The Los Angeles Lakers threw the first big curveball of the NBA Draft when they selected Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell with the second pick of the draft.
The move was shocking because on the eve of the draft, all nine of the draft experts we surveyed had the Lakers drafting Duke center Jahlil Okafor. Despite being considered by some to be the most talented player in the draft, none of the experts thought the Lakers would go after Russell.
The move was also interesting with respect to what it means for the Lakers’ free agency plans.
All season long there were rumours that the Lakers wanted to sign free agent point guard Rajon Rondo. Prior to Rondo being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in December the Lakers attempted to trade for him, according to Ramona Shelburne. When nothing came of that the Lakers chose to wait until free agency, putting Rondo “high on their list of free-agent targets.”
There was also the Kobe Bryant factor. Bryant had a very-public breakfast meeting with Rondo in December and the common feeling is that Kobe would love to have Rondo on his team for one last run at a title.
But with Russell on board, Rondo is almost certainly out and will have to sign elsewhere after a disappointing stint in Dallas.
That also leaves the Lakers without a big man, for now.
By passing on Okafor, it looks like the Lakers are going all in on free agency and attempt to land one of the big-time power forwards that are available.
With the NBA salary cap expected to be $US67.1 million next season, the Lakers will likely have a little more than $US30 million in cap space, more than enough to go out and get a big man on a max free agency contract.
And there are some intriguing names on the market, including LaMarcus Aldridge (who has reportedly told the Trail Blazers he will not re-sign with them), Kevin Love (whom LeBron James will reportedly not re-recruit to come back to the Cavs), DeAndre Jordan (who sounds excited about being wooed by teams in free agency), and Greg Monroe (whom the Pistons are “not entirely optimistic” about re-signing).
The difference is that, unlike Okafor, none of those guys are true centres. But that may not matter if the Lakers’ plan is to embrace the new NBA style of court spacing with more versatile players.
In the end, the Lakers got the long-term point guard they needed and appear confident they can still get the big man they want.
In other words, the Lakers may have gotten the best of both worlds by making a pick nobody expected.
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