The Lakers don't have first-round picks often, but when they do, they make them as mysterious as anything.
Any number of things could happen to the seventh overall pick they hold in Thursday's NBA draft.
They could take one of three point guards: Dante Exum (unlikely he'll still be available), Marcus Smart or Elfrid Payton.
They could take one of three power forwards: Noah Vonleh (also unlikely to be available), Aaron Gordon or Julius Randle.
Or they could back into injury-prone Kansas center Joel Embiid, the top projected pick last week, now expected to fall after foot surgery that could jeopardize his first NBA season. (Imagine the look on Kobe Bryant's face if that's who the Lakers take.)
Less likely, the pick could turn into a trade for Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, a much more probable scenario last weekend until a disagreement within the Warriors' franchise about Thompson's value killed the deal.
Whatever happens, the Lakers better make good use of it when their turn comes up somewhere between 5 and 5:15 p.m. Pacific time.
They don't have a second-rounder because of the Steve Nash trade and don't have a first-rounder next year because of the Nash trade. They also don't have a second-round pick next year because of the Dwight Howard trade.
And they have only three players with guaranteed contracts on their roster — the quickly aging Bryant, the already aged Steve Nash and backup center Robert Sacre.
This first-round stuff is practically new business for the Lakers, who have sold or traded their pick every year since 2007, when they took the highly mortal Javaris Crittenton.
They haven't had a lottery pick since Andrew Bynum went 10th overall in 2005, making it slightly bizarre to witness so many high-level college players work out at their training facility in recent weeks.
There used to be three "sure things" in this year's draft, but it tumbled to two after Embiid's injury — Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins — and left a glut of players projected four through 14, if not lower, for the Lakers to poke and prod in a second tier of sorts.
They each have pluses and minuses, as expected in a draft without a Kevin Durant or LeBron James.
Exum could solve the Lakers' point guard problem despite his lack of exposure to high-quality basketball in Australia making him the biggest risk-reward candidate among the top picks. Still, he's not expected to be around at No. 7.
Vonleh moved up after being measured with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and 10-inch hands, tops among players in the draft. He didn't always assert himself offensively at Indiana, failing to hit double-digit scoring more than a third of the time, but also probably won't be on the table for the Lakers.
Of the two other point guards the Lakers are mulling, Smart can score but isn't quite as athletic as they envisioned. Payton was fast and dazzling at workouts but played against only four ranked teams in three years at Louisiana Lafayette.
Of the two other power forwards, Gordon showed great energy underneath the basket; if only his outside shot and free-throw shooting were better at Arizona. Randle reportedly had a foot injury that will require surgery but was solid at workouts and had no fear of playing with Bryant when asked about it.
"I heard Kobe was a little tough on rookies, but I don't care," Randle said. "The city of Los Angeles expects nothing but championships. What more can I ask for?"
There's really only one certainty involving the Lakers' pick, and even that carries an "if."
This will be their highest selection since James Worthy went No. 1 overall in 1982 … if they don't trade the pick.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times