Coming into Tuesday's revealing of the NBA Draft Lottery order, the Lakers were projected to land the No. 11 overall pick. Instead, they jumped all the way up to the No. 4 pick. This was obviously a huge development, and it could mean a renewed path to trading for Anthony Davis.
The Pelicans, who stunningly landed the No. 1 overall pick despite having just a six-percent chance coming in, now have the rights to the almost surefire No. 1 selection, Zion Williamson, and they'll surely use that as new leverage to try to convince Davis to stay in New Orleans. But if it doesn't work, and the Pels end up parting with Davis, do the Lakers suddenly have the best package?
Had the Lakers ended up No. 11, as projected, that's not a much better trade chip than the No. 14 pick that the Boston Celtics secured on Tuesday. But No. 4 is a big difference from No. 14. Couple that with the fact that Jayson Tatum didn't exactly wow anyone with his performance this postseason, not to mention all the uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving and whether he'll stay with Boston, and suddenly the Lakers' package is looking a lot better than perhaps it was at the trade deadline.
Don't look now, but the Lakers may still end up getting this whole thing right. It's been a full-blown circus along the way, but here they are with LeBron James, a solid, if polarizing young core, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft and enough cap space to add a max free agent this summer. Things could definitely be worse for a team that just won 37 games. In fact, it's hard to see how things could be too much better for a team that just won 37 games.
Now, whether they have the organizational faculties to actually take advantage of this opportunity, that's another question. We'll get to that shortly. For now, through the most optimistic of lenses, let's say the Lakers land that max-level free agent. Add whoever they take at No. 4 to that, and they likely become a top-four team in the Western Conference right away.
"They would've been in the top-four conversation [in the Western Conference] this year without the injuries," a league scout recently told CBS Sports. "Anyone who doesn't believe that wasn't paying attention."
We know this summer's free-agent class is stacked. Kyrie Irving has reportedly " " about reuniting with LeBron on the Lakers. Jimmy Butler just got eliminated in the second round and is a wild card to return to Philadelphia. Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker are out there. Kevin Durant is a long shot, and Kawhi Leonard has been more linked to the Clippers, but Leonard's interest in getting back to Los Angeles has been well chronicled. You put Kawhi with LeBron, forget about it. That's a championship contender. Even the Lakers couldn't screw that up.
Landing a max player via free agency is, of course, a big if. The Lakers aren't considered the front-runner for any of the big names. But even if it doesn't happen, the Lakers have multiple avenues to a second star, even outside of Davis. That No. 4 pick would look pretty good to the Cavs, perhaps, for Kevin Love, or the Wizards for Bradley Beal, or perhaps you get in the Mike Conley business with the Grizzlies landing the No. 2 overall pick, which could mean the point guard of the future in Ja Morant.
Any of this, of course, would require a savvy, deft handling of a lot of moving parts with heavy uncertainty, and have the Lakers really proven they're still a stable enough franchise with smart enough people making the decisions to pull any of this off? One run through their recent front-office history would suggest no. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight and a good chunk of simple logic, the Lakers have done almost nothing right.
Where do we even start?
They gave Kobe Bryant a bunch of money he was no longer worth, a nice gesture for his years of Hall of Fame service but a clear forfeit on the subsequent cap-strapped years. They handed Magic Johnson an Iron Throne position for which he was woefully unqualified, if he was ever interested in performing the unending and incredibly complicated duties of such a job in the first place.
Under Magic, they chose Lonzo Ball over Jayson Tatum and D'Angelo Russell. They got publicly played in the Anthony Davis trade saga when they should've known they never had a realistic chance of pulling that deal off, not with Boston's potential offer -- which is expected to center on Tatum, the guy the Lakers could've just drafted -- still sitting out there and considered by EVERYONE to be a vastly superior package. But they went for it anyway, because they were desperate, and wound up sabotaging what was probably already a sunk season thanks to an ill-fitting roster designed on the arrogant whims of the Magic man.
Jeanie Buss and the Lakers got a gift when Magic walked out. They never would've canned him on their own. It was a chance to open up a real search for a real leader in the front office with, you know, a proven track record of actually putting together good basketball teams. Instead, they did the laziest thing possible and just handed Magic's duties to Rob Pelinka, who also has not even a single bullet point on his resume to suggest he's any good at this team-building thing.
So now, after just sort of sleeping through the Magic replacement process, they one-up that exhibition of ineptitude and apathy by completely botching the search for Luke Walton's replacement. First, they again tried to do the laziest thing possible by just hiring LeBron's guy in Tyronn Lue, but then, in an effort to denounce the notion that they were simply bending the knee at the altar of LeBron (which is exactly what they were doing), they decided to play fake hardball with Lue.
Figuring Lue had lost leverage when Monty Williams, who was seen as Lue's main competition at the time, agreed to terms with the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers tried to lowball Lue on years, offering an NBA championship coach a three-year deal when John Beilein, who has never coached an NBA game in his life, just got five years from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers also tried to push their man Jason Kidd on Lue as an assistant coach. Lue's no fool. He was David Blatt's assistant in Cleveland, and he saw first-hand how a top-flight assistant is just a thinly veiled replacement waiting in the wings to use chaos as a ladder.
So now Lue is out. This is a chance to really open up the search, right? Not so much. It just so happens that every prospective coach the Lakers talk to just happens to "make a strong impression." They look like a first-time home buyer who's so anxious to get out of an apartment they immediately fall in love with the first house they look at, then when that deal falls apart because they start getting last-second picky, they, of course, can't wait to put an offer on the very next house they see because they just can't live without that kitchen.
The name on the contract is Frank Vogel.
With Jason Kidd as his co-signer.
This isn't intended to be a knock on Vogel, as random a hire as he appears to be. "He's a solid coach," an Eastern Conference scout told CBS Sports. "But being a solid coach and being the right coach for LeBron are two different things."
The fascination with Kidd is a whole other thing. What evidence is there that he's anything more than just an OK coach? While coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, Kidd instructed Khris Middleton to intentionally miss a free throw when they were up by three with 1.4 seconds to play. Afterward, Kidd said he was guarding against a potential four-point play. Never mind that his players could've just laid down on the court and gone to sleep up by four. Pretty tough to foul when you're napping. But whatever. Perhaps it was a one-time gaffe and Kidd was just trying to explain away his error in judgment.
Except, in another instance, with the Bucks up by four against Detroit with 9.6 seconds left, Kidd had his team intentionally foul the Pistons to send them to the free throw line. Seriously. He purposely gave a team down by four with less than 10 seconds to play the opportunity to cut the lead to one possession without taking any time off the clock.
Two years ago, Kidd guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a first-round loss. This season, Mike Budenholzer has guided the Bucks, which didn't make a single All-Star addition, to the best record in the league and, at worst, a conference finals berth. You say Kidd is good at developing players? Middleton turned into an All-Star the year he left. Giannis Antetokounmpo turned into an MVP. This is a layered conversation, and certainly, some of that growth happened under Kidd, but Budenholzer's system, on both ends of the court, clearly unlocked this team and its best players in a way Kidd never came close to doing.
This is Mark Jackson and the Warriors all over. Jackson supporters will tell you that he laid the foundation for what Golden State has become. There's some truth in that, but there's a lot more truth in the reality that Jackson simply turned over an underachieving team to a better coach with a better system. Under Steve Kerr, Curry turned into an MVP and the Warriors, just like the Bucks, went from a first-round exit to the best record in basketball, with pretty much the exact same roster, the very next season.
There are reports that the Lakers think Kidd can aid in the development of Lonzo Ball, which makes sense on the surface. Kidd was, in theory, a very similar point guard to Ball -- a big, pass-first floor general with elite vision and court sense and a questionable jump shot. But is Lonzo even going to be on this team for long? They already tried to trade him once. If he is on the team, he's not going to be the lead guard in a way that it would seem Kidd could really tutor him. If the Lakers learned anything this season, it's that they can't screw around again and try to play LeBron off the ball, unless they sign Irving or Walker or someone else who would also steal Ball's thunder.
Is Kidd going to teach Ball how to space the floor?
All the while, here we are talking three times more about Kidd than Vogel, and let's not play dumb here. This is pure drama waiting to happen. The second things don't go well under Vogel, or LeBron is seen talking to Kidd off to the side, the rumors are going to start that Kidd is here to take Vogel's job. After all, it's not like Kidd hasn't made power plays before. When Kidd was in Brooklyn, he more or less tried to overthrow the whole front office to set himself up for a position of total authority. From the Chicago Tribune:
Four years ago, Kidd went to Brooklyn Nets ownership and asked for complete control of basketball operations, shortly after a tumultuous first year as coach. When that request was denied, the Bucks — then and now co-owned by a longtime Kidd confidant, Marc Lasry — called the next day and asked for permission to interview him.
It was an audacious move as Kidd skipped town, leading to plenty of salacious headlines in the New York tabloids. But it also was a reminder of something else: Every stop of Kidd's remarkable basketball journey over the past 25 years — from the University of California to the four teams he played for during his Hall of Fame career — ended with one burned bridge after another in his wake.
It should come as no surprise that his ending in Milwaukee followed the same script.
This all begs the question: If they think Kidd is such a vital piece of getting this team to a championship level, why not just make him the head guy and at least eliminate the potential for a re-run of last year's backchannel drama the second things don't go well? Luke Walton never had a chance last year. He was the most predictable scapegoat imaginable. Even if they publicly support Vogel when and if things go a little awry, there will be no stopping the speculation. Why set yourself up for one more PR challenge to navigate?
It doesn't make a ton of sense. Frankly, almost nothing the Lakers have done of late makes much sense. But again, they're in a good place and with the No. 4 overall pick in their pocket, are one very realistic addition from being in a great place. That's the Lakers for you. That's where the brand arrogance rings true. They can make mistakes other organizations can't and still wind up on third base. Whether they can deliver the hit to actually bring something meaningful home, we'll have to wait and see.