With the second pick looking more and more like it will be Brandon Ingram, the Lakers have a golden opportunity to turn things around this year.
Writing on the wall
Much to the disappointment of about half of the Laker fan base, it’s looking like Philadelphia is going to be taking Ben Simmons with the first overall pick on June 23rd Here is the report from Bob Cooney of Philly.com
Brown mentioned the names of Duke’s Brandon Ingram, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Providence’s Kris Dunn. But when it came to saying the name of LSU’s Ben Simmons, Brown simply referred to the versatile, 6-10 forward as “him.”
Brown has a history with the Simmons family, having coached Ben’s father, David Simmons, for four years in Australia, beginning in 1989. Brown was coaching David when Ben was born and has maintained a relationship with the family.
Brown is a reference to Brett Brown, who is the current 76er’s coach. Brown has a close personal relationship with the Simmons family, so it would not be a surprise if the 76er’s wound up taking the young 6’10 phenom as the 1st overall pick. Also stated today in a report from Harrison Faigen of Silver screen and roll.
Derek Bodner of Philadelphia magazine reports that “multiple sources with knowledge of the Sixers’ thought process say it is LSU forward Ben Simmons who Colangelo is leaning toward selecting first overall in June 23rd’s NBA draft.”
Though Simmons is going to be an incredible player, I have personally mentioned many times that his overall fit with the Lakers is not a great one. Simmons plays a very similar type of game to Julius Randle, and although Randle is not as skilled as Simmons, he is much bigger.
This leaves the Lakers with an incredible consolation prize: the 6’9″ wing out of Duke, Brandon Ingram. Unlike Simmons, Ingram plays more off the ball, and has a very fine tuned outside jumper. This is something that Simmons continues to work on, though it is a huge question mark for him. Although Ingram isn’t as skilled as Simmons with the ball in his hand, he still has incredible court vision with his height and can still make crisp passes. I’ll leave the other Ingram highlights to my co-writer @‘s excellent scouting report for him here.
Second most important free agent
One of the most important factors to consider when drafting Ingram is the flexibility he offers to the Lakers during the important free agency period that follows the draft. As I stated before, the free agency focus this off-season was always a center and a wing player. With Brandon Ingram being that wing player, you mostly have to focus on other lesser wing players and a center to control the paint. Ingram offers flexibility so that if you swing and miss on Kevin Durant or Nicholas Batum, you still have Ingram, who is going to be a star small forward in the future. The Lakers have the ability to sign two max players this year. Unlike past seasons where you would only be able to tie up all your max money on one player, and wait for a decision, you can make an offer to someone and still have the ability to go after other free agents, including another max player. You also have the ability to save that max slot for next season. This is why drafting Ingram is such an incredible opportunity for a franchise that hasn’t had many in recent years.
The Durant Sweepstakes
The most scientific way to figure out where Kevin Durant is heading next season:https://t.co/IpWs5otQ8i
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 31, 2016
In reality, the most important free agent this summer is Kevin Durant. Just about every major team in the NBA will have the ability to sign him, including his current team Oklahoma City (who just lost to Golden State in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals after having a 3-1 lead). The Lakers are expected to make a run at him as per reported by Marc Stein of ESPN (H/T Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll):
Wizards, Heat, Celtics, Rockets, Knicks, Lakers, Spurs and, yes, Warriors … all expected to pursue Kevin Durant in free agency this summer
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 31, 2016
My belief is that Durant will stay with OKC for at least one more season and sign a 2 year deal with a player option after the 1st year(aka 1+1). This gives him the ability to stay with the team that almost made it to the NBA finals this season, and it gives him the chance to see what his teammate Russel Westbrook wants to do next season when he becomes a free agent as well.
With all that being said, the Lakers are in a much better position to swing and miss on the number one free agent than ever before. By drafting Ingram (a player many believe is Kevin Durant 2.0), the Lakers can tentatively pursue the small forward and go hard after other major free agents such as Kent Bazemore or Hassan Whiteside. If they aren’t able to sign Durant, then you can put all your money and focus on another free agent. I’m not saying Ingram will be the next Kevin Durant, however with his build and playmaking ability, he certainly can come closer than anyone before him.
Best case scenario in my opinion is to save that 2nd max slot and develop Ingram. He may not become Kevin Durant, but he certainly can be a close replica. With players like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle poised to be stars in this league, our best bet is to go after a center like Whiteside, Biyombo, Ezeli, or Mahinmi and possibly go for an even bigger free agent with a bigger cap next season. Even though young in experience and age, a starting lineup of Russell, Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, and Whiteside would be tremendous to watch grow. Not to mention you can save money and spend on key role players that could possibly get you into the playoffs. Overall, the best part about this scenario is that you show that you have faith that your young players will become exactly what you want to spend all your money on. In the long run if you give your young players confidence and they develop into superstars, you’ll have the cap later on down the line to keep them happy and keep them Lakers for years to come. It’s pretty apparent that building your team mostly through the draft and adding key free agents is very important. Last 2 NBA Champions (the Warriors and Spurs) were both built in the draft and then added a free agent. Going for broke in free agency isn’t always the best way to go.