In a little over a month, the Lakers will be selecting second overall in the NBA Draft. The player they take, whether it be Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell or someone else, is someone they will hope to be the post-Kobe Bryant face of the franchise. Beyond that, though, the word is that the Lakers are done trying to slowly acquire talent.
Here’s what GM Mitch Kupchak told Bleacher Report Radio on Sunday about the team’s mindset following two straight years missing the playoffs:
The Lakers are going to have max-level cap space this summer, which they’ll use to chase a top-tier free agent, whether that be Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge. This has been their strategy for the last year: they went hard after Carmelo Anthony last summer and attempted to reach out to LeBron James and Chris Bosh during free agency, although they didn’t get far with either one.
With the Kobe Bryant era drawing to a close (Kupckak reiterated in the same interview that the Lakers are proceeding as though 2015-16 would be Bryant’s final year), the Lakers don’t have a clear direction going forward. They’ll get Julius Randle back from the leg injury that kept him out all but one game of his rookie season, and paired with whoever they take in next month’s draft, that’s a solid young foundation.
But that won’t be enough to win in the crowded Western Conference, at least not for a while. They’ll need to add talent to put around them, and the quickest way to do that is through free agency. After missing the playoffs two years in a row, the historically dominant Lakers are anxious to get back to being relevant.
The Lakers’ hands are also sort of tied when it comes to building through the draft. They still owe next year’s pick to the Sixers, unless it falls in the top three. Even if they wanted to build through the draft, they don’t have any more first-round picks after this year until 2017.
With that said, Kupchak’s “don’t have time” wording is questionable. If it were any other franchise than the Lakers or the Knicks, it would be assumed that the road to contention would take several years of developing talent. But the Lakers pride themselves on being a consistently championship-level organization, and missing the playoffs two years in a row has been tough on them, so their mentality is not going to change.
And if the Lakers get a star free agent, that’s great. But if they don’t, they could be in for another several years of disappointment relative to expectations.