What does the no. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft do for the Los Angeles Lakers?
Primarily, it gives the team options. Regardless of whether or not the Lakers finished in the top three and kept their draft pick on Tuesday, Wednesday would bring about a look at what the team has on its roster and where it sits entering the post Kobe Bryant era, which quite frankly stunk up the court for its final three years. Save for a 60-point night and the odd duel with a superstar like LeBron James, Bryant's two-year extension can shoulder the bulk of the blame for the two worst seasons in LA Lakers' history.
The fact that two years under Byron Scott yielded two no. 2 overall picks for a franchise that badly needed new blood proved to be lucky breaks considering the team would have been sitting in the lottery regardless of the tactician standing on the sidelines. Bryant's contract forced the Lakers to build temporary rosters and wait out the retiring superstar.
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With Bryant gone and a sharp increase in the salary cap projected, the Lakers expect to have a ballpark figure of roughly $60 million in salary cap space after the no. 2 pick joins the team in late June. The current $92 million salary cap projection for 2016-17 is up dramatically from the $70 million cap during the 2015-16 season, of which Bryant collected a cool $25 million. Amazingly, the salary cap is projected to jump up all the way to $109 million in 2017-18.
What do all those numbers mean? Theoretically, the Lakers can add two maximum salary players in the summer of 2016 and sign a third max contract in the summer of 2017. Essentially, that should add up to three All-Stars to go along with a young core of promising players.
In reality, however, the Lakers have a raw group of young talents that have yet to prove their worth over a single NBA season. None of the Lakers' young emerging stars, including Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and D'Angelo Russell, have experienced a winning NBA season, let alone tasted the playoffs.
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the most highly coveted free agent, but selling a player that is playing in the second half of May to join a team that won 17 games and is touting 20 and 21-year-old players seems like a waste of energy and everyone's time. Adding an 18 or 19-year-old rookie prospect to a young roster does not suddenly make the Lakers contenders in the Western Conference or with top-tier championship chasing free agents.
The likes of Al Horford, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Nicolas Batum lead the unrestricted class of free agents in 2016. Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes top the class of restricted free agents. While those players would all improve the Lakers to varying degrees, the team would still be a long way from the top of the Western Conference by the self-imposed timeline to compete for a Western Conference title. Lakers vice-president of basketball operations Jim Buss promised that the Lakers would be competing for the Western Conference Finals by the end of the 2016-17 season or he would step down from his post.
Unless lightning strikes with Durant in free agency and Luke Walton turns out to be the greatest coach of all time in his rookie season as Head Coach, the Lakers are still going to be a country mile away from competing for the Western Conference Finals by the end of the 2016-17 season.
However, Buss and LA have options.
The no. 2 pick only opened up more avenues with which the Lakers can climb out from their worst-ever slump. A young team with a young coach could provide an entertaining product that improves over time and eventually fills into a championship caliber team. With a few veteran additions, the young core of Lakers can use continuity to its advantage.
Alternatively, the Lakers can package any number of their young emerging talents, including whichever player arrives via the no. 2 pick, and attempt to draw in an All-Star via trade. Add in a couple intelligent signings in free agency, and the Lakers could become an exciting, young playoff team that would suddenly become an attractive landing spot for a superstar in the summer of 2017—former UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook would be ideal, of course.
Ultimately, the Lakers have a great deal of options, and the no. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft only further enhances that privileged position. The Lakers have the option to trade the pick, though it cannot be traded for a non-draft asset until after the draft. So, likely, the Lakers will draft either Duke's Brandon Ingram or LSU's Ben Simmons on June 23rd.
Then, the team will look to aggressively improve via free agency, trade or both. Absolutely no one's spot is secure following a 17-win season, and the Lakers also happen to need a new face of the franchise. The no. 2 pick is an option to help fill that vacancy--one way or another.