For new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka, the 2017 NBA draft lottery appears to be a make or break opportunity. Aside from flipping Lou Williams to Houston for a late first round pick, Magic has yet to significantly change the on-court product for the Lakers in the short time he has been in office. The upcoming draft lottery will be Magic’s first opportunity to bring hope to the purple and gold faithful in the city of Los Angeles.
As the hype machine begins to churn, and Lakers fans start salivating over unproven names like Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, and Josh Jackson, there is a still and quiet truth that is often drowned out by all the noise.
The truth is, the draft is unpredictable and most teams miss, most of the time.
First of all, the Lakers might lose the pick altogether. The consequences of the ill-fated Steve Nash and Dwight Howard experiments continue to loom over the Lakers franchise, and the team could end up losing a first round pick in this summer’s draft, and in 2019 as well. While former coach Byron Scott’s presence was generally negative, and his coaching style antiquated, he did function as a lucky rabbit’s foot by securing the 2nd overall picks in the 2015 (D’angelo Russell) and 2016 (Brandon Ingram) drafts. Hopefully new head coach Luke Walton can conjure up some positive juju of his own, and keep that pick in the hands of the Lakers this summer.
Assuming the Lakers keep the pick (even though the best case scenario will be a 56% likelihood), there is another major pitfall to avoid. Lottery picks often disappoint and rarely become star players. In fact, players taken in the top 15 of the draft have a much higher likelihood of being a bench player or out of the league after a few years, than making an all-star team. Granted, top 3 picks have a better track record, no pick is immune to the bust risk. Jahlil Okafor, Hasheem Thabeet, Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden and many others were once “can’t miss” prospects. Now their jerseys can be found in the two for one bin at the local thrift store…in Thailand.
Assuming EVERYTHING breaks perfectly, the Lakers keep the pick, AND select the right player on draft day, it will still take 2-3 years before that player is able to make a significant impact on the court. While recent prospects like Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have developed quickly, the 2-3 year rule applies to most solid prospects and young talent.
Barring a Pau Gasol-esque fleecing in the trade market, there is a long(ish) road ahead of Lakers fans, with many perils and snares on the path to greatness. The new CBA that punishes major markets, risks associated with the draft, possibility of losing the 2017 and 2019 first round picks, and young roster will be major challenges for Magic Johnson and new GM Rob
Lowe Pelinka to overcome. However, the storied history of the Lakers franchise would suggest the light may be just around the bend.