have gone with Embiid on the roster.
Would they have still ended up with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft? Would they have been a more attractive free agent destination in 2017? Would they still have gotten to sign LeBron James? And would they have been just as patient as the Philadelphia 76ers were with Embiid and offered him a $148 million contract extension in his second season?
There’s no telling, but it’s a fun alternate reality to think about, and who knows? Maybe Embiid will team up with Anthony Davis and another superstar forward — one from Greece, perhaps — when he hits unrestricted free agency in 2023. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with two NBA champions in their prime?