The Los Angeles Lakers’ relevance has faded significantly over the last two years, and it hasn’t helped that they’ve whiffed on free agent signings as well as through the draft with an aging superstar in Kobe Bryant taking up $25-million in cap room.
Bryant’s contract hurt the Lakers ability to make any improvements, and it’s likely we won’t see any growth from young players within the organization until he hangs ‘em up at the end of the season. The good news is that the Lakers actually appear to have a couple pieces to the puzzle to build around for the post-Kobe era, but how did they get to this point?
The Lakers traded away their first round pick and swingman Sasha Vujacic to the Nets in 2011 for and two second round picks (‘11 and ‘12), swingman Terrence Williams and big man Joe Smith. The 2011 second rounder turned into point guard Darius Morris, who has made little impact in the NBA. Williams is out of the league, and Joe Smith was an aging veteran who had more value as a locker room presence than anything else.
The Lakers also traded combo guard Toney Douglas to the New York Knicks for an additional second rounder — the Lakers took Andrew Goudelock at 46th overall, and he’s yet to make any impact in the NBA. Los Angeles also made the mistake of trading point guard Patrick Beverley to Houston in June 2009 for an additional second round pick, which turned into Ater Majok, who hasn’t played a minute in the NBA.
Los Angeles again traded their first-round pick in March 2012 for point guard Ramon Sessions, swingman Christian Eyenga for Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and a conditional first round pick. This deal was a big-time bust for the Lakers, as many thought the point guard upgrade of Sessions was enough to set Los Angeles over the top.
But that proved to be false, and after trading another second-rounder, all the Lakers could do was use their acquired second-rounder from the Vujacic deal the prior year. The Lakers took Robert Sacre at 60th overall. Although Sacre remains on the roster, he’s mostly just a depth piece right now and shouldn’t ever turn into a significant contributor on the Lakers in the future.
The 2013 draft was similar to both 2011 and 2012 after another winning season in Los Angeles, and the Lakers first-rounder was included in the prior Sessions deal. The acquisition of point guard Steve Nash in July 2012 also gave away the rights to a second first round pick, and Nash never made the impact general manager Mitch Kupchak thought he might.
At the 48th pick in the second round of the 2013 draft, the Lakers took big man Ryan Kelly. Kelly has surpassed my expectations as a stretch 4 bench big, but he’s smart and does a nice job of stretching the floor and providing a different look for Los Angeles.
The Dwight Howard trade in August 2012 also made the Lakers cough up a second round pick the Magic used on forward Romero Osby. Their third potential second round pick from the came from the Nuggets for the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum, but was traded away to Phoenix in the Nash deal — the Suns opted to take big man Alex Oriakhi.
The Lakers fell off big time in 2013-14, and earned a top ten pick because of it — their first first-round selection since 2007(!) when they took Javaris Crittenton — who was traded mid-season during his rookie season regardless. At 7th overall, the Lakers opted for bruising power forward Julius Randle, hoping he’d be a building block of the future for the franchise.
Randle injured his foot during the first game of his rookie season but has been a bright spot for the Lakers early on during his sophomore campaign. Randle still has glaring weaknesses, like the lack of a right hand and any range on a jump shot, but these things can be improved in time.
The Lakers first second-round pick was included in the Nash deal to Phoenix, but it’s possible Los Angeles made their best pick the last five years at pick 46 selecting combo guard Jordan Clarkson. He has been an immediate contributor and will be a key piece to the Lakers future as a second-round steal with his combination of size, athleticism and shooting.
The Lakers had their highest overall pick in 2015, selecting point guard D’Angelo Russell at second overall. Russell’s had his ups-and-downs from the start but has seemed to find some rhythm lately, scoring double-figures in four of their last six games. His confidence is growing slowly, so it’s probably too early to say the Lakers made the wrong choice selecting him over Jahlil Okafor or Kristaps Porzingis.
Los Angeles acquired a second first-round pick after trading away Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets in July 2014 but probably didn’t make the best use of it selecting Larry Nance Jr. at 27th overall. Nance is an athletic big man with some upside, but there were more obvious options available that could have helped this team immediately. Lastly, the Lakers took swingman Anthony Brown in the second round, and it’s possible he develops into a “3-and-D”-type player at the NBA level.
Overall, the Lakers traded away all of their picks while trying to stay relevant from 2011-13. The drop off was horrible, and the Lakers are still in a state of rebuild as we move forward. Once Kobe Bryant is off the books following this year, the real growth will begin. Perhaps it’s not a terrible thing Bryant is playing as poorly as he is now, as he might be doing them a favor, putting the Lakers in place for yet another top three pick in the 2016 draft.