As L.A. contemplates the decline and fall of the Lakers Empire, some fans are starting to look past this disastrous season and toward the offseason -- something nearly unheard of in Lakerland in January.
Nervous questions like “how can the Lakers make the playoffs” are now being replaced with sober inquiries such as “How will Mitch Kupchak fix this mess?”
Naturally, attention is turning toward the Lakers’ upcoming draft picks. If there’s one silver lining to missing the playoffs and landing in the lottery, it’s that the team usually gets a pretty good rookie to show for it. Problem is, the Lakers never envisioned being in this situation, and instead used their upcoming picks like chips at a poker table, throwing them into the pot in order to go all-in with their current hand.
Lottery pick? Not this time.
In two separate but interconnected trades, the Lakers dealt away most of their future draft assets. Let’s look at what happened earlier this year in order to understand what’s going to happen in June when David Stern calls his final draft.
March 15, 2012: The Lakers traded Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, a conditional 2012 first round pick (used to select Jared Cunningham at the 24 spot), future draft considerations and cash to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga.
While this trade brought the Lakers a stopgap point guard in Sessions, it’s the future draft considerations we want to focus on here. The Cavs had already stockpiled first-round picks from the Heat (in the post-decision LeBron James sign-and-trade) and Kings (as part of their J.J. Hickson-Omri Casspi deal in 2011). In the Sessions trade, the Cavs gained the right to swap the worst of these picks and their own pick with the Lakers, as long as the Lakers’ pick isn’t in the lottery.
From the Lakers’ perspective, this means that if they miss the 2013 playoffs and land in the lottery, they retain their pick. If they make the playoffs, then they will enter the draft with the worst pick from among their own, the Cavs’, the Heat’s and the Kings’ picks.
As a result of this trade, the Lakers’ pick had been partially spoken-for, but they still retained control of it if it turned out to be one of the top 14. This meant they were free to trade it again, as long as it was traded on the condition that it was one of the top 14 picks. They could even trade their pick if it wasn’t one of the top 14, so long as the trade specified that they were giving up whatever pick Cleveland left them with.
That’s exactly what they did.
July 11, 2012: The Lakers traded a 2013 first-round pick, a 2015 first-round pick, two second-round picks (in 2013 and 2014) and cash to Phoenix for Steve Nash.
In a trade that was widely viewed as a coup for the Lakers, the team acquired one of the premier point guards of the millennium (albeit the 38-year-old-version) for what was thought to be a collection of odds-and-ends. Again, we want to focus on the 2013 pick here.
The Lakers essentially agreed to give the Suns whatever pick they end up with in 2013. If the team misses the playoffs and ends up in the lottery (with one of the top 14 picks), the pick goes directly to Phoenix. If the Lakers somehow make the playoffs, then the Cavs still get the first shot at it, and the Lakers will end up with the worst pick from among the four aforementioned teams. But then whichever pick the Lakers end up with would go to Phoenix.
In summary, any way you slice it, the Suns get a first-round pick from the Lakers this summer. If we project the current records to the end of the season, the Lakers would be in the lottery and likely end up with the 10th pick, and the pick would be conveyed to Phoenix. (Historians will note that the Lakers’ only visits to the lottery were in 1994 and 2005, and both times they had the 10th pick, selecting Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum, respectively.)
So if the Lakers want to have a first-round pick in this June’s draft, they’re going to have to trade for one. Their own pick will go to either Phoenix or Cleveland (likely Phoenix), and the team will be on the outside looking in on June 27. Unless Kupchak trades for another pick, his options are limited.
If Kupchak wants to fix the team through the draft, he likely won’t have a 2013 first-round pick at his disposal.