Los Angeles Lakers Need Immediate Production With No. 7 Pick
With the 2014 NBA Draft less than 24 hours away, the Los Angeles Lakers remain in unfamiliar territory with a surplus of cap space and the No. 7 overall selection. Although the salary cap has yet to be announced, the Lakers and general manager Mitch Kupchak must look for immediate help through the draft and free agency. It’s been nearly 10 years since the Lakers last had a lottery selection when Andrew Bynum went 10th in 2005. If the Lakers are going to contend for a championship this season, the No. 7 pick has to be someone who can come in and help immediately. Although Kobe Bryant is set to return at full strength, the Lakers have to also consider life after Bryant, who turns 36 this year. If the Lakers can find a suitor to take Steve Nash and his contract off the books, Marcus Smart should definitely be considered. The 6-foot-4 combo guard out of Oklahoma State has already worked out twice for the Lakers, and his long arms and defensive ability on the perimeter is something fans in Los Angeles haven’t had the luxury of recently. If Smart is going to be an All-Star at the next level, he must also develop his perimeter game after shooting just 29 percent from behind the three point arc in his sophomore season. Last season, Smart averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Smart’s rebounding from the guard position and ability to play the passing lanes should be very enticing to the Lakers, though his maturity level may still be in question. Pairing a young Smart in the backcourt with Bryant can pay off for the Lakers if Bryant is up for the mentoring role. If Smart is not available at No. 7, the Lakers should select a post who can defend and rebound. Veteran forward Pau Gasol is passed his prime and may not be in the Lakers’ future, unless he’s willing to take a significant pay cut. Even with an aging Gasol in the lineup, the Lakers struggled last season in the paint and should seriously consider a post player in the first round, if Smart isn’t available. Last season, the Lakers finished 25th in the NBA in rebounding, 48.8, and dead last in allowed points per game in the paint, 49.2. Freshmen forwards Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh are three completely different forwards, but all three are tenacious rebounders and can help the Lakers, whose only post player signed for next season is Robert Sacre. Like Smart, Gordon also worked out twice for the Lakers and may be one of the most athletic forwards to enter the draft since Blake Griffin. Like Griffin, Gordon must also work on his free throw percentage and get stronger to defend the likes of Griffin, LaMarcus Aldrige and Kevin Love. If Gordon continues to improve his ball handling and outside shot, don’t be surprised to see the 6-foot-9 forward make the transition to the small forward position, a la Kevin Durant. In one year at Arizona, Gordon averaged 12.4 points, eight rebounds and two assists while shooting an impressive 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the three point arc. Although Gordon didn’t exactly have the freshman season everyone expected at Arizona, his versatility and athleticism may be too enticing for the Lakers to pass on. With only three players under contract for next season, the No. 7 pick should be someone who can come in and produce sooner rather than later. Whether it’s Smart or Gordon, we shall soon find out.