Once Lakers fans realized that they only thing their 2013-14 team would be competing for was ping pong balls, they quickly went all-in on the “Embrace the Tank” approach. However, players are not fans. During the team’s last couple of games, players like Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill weren’t worried about who would be carrying the franchise 10 years from now. They just wanted to win the remaining games for themselves – and they did that.
Who knows what would have happened if the Lakers would have lost those two meaningless games. Maybe they would have gotten a top-three pick in the draft. Maybe they could have drafted one of the players people are already declaring all-stars. No one will ever really know.
To some this might sound like a sad or disappointing story for the franchise, but it shouldn’t be looked at that way. They Lakers are locked in at seven for the upcoming draft, and it will be the highest selection the team has had in 32 years. Sure, the Lakers will have no shot at Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Dante Exum – but there are other gems in this draft that aren’t getting much recognition due to the aforementioned players.
And for the Lakers, their gem should be Kentucky forward Julius Randle.
If Randle is available when the Lakers pick, they shouldn’t hesitate to choose him and Mitch Kupchak should sit back with his Senator Palpatine-esque allure knowing he just got a steal. When you think about it, wherever Randle goes should be considered a steal for that team. This is a deep draft, and that’s the only reason Randle is an option for the Lakers. This could be a moot point since last year’s draft was so weak, but there is no doubt in my mind that Randle would have been the first player taken in the 2013 draft.
“But what about Marcus Smart? The Lakers desperately need a young point guard to help take the team over. Look at the rest of the league – especially the West – it’s a point guard’s league!”
I would respectfully disagree to all of that. I’m not a fan of Smart, but that’s not what this is about. I think the newfound value placed on the point guard position is fool’s gold. When was the last time a team won it all with a point guard being THE centerpiece of the team? I’d have to go all the way back to the ‘80s and say the Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas. That was a very long time ago. Some could argue that Tony Parker has done it since he has won four titles as a top point guard, but Parker isn’t the type of franchise player I’m talking about for this discussion.
For example, take a look at Chris Paul. And I mean really take a look. Look through his funny commercials and flashy regular season numbers, what did you find? Well, what you should have found is a player that hasn’t gone further than the second-round of the playoffs in his nine years of being a professional basketball player. Paul has been the consensus top point guard in the association for some time now, but he really has nothing to show for it.
Now take a look at the league’s best up-and-coming point guard, Kyrie Irving. Irving was the first pick in 2011, and went on to win Rookie of the Year and last year’s All-Star Game MVP. So it’s clear that Irving is a star, but in his three years at Cleveland they have gone a combined 78-152.
So you have to ask yourself, is having an elite point guard that important?
Not only would Julius Randle be the best player available for the Lakers, but he would also fit a need. Once again, a lot of people tend to put all their eggs in the point guard basket and pretend that is the Lakers’ biggest need, but the fact of the matter is the Lakers have a lot of needs. It wasn’t only the absence of Kobe Bryant last year – the Lakers are simply not a good team as they are constructed right now.
The power forward position – where Randle would be playing – is currently a big question mark. Jordan Hill is a fan favorite and has done well when given the opportunity, but he is a free agent and didn’t sound like a person willing to return at the end of last season. Even if he is open to returning, it would be interesting to see how much the Lakers would be willing to give him. Ryan Kelly was one of the better surprises from last year’s draft, but he certainly doesn’t have “Savior of Los Angeles” written on him anywhere.