The Los Angeles Lakers seem to have a fairly obvious rebuilding plan in place. Assuming that the Philadelphia 76ers select Ben Simmons No. 1 overall in this Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Lakers can take forward Brandon Ingram with the second pick. Then they can re-sign restricted free agent guard Jordan Clarkson in free agency and let new coach Luke Walton build something new with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle manning the point guard and power forward positions, respectively.
The Lakers might have some surprises up their sleeves, though, and it’s worth remembering that this time last year, many thought they would draft big man Jahlil Okafor, not Russell. According to ESPN’s Chad Ford, it’s possible that they pass on Ingram and it’s also possible that they trade Russell for another pick.
“I think we all assume that Ingram’s going to be the guy at No. 2, but they’ve brought in Marquese Chriss, they’ve taken a long look at him,” Ford said in a SportsCenter appearance. “They’ve brought in Dragan Bender, Jaylen Brown, and while I still believe that it will be Ingram at No. 2, the Lakers have explored other options. And again I think the concern with Ingram is his lack of strength and how NBA-ready he’s going to be because of that. I think more likely the Lakers are trying to pick up another pick in this draft in the top five and the guy that they have that they can shop is D’Angelo Russell, a guy who was their No. 2 pick in the draft last year but burned some bridges in the locker room.”
After the video fiasco in late March, Russell endured a wave of backlash. In a video for CBS Sports, former NBA guard Raja Bell said that if he was in Los Angeles general manager Mitch Kupchak’s shoes, he would trade Russell. Months later, though, it is a little strange to see his name pop up in this kind of rumor.
At the top of the draft, this year’s crop of prospects is widely seen as worse than last year’s. Russell had an uneven rookie season, but that arguably had more to do with former Lakers coach Byron Scott yanking him in and out of the lineup than anything he did wrong. Los Angeles thought it had a future star on its hands when it drafted him last year, and it still should feel that way. Few guards selected in the last decade have projected as better pick-and-roll players than Russell.
If the Lakers’ concerns about Russell somehow outweigh his potential, then they could do worse than acquiring a top-five pick for him. He’s only 20 years old, though, and it seems like they could be in danger of out-thinking themselves here. There is nothing wrong Los Angeles doing its due diligence and evaluating every single option before the draft, but there is unlikely to be a better plan than simply drafting Ingram and keeping Russell.