The Future of the Los Angeles Lakers
Just a couple days ago, the Lakers made a blockbuster trade that I don't think even the best analyst could have predicted. They traded D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft. This accomplishes a few things for the Lakers, and also makes a statement that Lonzo Ball will for sure be the 2nd pick in the NBA Draft, otherwise there would be no reason to trade D'Angelo Russell. While Russell has shown signs of promise, he is not what the Lakers were hoping for him to be with the #2 pick in 2015, and they decided it was time to move on. He does still have a huge amount of upside though, and that is exactly why he was included in this trade. Mozgov is on one of the absolute worst contracts in the NBA, still set to make $54 million over the next 3 years. There is no way any NBA team would take on that contract without some sort of compensation, that compensation just happened to be D'Angelo Russell. Brook Lopez is also on a huge a contract, however his deal is expiring after this season, meaning the Lakers could save all that money by simply letting him walk. Now Paul George has made it clear to all that he does not want to be in Indiana, and his destination of choice just so happens to be Los Angeles. If the Lakers decide to let Brook Lopez walk at the end of the season, they will have enough money to offer Paul George a max deal, and ensure that he will come to LA. With a young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac, the Lakers have a solid group of players to add Paul George into. However, they still posses the 27th and 28th picks, and could add even more to their promising nucleus.
While 27 and 28 are not the most valuable first round picks to have, there have been many NBA stars such as Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, and Marc Gasol taken well after those spots. There are two players I see falling this far in the draft that could potentially be sleepers in this very deep draft. The first being Caleb Swanigan out of Purdue. Swanigan averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game on 52.7 FG%, and shot 44.7% from three-point range. This was all over about 32.5 minutes per game. These stats are quite impressive, and it amazes me that he is projected to fall this low to the Lakers. I don't see any reason the Lakers should not snatch him up at 27, as his stats are very respectable, he can stretch the floor at 6'9. Not to mention that every single time I watched a Purdue game, including the game against #3 Villanova early in the season, Swanigan was the player who popped off my screen more so than anybody else on either team. I see him potentially developing into a Draymond Green type of player. Not necessarily a defensive stopper, but someone who will do the dirty work that nobody else will do, and is not concerned with being the top scorer or "getting his shots" per say.
The next player who I think the Lakers should take with pick 28 is Josh Hart from Villanova. Many scouts do not see his college excellence translating to the pro game, however I think he will be a serviceable NBA role player or starter. With the 28th pick in the draft, you can only hope to get someone who can play a good role or eventually start, and Hart has the potential to be that and then some. Hart is a four year player at Villanova, which makes people hesitate because he is not as young as other prospects, however I think the four years give him an advantage over others. He is a proven scorer, amassing over 1900 points scored in his career, including his freshman year when he wasn't even a starter. The Lakers also need a shooting guard, to be a scorer with passes from Lonzo Ball being zipped in off the drive, and Hart, an over 40% three-point shooter in his senior year, more than fits that mold. Hart also won a national championship at Villanova, proving that he knows how to win, and that is something the Lakers need right now, someone who can help you get those close wins and be a true competitor by nature. Only time will tell if this is the right choice, but the reigning Big East Player of the Year can't be a bad choice with a late first-round pick.
Picture this, Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Swanigan/Randle, Zubac, with Josh Hart and Swanigan/Randle coming off the bench while the other one starts, give that lineup a few years to develop and mesh, and I see no reason why they cannot be contenders assuming these young players reach their full potential on the court.
Statistics from www.ESPN.com and www.sports-reference.com