The Lakers and the 2011 Draft


Nobody expected the Lakers to do much in the draft. Their first pick was at #41, then 46, 56 and 58.  Since they didn’t make a major move, and nobody else did either, the LA Times guy, Mark Heisler, reported that the draft was a “massive yawner.” Wrong again, Mark.

Another reason that nobody expected the Lakers to do much in the draft is because they rarely do. Since they took Andrew Bynum with their 1st-round pick in 2005, they have had only one drafted player wear a Laker uniform for more than a few minutes, and that would be Jordan Farmar, drafted in 2006. When his old contract expired after the 2010 championship season, the Lakers didn’t offer a new one, even though he had proven himself as a worthy backup to Derek Fisher. They thought he’d be too expensive after playing so well, so Farmar signed a $12 mil, three-year deal with the Nets, where he is a worthy backup to Deron Johnson.

The Lakers signed Steve Blake to take Farmar’s place, but it was soon revealed that he isn’t nearly as good or as young. So he’s cheaper, right? Actually, no. Blake and Farmar make exactly the same money–$4 mil a year–only the Lakers owe Blake for an extra year. Yeah, Mitch Kupchak signed Steve Blake to a 4-year, $16 million contract. And now, only a year later, the Lakers still need a backup point guard!

In 2007 the Lakers selected Javaris Crittenden with the 19th pick. They could’ve picked Jared Dudley, Rudy Fernandez, Aaron Brooks, Glen Davis, Tiago Splitter or Carl Landry. Instead they chose Crittenden, who bombed.

In 2008 their only pick was Joe Crawford at #57. They waived him.

In 2009, the Lakers picked Toney Douglas at #29. Nice pick. Ah but they traded him to the Knicks for a second-rounder and cash.  In the second round they picked Patrick Beverley. (?) They missed out on Marcus Thornton and Chase Budinger, drafted right after Beverley.

In 2010, they picked Devin Ebanks (who played a bit more than 100 minutes all year) and Derrick Caracter, who showed very little character when he was caught stealing—T-shirts, was it?—from a store in New Orleans while his team was playing the Hornets during the playoffs.

Mitch Kupchak has done a lousy job of drafting ,and his acquisition of players through trades and free agency has had only a few successes and mostly because the Lakers play in Los Angeles, and not Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis or other such fun spots.

The Lakers probably noticed that this year’s draft improved several teams in the Western Conference. Good teams like the Jazz, Rockets, Spurs, Mavs, Blazers and Thunder got better, but the biggest winners were the two biggest losers in the West last season—the T-Wolves and the Kings.

The Wolves picked Derrick Williams at #2 and acquired Brad Miller, two draft picks and a future #1 from Houston for a point guard (Jonny Flynn) that they didn’t really need and their 20th pick (Montiejunas), who’ll be in Europe for a couple of years. The Kings, aggressively trying to stay in Sacramento (or make themselves attractive enough to move to Southern California), got just what they need, scoring punch, in John Salmons and Jimmer Fredette.

For their 41st pick, the- Lakers took Darius Morris, a point guard from Michigan.  Could be a steal. At least he’s one thing the Lakers need—a pass-first point guard. He might not yet be good enough to take over for Derek Fisher but he figures to be a better and much less expensive backup than Steve Blake.

At #46, they chose Andrew Goudelock, a 3-point specialist from College of Charleston. Only 6’2”, he’s a wingman who can also play the point. The skinny on him is that he’s not quick (which you’d expect at 6’2”) and not very good defensively. But I figure if he’s as good at hitting his 3s as he’s supposed to be, his lack of defense won’t matter. Marilyn Monroe was a lousy cook.

The Lakers’ 56th and 58th picks were a couple of big foreign guys who will probably play in Europe before they get to the NBA, if they ever do.

Most likely, Morris will make it and the three others won’t be heard from again, but that makes the draft a success. If they can fill one hole, that’s a start.

The Lakers need to be careful not to panic. They still have the best personnel. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating here: They lost last year—aside from the fact that it’s a bitch to win three straight NBA titles—because Phil Jackson overworked them in the last two weeks of the regular season, trying to clinch 2nd place in the West so they wouldn’t have to play the Blazers. All of which blew up in their face. The Mavericks took the opposite philosophy—resting their players during that same period and losing 2nd place to the Lakers, and you know how that turned out.

Also, the Lakers lacked a backup center, moving Pau to center when Bynum was hurt or resting. Bad idea. Pau’s not a center, and he’s not a banger. He’s a finesse player and one of the greatest finesse big men ever. Pau had a subpar series and became the scapegoat. So blame management far more than the players. The Lakers roster is the best in the NBA.

So I wouldn’t be in any hurry to make a deal. Yes, Ron Artest’s game seemed to seriously degrade, especially late in the year. But it would be a mistake to underestimate him. He is still a serious defender, one of the best. He’s also an all-around crafty guy that knows how to get an advantage. The trick is simply to reduce his role. Seventh Man! I’d be auditioning all kinds of small forwards if I were Mitch Kupchak.

The Lakers need a backup center, a small forward, a backup point guard good enough to take over sooner than later (Morris), and a shooting guard to replace Shannon Brown if he leaves (Goudelock?). Right now, the Lakers aren’t better than they were last season, and they need to be.

Time for Mitch Kupchak to earn his money.