Not for several years has draft night offered quality thrills for Laker fans. The team hasn’t picked in the top 10 since 2005 or in the top 20 since 2007. The Pau Gasol trade in early 2008 ushered in a WIN BANNERZ NAO philosophy that deprioritized the development of young talent. As a result, four years’ worth of Laker first-round picks, stretching from the 2008 draft through the 2011 draft this Thursday night, have been traded or sold off. Sometimes, as in the Gasol acquisition, the returns have more than justified the cost. On other occasions, as when the Lakers sold Toney Douglas to the Knicks, they’ve committed crimes of penny-wisdom and pound-foolishness.
Their draft position this year is strikingly skewed toward quantity over quality. The Lakers have four picks at their disposal, but all are of the dollar-menu variety. In addition to “their own” pick, 56th in the draft, they hold the 41st, 46th and 58th picks as leftover detritus from old trades. So Mitch Kupchak will be fishing in depleted waters. If he gets lucky, maybe he snags something edible. More likely, he reels in twigs and the odd tire. (Hopefully no actual corpses.)
It’s not crazy to hope that someone useful slips down into the forties. Devin Ebanks was the 43rd pick last year, and though he didn’t show much in his rookie season, he’s not a total write-off yet. And Marc Gasol was the 48th pick in 2007, so hey – you never know. But he and other famous second-round finds (Trevor Ariza, Mo Williams, Luis Scola) are the exceptions that prove the rule. Odds are, most of the guys Mitch drafts on Thursday will be fringy training-camp invites or prospects to stash in Europe and see whether and how they develop.
If the Lakers do sign one of their draftees with the aim of giving him minutes as a rookie, it’ll likely be because he fills a discrete need. They’re not going to find a point guard to displace Derek Fisher (or even a backup to displace Steve Blake), but a three-point specialist would be a handy addition to the backcourt. Someone like Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame or David Lighty of Ohio State could fill that role. Alternatively the Lakers could look for a defensive big man, a body to spell Pau Gasol on those days when Andrew Bynum is hurt or suspended. Keith Benson of Oakland is a candidate if Mitch is thinking along these lines.
Otherwise, Operation BPA – Best Player Available – is in effect. Especially when you’re choosing among longshots, it doesn’t pay to get overly hung up on specific needs. And the “project” label shouldn’t scare you off, since pretty much everyone available at that point will fall into that category.
For Laker fans, blue-chippers are off the menu until 2012… assuming the team doesn’t trade away its first-round pick again.