As Mark Tatum continued to open the envelopes that would determine the 2014 draft order, my heart raced faster and faster as the pool of available teams got smaller. The Lakers were slotted for the No. 6 pick, but thanks to a screwed-up lottery system to prevent tanking (tell that to Philly and Milwaukee), LA could fall or rise three picks. Thankfully, the envelope for the No. 9 pick wasn’t the Lakers, but it also wasn’t the Cavaliers, meaning Cleveland catapulted into the top three. With one fewer available spot in the top three, No. 8 came up Sacramento, and as teams continued to be selected, I prayed that the next two picks wouldn’t come up Lakers. Tatum then opened the envelope for the No. 7 pick and, to my dismay, announced that it belonged to the Lakers.
The Lakers deserved a top-three pick in this year’s draft. Unlike most teams, they would know what to do with it. The Lakers have a long history of bringing out the best in their prospects. Magic Johnson and James Worthy — the Lakers’ last two No. 1 picks — turned out to be pretty decent players. Without a franchise player after Kobe retires, the Lakers are going to be stuck in mediocrity, playing just to get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. What frustrates me even more is the fact that Cleveland, the most inept team in the league, which just fired a coach it hired for the second time, got the No. 1 pick for the third time in four years. But the real loser here is whomever Cleveland decides to take with its No. 1 pick. Just the thought of David Griffin grinning ear to ear with a “1” sign alongside Tatum disgusts me to no end.
I was born into basketball privilege. As a SoCal native, I was drawn to the Lakers and their star-studded cast back in the early 2000s, starring a prime Shaq and afro-Kobe. I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the greatest one-two punch in the history of the NBA. Since the duo’s high-profile divorce, the Lakers have missed the playoffs only once, in 2005, but the heartbreak of that season doesn’t even come close to the misery and disappointment of the 2013-14 season.
But for all of the losses — the 20-point blowouts, the nonsensical rotations and premature Nick Young celebrations — there was always that sliver of light at the end of the tunnel: the draft lottery. With a 27-55 record, good enough for sixth-worst in the NBA, the Lakers earned a 21.5 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 6.3 percent chance at the No. 1 pick.
The No. 1 pick, or even a top-three pick, could have given us the face of the Lakers after Kobe’s retirement and change the landscape of our team for years to come. A top pick would also give Kevin Love, who recently expressed trade interest, an incentive to come to LA — a top prospect to play with for years to come along with an aging but effective star at the end of his prime.
If the Lakers had gotten a top pick, they couldn’t have gone wrong with whomever they chose. Joel Embiid would give the Lakers a big man who could score in the post and anchor the defense in the paint. Andrew Wiggins would give the Lakers a freak-athlete wing player with elite defensive capabilities and a blossoming offensive game, while Jabari Parker would give the Lakers a stretch four with a developed offensive arsenal. Each player had his shortcomings, but all had tremendous upside.
The NBA lottery was supposed to be the beginning of a new era for the Lakers. A top pick — something the Lakers deserved — would have given us the player to build around for years to come. But as a Lakers fan, I have to have faith in the front office. The road ahead is long, but the Lakers have a history of rebuilding fast and effectively. And who knows, maybe we get lucky and end up drafting a superstar with the seventh pick.
Contact Winston Cho at [email protected]