NBA Draft 2017: With Paul George in sight, what are Lakers' options with No. 2 pick?
Los Angeles could look like a completely different team pretty soon
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are on the clock. As the Los Angeles Lakers' new president and general manager, respectively, they are responsible for defining the next era of Lakers basketball, which could be led by Paul George and whoever they select with the No. 2 pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. As well as determining whether they should pounce on their opportunity to take George from the Indiana Pacers or wait him out, they need to figure out what to do with that pick. As obvious a choice as Lonzo Ball might seem, Los Angeles has reportedly not promised him anything yet. Here's a look at their options:
Option 1: Draft Ball, figure everything else out later
Based on recent reports, this is the most likely scenario. The Lakers are reportedly playing hardball with the Pacers, maintaining they do not intend to give up any of their young players in a potential deal. If they're betting on signing him in free agency next year, then perhaps they can just play out the 2017-18 season with a bunch of young guys and give Ball and D'Angelo Russell a chance to play together.
This would be the ideal scenario. Also, this could work. Despite his last name, the UCLA product does not need the ball in his hands all the time, nor is he a traditional pick-and-roll point guard. His passing ability could actually make Russell better, and both are big enough to be interchangeable defensively, at least theoretically. (They both have a long way to go on that end.)
Even if the Lakers are in love with Ball -- and he's an easy prospect to fall in love with; you can sign me up for anybody who has been compared to Jason Kidd and "Shaun Livingston with a jumper" -- there is risk in simply taking Ball and standing pat. Indiana is reportedly trying to act fast with a George trade, and if it sends him somewhere else and he likes it there, Los Angeles might not even have a chance to court him next summer. Which leads us to …
Option 2: Draft Ball, trade for George
This is how Johnson and Pelinka can win big, right now. George is a legitimate superstar and Ball has the potential to be one. Getting both would energize the fan base and earn the new front office an enormous amount of goodwill. It could even help them get back to the playoffs next season, though that would require the young team to be more than the sum of its parts.
Three important questions to keep in mind:
- Would the Pacers agree to a deal centered around Russell?
- How greedy are the Lakers going to be?
- What are Indiana's other options?
The most logical move for Los Angeles would be trading the guy who was supposed to be its point guard of the future and immediately replacing him with its new point guard of the future. The Pacers might like this idea, too, as they need to rebuild and adding Russell would allow them to let the 29-year-old Jeff Teague walk in free agency rather than handing him a huge contract. It's unclear if the Lakers would be willing to part with Russell, though, and we don't know how Indiana would look at him in comparison to the other offers on the table for George.
Option 3: Trade the pick in a George deal
Three years ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves managed to get the No. 1 pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers even though everybody knew Kevin Love wanted out. By that standard, it's not crazy that Indiana would ask for the No. 2 pick in exchange for George. This kind of swap seems highly unlikely, though, as George has limited Indiana's leverage by making it clear that he wants to be a Laker.
If there's anything to learn from the Love trade, it's that Pritchard needs to create a bidding war. What non-Laker teams, if any, would George consider re-signing with? What teams are bold enough to go after him without such a guarantee? The Pacers are in a difficult position, but if they can play teams against each other, then perhaps Los Angeles will have to consider giving up the pick. It's obviously not what Johnson and Pelinka would prefer, but they also don't want to watch George wearing a Cleveland or Boston uniform.
Option 4: Draft Jackson, figure everything else out later
Josh Jackson has had two workouts with the Lakers, and while the second one reportedly didn't go well, there has been speculation that they could take him second overall. If this happens, without a George trade, then it will look like a vote of confidence for Russell as a floor general. It would also create quite a logjam -- Jackson would join recent draft picks Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. in a crowded forward rotation that also figures to feature veteran Luol Deng.
I don't love this idea, but it would give Los Angeles flexibility in terms of putting together a George trade if he's still on the market later in the summer and during the season. In terms of fit, Jackson should flourish in coach Luke Walton's system because of his passing ability, but his inconsistent jump shot is scary given that Ingram only shot 29.4 percent from deep as a rookie and Randle lacks 3-point range.
Option 5: Draft Jackson, trade for George
If this happens, then Randle or Ingram would presumably be the centerpiece of the George deal. If the Lakers prefer Jackson to Ball, then this sort of move makes some sense -- George is precisely the type of player Jackson should be striving to be, and the two of them would wreak havoc defensively when sharing the floor.
Given how it seems like you can never have enough two-way wing players in today's NBA, maybe going the Jackson route is more logical than trying to pair Ball with Russell. If I were in Los Angeles' front office, though, I would want to come away with the best player available and get George as soon as possible. It can be argued that this team shouldn't care about balancing the roster at all.
Option 6: Wild card
What if the Lakers stunned everybody? No one expects Jayson Tatum or Jonathan Isaac to go second, but maybe the new front office's big board looks different than you'd think. Ball is such a weird player that he is somewhat divisive, and if there are doubts about him, perhaps they think they'd be better off with a skilled scorer like Tatum or a long, do-everything type like Isaac.
I love the idea of Isaac in Walton's system, especially if he eventually plays some 5 and protects the rim. Taking either him or Tatum would let Los Angeles continue to develop Russell as a primary ballhandler, and it would give Walton a ton of versatility on both ends. The question, of course, would then be where George fits in.
It seems a little much to have George, Ingram and another young, high-upside forward on the same roster, especially since Randle isn't long enough to shift to center. This wouldn't be the worst problem, but as the Lakers are trying to build a team, they will eventually need to define roles and give their young players room to grow. If Los Angeles were to, say, trade Randle in a George deal and draft Isaac, it would be clear they were building their team around length and defensive versatility. The only issue would be convincing George to defend opposing power forwards, which he never wanted to do in Indiana.
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