Over the past four years, the Lakers haven’t had the luxury of retraining their first-round pick in the NBA draft. Those picks were mostly used as trade assets in exchange for acquiring the likes of Anthony Davis (in 2019), Dennis Schröder (in 2020), and Russell Westbrook (in 2021).
In last year’s draft, Los Angeles even had to negotiate with the Orlando Magic in order to acquire Max Christie's 35th overall in the second round by giving up a future second-round pick and additional cash. Not having a first-round or even second-round pick for multiple years isn’t uncommon for a team built to contend for championships within a time frame, especially if they’ve constantly had to shake up their roster every year like the Lakers have.
But for the first time since 2018, the Lakers will be able to participate in the first round of the NBA Draft, which will take place on June 22. The Purple and Gold will be given the opportunity to draft the 17th pick due to their regular season performance this season.
Now, the question is: Will the Lakers decide to retain their 17th pick? Or once again trade it for a win-now piece as they aim to contend once again next season? According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, it seems like the organization is leaning towards doing the former unless, of course, there’s a trade opportunity on the table significant enough to give up this year’s first-round pick.
The most likely outcome is the Lakers keeping the No. 17 pick, according to multiple team sources not authorized to speak publicly. But that could change if the right trade becomes available — including a team making an enticing offer for the Lakers to trade back later in the draft. I think the right trade would involve using the pick to secure a starting-level upgrade available in a trade on draft night or later this offseason — like, say, Myles Turner in Indiana, who I discussed in Part 1 of this mailbag.
However, given the impressive track record of Lakers assistant general manager and co-owner Jesse Buss and the organization’s scouting department, the Lakers have a chance to hit at least a double at that stage of the draft. Whoever they draft could eventually be more valuable on the trade market than the average No. 17 pick.
Los Angeles will strike if there is an obvious and appealing offer, but they haven’t retained one of their own first-round picks since 2018 (Mo Wagner at No. 25) or had a top-17 pick since 2017. Their last non-lottery pick in the teens was Javaris Crittenton at No. 19 in 2007. This is a chance to find a player who can help both now and in the future.
Obviously, there are several risks that come with retaining the 17th pick and betting on a rookie instead of utilizing the asset to perhaps acquire another player that can address the Lakers’ roster issues. But like what Buha implied above, Los Angeles has the opportunity to strike gold by drafting someone who can instantly fill a void on the roster — and at the same time, can be developed for the team’s future.
It will really just boil down to selecting the perfect prospect. Thankfully, it’s difficult to bet against Buss’ successful draft record, with the kind of young talent he’s introduced to the Lakers organization over the past couple of years.
Buss and the scouting department have already hosted multiple draft workouts and will continue to do so until draft day arrives, as they cast their net wide to find the best talent possible for the 17th pick this year.
Who knows? Maybe the key piece for the Lakers to be serious contenders next season is just a draft pick away — whether the pick is retained or utilized as a trade asset.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani