The Los Angeles Lakers were on the receiving end of some fortunate bounces on Tuesday night, as they defied lottery odds and ended up landing the fourth overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. Most expect the front office to use the pick as additional ammo to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, owners of the first overall pick. It isn’t a guarantee, though, and with David Griffin now at the helm, he’ll go with the best overall package.
The Lakers are probable favorites at this juncture to land the big man, but if he decides to stay in New Orleans or if LA gets outbid, they’re left with the fourth overall pick in what many consider to be a three-player draft. What are their options going forward if a Davis trade is off the table?
With LeBron James on your roster for three more years, they obviously want to maximize their title window. Would trading the pick for a talent below Davis’ stature serve that pursuit? Or are they better off keeping it and hoping the player they choose develops in tandem with the rest of the young core? Let’s take a closer look at the two options they face:
Trade the pick
Trading the pick for a player who can come in and make an immediate impact is the ideal course of action in Los Angeles, but if it can’t be Davis, pickings are slim. The closest thing to a star player available would likely be Bradley Beal, as the Wizards aren’t really in a position to compete and Beal proved he was an elite player last season. He averaged 25 points and played in over 75 games for the third straight season, a huge benchmark for a guy who missed an average of 20 games per season over his first four years.
A package of the fourth pick and two of Lonzo Ball/Brandon Ingram/Kyle Kuzma/Josh Hart would probably get the job done, but the Wizards may hesitate to give up the only bright spot of their franchise, and if Beal goes down again, the Lakers are right back to where they were last year.
Other than Beal, it’s barren. Mike Conley is available for trade, but is long past the point where he was worth a top-five draft pick, no matter how relatively weak the class is. The Pistons could be easily convinced to give up Andre Drummond for that pick and salary filler, but there’s no reason for the Lakers to do that unless they’re truly desperate. If they miss out on Davis and can’t get Beal for a reasonable price, they may have to go with their last resort….
Keep the pick
Admittedly, this would’ve been a far more attractive proposition had the Lakers landed at No. 3 instead of No. 4. It’s not out of the question the Lakers get lucky and end up with either R.J. Barrett or Ja Morant, but that seems to be a pipe dream at this point. Still, there are a few prospects who would fit very well into the Lakers’ immediate and long-term plans.
There are very few projected to make an instant impact outside of the top three, but the beauty of a draft like this is there’s always a player someone overlooked who will end up being great. If the Lakers can find someone like that, their future outlook becomes much brighter. But who will it be?
De'Andre Hunter stands out as an obvious choice; he was hand-crafted to play a 3-and-D role in the NBA, shooting 43 percent from deep at Virginia while showing basic playmaking chops that make the best 3-and-D players invaluable to their teams. He has the size and strength to compete from day one, even if it’ll take some time to adjust to NBA schemes and speed.
Darius Garland is another option as a fellow Klutch client for LeBron to team with and a playmaking point guard who can shoot. Injuries are a red flag after he played no more than five games at Vanderbilt as a freshman last season, and his defensive chops are questionable at best, but LeBron does like it when his front office gets “his” guys.
Jarrett Culver projects to have the highest ceiling out of the second-tier of prospects, but is definitely still a work in progress. His size and playmaking potential are tantalizing to imagine next to LeBron, but he won’t be showing up on opening night anywhere near a finished product.
In an ideal world, the Lakers end up with Davis. But as this season’s trade deadline taught us, we no longer live in a world where the Lakers end up with their perfect circumstance simply because they’re the Lakers. Whoever’s really in charge in Lakerland better be examining these options closely, because it’s not going to be a cakewalk. The clock is ticking on the LeBron era, and what they do with this draft pick may yet decide how we view his tenure in LA.