Lakers' plans still up in the air on eve of NBA draft
The lottery luck of a month ago has led to something so predictable, so Lakers-like, that it's pretty much ingrained in their brand — intrigue.
What the Lakers will do with the No. 2 pick in Thursday's NBA draft is a closely held secret.
They could make the safe move, taking Duke center Jahlil Okafor and his Tim Duncan-like skills. Or they could draft Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell and be keeper of all the "taller Chris Paul" whispers.
Less likely, they'll take Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis or end up trading the pick to the Sacramento Kings as part of a blockbuster deal for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.
One thing is certain. General Manager Mitch Kupchak will have the final say on what the Lakers do with the pick, assuming they keep it.
He will receive input from team executive Jim Buss and Lakers scouting director Jesse Buss, not to mention other scouts' opinions, but the last call will be Kupchak's, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Lakers also own the 27th pick (after Jeremy Lin was acquired from Houston last July) and their own second-round selection, 34th overall.
The important pick is obviously at No. 2, the Lakers' highest since taking James Worthy first overall in 1982.
Okafor became the first freshman to win ACC player of the year while leading Duke to the NCAA championship and averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. He showed the most polished post game in college, complete with quick spin moves and a face-up jumper, while talent evaluators drooled over the size of his hands.
The main question marks are his free-throw shooting (51% at Duke) and shot-blocking skills, but his supporters include one of the best college coaches of all-time.
"I don't think I'll find another Okafor because I've never had a guy like him," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Times. "I think he's the best player in the draft. There's nobody like him."
Russell's dynamic personality is matched only by his playmaking ability, making him an eye-catching possibility.
He didn't always shoot well when the Lakers attended his Ohio State games but his in-person workouts eased that concern. The Lakers would have to do some reshuffling if they acquired him, moving Jordan Clarkson from point guard to his more natural position of shooting guard.
Porzingis has less of a chance to be drafted by the Laker but intrigued them with his workouts and unique blend of talent as a 7-foot center with three-point touch.
And if Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns fell to them, the Lakers would snap him up quickly, though there was only an extremely slim chance the Minnesota Timberwolves would pass him up with the No. 1 selection.
Despite the round-the-clock hand-wringing of which player to take, the Lakers should be thankful they even own such a high pick.
They finished with the NBA's fourth-worst record (21-61) but jumped two spots in the draft thanks to a lucky lottery night last month. Had they fallen two spots, of which there was a 17.3% chance, they would have forfeited the top-five protected pick as part of the Steve Nash trade, but the plastic drum spat out ping-pong balls numbered 6-8-4-11, and the Lakers were awarded the second spot after the worst season in the team's 67-year history.
Meanwhile, the team continued to inquire about Cousins with an offer centered on that No. 2 pick, which might be "the best offer the Kings can get" at this point, according to a person familiar with the situation, although the Kings have publicly stated they are not interested in trading Cousins.
The Lakers would likely have to add Julius Randle to complete the deal, among other salary considerations. Randle sustained a season-ending broken leg on opening night last season after being drafted seventh overall.
Cousins, 24, averaged 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists last season, his fifth in the NBA. He is one of the game's top centers and active defensively, averaging 1.7 blocked shots and 1.5 steals last season.
Kings Vice President Vlade Divac was "very irritated" to read reports of the Kings' desire to trade Cousins, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Divac also denied that Sacramento Coach George Karl was pushing for a deal involving Cousins. A Yahoo Sports report said Karl and Cousins had a tenuous relationship at best. Karl became the Kings' head coach in February after Mike Malone was fired.
Cousins has three more years and $50.9 million remaining on his contract. He was the fifth overall pick in 2010.