With one eye toward free agency and another toward the bank, the Lakers sold two of their picks in Thursday’s NBA draft for a combined $4.5 million.
The Lakers sat out the first round for a second consecutive season, selling the 29th overall pick to the New York Knicks for $3 million. Then they sent the 42nd overall pick to the Miami Heat for $1.5 million. In both deals, the Lakers also received a 2011 second-round pick.
All told, the Lakers are $6.2 million richer than they were before the draft, raking in $4.5 million while saving another $1.7 million that would have been guaranteed to the 29th pick over the next two seasons.
Thursday’s cost-conscious activities will only help the Lakers’ chances of re-signing free-agent forwards Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom.
“It certainly won’t hurt,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said.
The Lakers are trying to decrease the luxury-tax hit for a team that has already committed $74 million to eight players next season.
They could face up to $20 million in taxes if their payroll hits $90 million, a possibility if they re-sign Ariza and Odom when they become unrestricted free agents Wednesday.
On the other hand, there’s always the chance that a team offers one or both forwards a contract offer deemed unreasonable by the Lakers.
“I don’t know what the free-agent market’s going to hold for us,” Kupchak said. “If a competing team makes an offer that we don’t think is a good basketball business decision, then it doesn’t matter how much money you have, we won’t match that or try to match that offer.”
The Detroit Pistons will be more than $20 million under the salary cap and are expected to be aggressive in free-agency spending.
Atlanta, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto and Portland are also far enough under the cap to sign Odom or Ariza, though they are not expected to be as active as Detroit.
The Lakers did end up keeping one pick Thursday, taking 6-foot-10 Texas A&M; center Chinemelu Elonu with the 59th overall selection.
Elonu, who entered the draft after his junior season, faces almost impossible odds in making the roster next season despite being 34th overall on the Lakers’ own draft board.
The Lakers’ cost-control plan next season calls for carrying only 13 players, the league minimum. The team hasn’t had so few players on its roster since also carrying 13 in 2002-03.
“We think we did the right thing,” Kupchak said when asked about selling two picks. “There’s a chance if we can keep our team together that we really wouldn’t have roster space for draft picks. This year’s draft, we felt, was not as strong down in the ’29' range.”
New York selected Florida State point guard Toney Douglas with the 29th pick. Miami took Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley with the 42nd pick.
The Lakers did not have a first-round pick last season because of the Pau Gasol trade with Memphis.
The Grizzlies also have the Lakers’ first-round pick next season.
Ariza will be one of 25 to play in a USA Basketball mini-camp next month in Las Vegas, the first of several steps toward determining the U.S. roster at the 2012 Olympics.
Ariza, who turns 24 next week, will be joined at the mini-camp by Kevin Durant, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin, among others.