A draft prospect who grew up overseas really wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. But a team drafting before the Lakers also wanted the player. So, the player threated to sign with a foreign team if he couldn’t go to the Lakers.
Safe to say, the Nets wish they had called Kobe Bryant’s bluff/threat (or if you prefer, threat/bluff) and drafted him before the Charlotte Hornets did on behalf of Los Angeles in 1996.
Eighteen years, could the scenario repeat itself?
Dante Exum is working out in Los Angeles preparing for the draft, and he’s said the Lakers would be his ideal fit. Via Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:
“Definitely L.A. is one option,” he said. “I’ve been to L.A. many times and I love the city, and it is a great city. If I get the opportunity to go to L.A. and play for the Lakers, I know I’ll have love for the city. And their fans are loyal and they have the rivalry with the Clippers. But just to be in an environment where you have a great player like Kobe, where you have a mentor in a way as a rookie, I think that would be the best option.”
Maybe that’s an idle assessment, but maybe it’s the first step of a a bluff/threat (or if you prefer, threat/bluff). After all Exum’s agent is Rob Pelinka, who also represents Kobe (though Arn Tellem represented Kobe as a draft prospect in 1996).
At least one general manager is concerned. Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
But would Exum go so far as to try to angle his way onto the Lakers, who currently have the fifth-worst record in the NBA? That’s the concern among some front-office executives around the league.
“When you hear some of what he says, it does make you wonder how the process is going to go as far as workouts and that sort of thing,” one general manager told Sporting News. “We have seen this story before, of course. I am not sure a player can have that kind of control, though.”
I like Exum as a draft prospect, and I like his fit with the Lakers. (As long as we’re speculating, especially with Kevin Love also joining the tam.)
But Exum might also perform best if he starts his career at shooting guard and eases his way into playing point guard. In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant obviously has shooting guard locked down. And can the Lakers depend on Steve Nash to become a viable starting point guard again in the meantime?
If the Lakers can remain patient through another season – especially if it includes developing Exum through his growing pains – they’ll be better off in the long run. But will Kobe tolerate another losing season as his career winds down? Will the Los Angeles fans? The Lakers haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons in 20 years.
If Kobe is most-concerned about his legacy, and I think he is, he should focus on winning another title – and passing Michael Jordan for third on the all-time scoring list. The latter would require fewer than 12 points per game in Kobe’s next 50 contests, so that’s inevitable if Kobe can get back on the court.
Back to the championship.
No matter how the Lakers focus on building the strongest team possible next season, I can’t see them creating a title contender. So, Kobe should want them to focus on 2015-16, the final year of his contract extension.
By his second season, Dwyane Wade was the best player on a team that reached Game 7 of the conference finals, pulling an aging but still effective Shaquille O’Neal with him. Could Exum and Kobe fill that role in two years? It’s a longshot, but it might be Kobe’s best shot of getting his sixth title – along with the the Lakers waiting until 2015 to pursue a stronger crop of free agents (including Love).
First, though, the Lakers would actually have to get Exum. Exum and Pelinka can turn down workouts and try to threaten Exum’s way to the Lakers, but the Lakers can do much more themselves to get into position to draft him.
At 19-39, the Lakers are on pace to have the league’s fourth-best lottery odds. Lose a few more games down the stretch, the chance to nab Exum only increases.
As the the chance to draft Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or anyone else. It’s early in the process. I doubt the Lakers even know yet whom they prefer.
If the interest with Exum is mutual, he and the Lakers can explore exploiting the draft process later. For now, the Lakers should focus on tanking and evaluating, and Exum should focus on developing.