The rumor mill has been in play for weeks that the Lakers would trade their top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The idea seemed reasonable until they landed the second pick for the second year in a row. Now the situation has gotten very, very interesting.
For a team that has seemingly worked sans roadmap, wandering the NBA Season the way a Roomba would bump and bruise its way across a living room, the team may have lucked its way into rebuilding plan.
With D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson at the core, the Lakers are staring at potential perfect fit in the prohibitive top picks in the upcoming draft - Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons. While the franchise needs to win now, Kobe Bryant's superstardom proved the team can still pull ratings even in a dismal season. While Kobe had 20 years to build to a farewell tour, the Lakers spotlighted Bryant from the day he was drafted. He was already the talk of the town when Shaq joined in his prime. Promoting his exciting style of play, good looks and the chance to join the conversation early, the Lakers set up the perfect Showtime redux that carried them through a two-decade roller coaster.
Rather than beg any All-Star that will listen to join forces, the team possesses in-hand a marketable team that they can build around with their $60 million in cap space. No need to throw money at aging stars who will not push the win total or fill seats when they can ride the thoroughbreds currently sitting in their stable.
Following their disastrous 2015-16 season, patience might sound far-fetched, but the smart money will understand. Over the past three years, the franchises rebuild has made absolutely no sense. Coaches came through a revolving door - Mike Brown, Mike D'Antoni, Byron Scott. Rosters were assembled with Scotch tape, designed to fit no particular style of play or mindset. The team was neither tough and defensive minded, fast and high scoring or even mediocre. Simply a bunch of 19-year-olds and random role players paired with a retiring 37-year-old superstar coming off of devastating injuries.
One minute the team would run the collegiate Princeton Offense, the next they desperately attempted to be up-tempo and so on. However, the team showed signs of life when Coach Scott opened up to playing his rookies in a more fluid, screen-roll offense. The impacts were immediate and compelling, including a victory over the 73-9 Warriors and a smattering of games where Russell posted 30+ points while Randle became a double-double machine. This is not to forget Larry Nance who has offered a highlight reel per game.
The marketability is on the tin - the '17 Lakers are young, hungry and ready to run. Enter Showtime III. With newly-minted Head Coach, Luke Walton, the Lakers are built for the fun-and-gun style (sans the defense) that Walton has already successfully utilized with his current team. In a copycat league, the blueprint and infrastructure are certainly in place. Now the Lakers can slowly build a winning culture while the Front Office can market their coming of age story. Fans will witness Genesis.
The icing on the cake is the upcoming draft. Either Simmons or Ingram will be available for the second pick, and both players fit in their own unique way. Simmons offers a Lebron-esque type of Point Forward. His shot needs to develop, but his ability to ball handle, rebound and distribute are next level. While he might seem redundant with Randle's skill set, there is ample time to assess any positional logjams next season and make the appropriate roster moves when the best opportunity emerges. The Lakers will have powerful assets.
Meanwhile, Ingram offers an instant fit in the mold of Kevin Durant, a superstar the Lakers already covet. However, where many stars on Lakers wish list (Hereford, Durant) hover at the prime age of 30, the Lakers offer a mismatched young core that is barely drinking age. There should be no desperation for deal-making when the Lakers are locked with burgeoning talent that will sell tickets for a decade.
It also bears mentioning that the Lakers have fire-saled exceptional young talent in the past. 2013 Defensive Player of the the Year, Marc Gasol, was the Lakers' second rounder (48th pick) in 2007. They threw him in during the blockbuster deal for his brother Pau Gasol. Marc was already a proven talent abroad and would have been a great fit alongside his brother, had patience prevailed. Imagine the power of marketing "Gasol x 2" to a global market.
Then there is Miami Heat center, Hassan Whiteside, who favored joining the Lakers when he tried out in 2014. In another example of poor judgment the team rejected his services only to have him on their radar for a max contract this off-season. They had a similar story with Kent Bazemore, who they picked up for peanuts only to let his services go for nothing in return. Bazemore is now a highly productive member of the Atlanta Hawks.
There is no need to repeat past mistakes when the team has a coach, a blueprint and a valuable draft pick ready to roll. Rather than gamble, the team can parlay their guaranteed position while still making a splash, filling seats and building for the long term. Their 2013 "Super Team" experiment should already have taught them the pitfalls of overnight turnarounds.
Here and now the Lakers would be wise to stay the course and create a foundation around their fast and dazzling group of prodigies. Showtime III has arrived, albeit very early.