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Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Q&A: James Worthy on NBA draft lottery

By Dave McMenamin

NEW YORK -- His No. 42 is hanging up in the rafters at Staples Center, but James Worthy will be rooting for 21.5 on Tuesday at the NBA draft lottery in Times Square.

As in, the Lakers have a 21.5 percent chance of vaulting up to one of the top three spots in next month's draft, and Worthy -- the franchise's last No. 1 overall pick back in 1982 -- will be representing the team when they find out their fate at the lottery.

The Lakers finished with the sixth-worst record in the league last season at 27-55. They have a 43.99 percent chance of ending up with the No. 6 pick and a 30.44 percent chance of getting No. 7. The more remote possibilities are moving up (6.3 percent chance at No. 1, 7.1 percent at No. 2, 8.1 percent at No. 3) or dropping even further (3.96 percent chance at No. 8, 0.1 percent at No. 9).

Worthy caught up with ESPNLosAngeles.com to discuss luck and the state of the franchise, while also offering his endorsement on whom should be the next coach of the Lakers:


What was the genesis behind you being the representative for the team? You were the last No. 1 draft pick by the Lakers, and that is an obvious part of your story, but maybe it could have been Jeanie Buss in that role. Maybe it could have been Jim Buss. How did it come about?

"Well, I got a call. I got a call from [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak and [Lakers vice president of public relations] John Black, and I’m not sure what the process was before that. I don’t know whether Jeanie just didn’t feel like going, or Jim, or one of the Buss children. I don’t even know if they asked Kobe [Bryant]. I don’t know that.

"But, when I got the call, Mitch kind of joked around and said he had heard me on a telecast saying we were overdue for a really high pick and he asked me if I would represent the Lakers at the lottery. So I felt honored, being an old-time Laker from that '80s era. Hopefully we'll bring some of that magical, mystical luck and get us to a good pick. I’m feeling good about it."

James Worthy
James Worthy was the last No. 1 draft pick by the Lakers back in 1982.
I saw on social media that you have a Chick Hearn bobblehead doll with you for the trip. Are there any other knickknacks or lucky items you brought along with you?

"Well, the piece I'm still looking for is Bill Sharman. Bill Sharman was very instrumental in making the trade that brought me to Los Angeles, so I’m looking for [a bobblehead doll of] him. And Chick Hearn was at the draft in 1982 when I was drafted. Chick Hearn was there representing the Lakers. So I'd like to have three bobbleheads up there –- Chick Hearn, if I can get Bill Sharman and then Dr. [Jerry] Buss. Hopefully that will be enough to get us a top-3 pick."

What’s your opinion on how important this draft is going to be or how important this pick is going to be for the Lakers, considering where the franchise stands right now?

"I don't think they're looking for a quick fix. I don't think that’s what they're looking for. I think most teams kind of look at new-coming rookies as a projection. Something they can grow in the future, two to three years. I think that’s what they'll be looking for. There used to be a time when you looked for a certain position, or centers were available back then –- the Ralph Sampson days, those kind of things –- but I think the way the game is evolved is talented players are [defined by] talent, athleticism.

"I haven't talked to Mitch about anything about what they're going to pick, but based on what I've seen in the league the last 10 years, I think that’s what they're looking for: The best pick that’s going to fit their unit."

Another Laker legend, Jerry West, who we know for his irascible-type personality, once told me at the 2006 draft lottery that he doesn’t really like the event because it’s a “celebration of losers.” Is there any sense of this being below the Lakers’ standard to be involved in this?

"[Laughing] You know, I'm certainly not going to argue with Jerry West. He’s the king of lottery drafts and precision. But, yeah, it’s unfortunate. The Lakers don’t like to be in this situation. We’d like to be where we used to be in the past and being a top team, or one of the top three teams. So, it’s unfortunate that we’ve found ourselves here. It’s not something we’re used to. But I look back over the last three to four years. We thought we had Chris Paul and didn’t get him. That was very unfortunate. We get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and we only have a plethora of injuries. Then we lose Dwight Howard, when we were thinking of him as the future-of-the-franchise type of player. And now we have only three players coming back under contract [for next season].

"So, it’s unfortunate, but this is where we are. There’s really no shame. We just have to deal with it and get back the brand that we're accustomed to, and this is part of the process. It’s unfortunate, but I think we're happy to be where we are. I don’t think we’re happy to be where we are, but we’ll utilize the situation the best we can to get us back where we want to be."

What’s your opinion on the various reports out there that the Lakers would be open to trading the pick? Should you bring them luck, you move up into the top 3 and suddenly you could maybe deal it for an established veteran. For instance, Kevin Love. What do you think about going that route?

"For all of my NBA career and for what I’ve seen since then, that’s an option. That’s an option that’s very feasible, and if you can get the right pick, you can use it for your team or you can use it to get some players or trade that. Knowing Mitch, he’s extremely methodical and he’s going to weigh all the scenarios and I’m sure if it makes sense to trade the pick, I’m sure that’s one of the plays in his playbook. Like I said, I haven't had any conversation with him about it, but just from my experience in what I've seen, it’s possible."

If you were Mitch or Jim or the person responsible for hiring the next head coach of the Lakers, who would that be?

"It’s funny, with so many players coming out of high school and one year of college, you're starting to see teams wanting college coaches and stuff like that, but right off the top of my head: I played with Byron Scott, so I know what he brings to the table. I know that he holds people accountable and he’s a defensive kind of genius when it comes to that. I like Nate McMillan. Nate McMillan spent some time with Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] in USA/international basketball. I think he knows all the players that were on the team. He has a good rapport. But, I got to go with my good friend Byron Scott, if it was up to me."

Last question: Outside of the bobblehead dolls, are you going to wear lucky socks or a special tie? Or are you going to have a special meal before everything unfolds?

"I’m going to have on a little purple action, that’s all. A little purple action. Nothing out of the ordinary. I’m not going to dress up like Darryl Dawkins or anything like that. But I’ll have a little pocket square, a little purple and represent."