Another record breaking season is coming to an end in Los Angeles for the purple and gold. Again, it isn't in the glamarous way the spoiled Laker fans are used too, but quite the opposite. The city, as a whole, has gone through a full 180 degree swing in recent history as the Clippers are en route to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and the Lakers remain with questions.
Change to mediocrity started with Jim Buss taking the franchise over. Jim, unlike his father, Dr. Jerry Buss, doesn't seem to have quite a grasp over the game of basketball, and has made some atrocious decisions to coach the team. Mike D'Antoni and Mike Brown were both failures at epic proportions, while Byron Scott needs a season with somewhat of a resemblance of a team.
Mitch Kupchak has done a solid job in the draft, namely with the selection of Jordan Clarkson, a combination guard from Mizzouri, in the 2014 draft. Clarkson has come in, out of nowhere, and won the Western Conference's Rookie of the Month honors in March, over Andrew Wiggins, the consensus leader for the Rookie of the Year award. Lottery pick Julius Randle may have been in the discussion, though, an injury 10 minutes into his debut season will keep him out until the 2015-16 campaign gets under way. Ryan Kelly in the second round in 2013 as well was a good pick by Kupchak as Kelly has shown the ability to spread the floor with his jumper, while not being afraid to put the ball on the floor.
A pivotal summer coming up for the prestigious franchise, and it all begins with the draft lottery. The Lakers will only keep their pick if it is in the top five, otherwise, it would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (received it from Phoenix, who received it in exchange for Steve Nash). With about a week remaining in the campaign, the Lakers are holding snug onto the fourth worst record, and two teams would need to jump, raising confidence in the pick remaining under Kupchak's disposal. The Lakers will also have the 28th selection from Houston, their own 34th selection and the Clippers second, provided it isn't in the top 50 or from 55-60.
Under the assumption that the Lakers maintain the fourth selection, Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor will be, all but, guaranteed to be off the board. D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay are the next two consensus top prospects, meaning, the Lakers won't have the dilemma of picking between the two. Russell would be a great pick up, though, the best top prospect for the Lakers, past the top two, would be Willie Cauley-Stein.
Defensive potential possed by Cauley-Stein is on an entirely nother level. Fitting in with the offensive minded Randle would give the Lakers a spectacular duo at the four and five slots to build around for the future. Though, the fourth slot may be too high for the stout blocking big man, opening up trade possibilties. Cauley-Stein is projected to go anywhere from the 8th-13th picks, according to most mocks. If Philadelphia gets Miami's first (top 10 protected), and Cauley-Stein is available, would the 76ers give up the 18th selection, from Oklahoma City and giving up the rights to the Lakers 2016 pick, which would also be top five protected.
Let's assume that they do. Lakers remain with three picks remaining, the 18th overall, the 28th overall and the 34th overall, as the Clippers are currently slated at 55 and aren't expected to drop. Availability at those slots is a wild guess as the variables existing are enormous. A wide open roster helps, as the Lakers are slated to have Clarkson, Bryant, Nick Young and Randle on the books, as Ed Davis has a player option he is expected to decline. Team options for Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Jabari Brown also are available.
RJ Hunter would be a coup at the 18th slot, due to his offensive prowess and ability to knock shots down like no tomorrow. Learning behind Bryant would do wonders for the youngster from Georgia State. Hunter needs plenty of work to improve his strength and handles, if he wants to enter the higher echelon of scoring guards in the association. Not to mention to be a worthy defender, and the work ethic is there.
Houston pick remains for the side, and Rondae Hills-Jefferson is my pick here. Hills-Jefferson is a stout defender, who will remain in the league for years and years as a glue guy, someone like a Tony Allen, and arguably be the steal of the draft. As a Clipper fan and picking up the Arizona Wildcats as my third NCAA team since moving to Tucson, it pains me to give the Lakers a guy I'm high on this late in the draft, but can't pass up on RHJ. Would fit in nicely with WCS to form a defensive squad.
In the second, the pick should go to a developing player, though, the roster spots are wide open to earn some playing time. I'd go with the athletic Cliff Alexander, who loves attacking the boards. Alexander has a ton of work to do on every other aspect of his game, and could be stashed in the development league with the Los Angeles D-Fenders to prove his worth.
Team those picks with boatloads of cap space, and the Purple and Gold can make Los Angeles a two playoff team city next year and Bryant, who many expect to retire, can go out in late April as opposed to not making the playoff cut.