Two percent isn’t much. Michael Beasley scored 2% of the Lakers’ points this season. Svi Mykhailiuk and Mike Muscala combined to grab 2% of the Lakers’ rebounds. Johnathan Williams converted 2% of the Lakers’ made free throws and Alex Caruso made 2% of the Lakers’ blocked shots.
And if you polled all the basketball people in the NBA — the general managers, coaches, team presidents, scouting coordinators — 2% might approve of the way the Lakers handled their coaching search before agreeing to terms with Frank Vogel.
But a 2% shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft isn’t a 0% chance — and 0% is the only guaranteed outcome.
The odds won’t be with the Lakers during the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday in Chicago. Isaac Bonga’s field-goal percentage, the worst of any player in the NBA with at least 30 attempts, is still seven times better than the Lakers’ chances to win the No. 1 overall pick.
Still, a little luck would go a long way.
With Zion Williamson the presumed top pick, winning the lottery would start the Lakers’ roster building with a bang. Same goes for getting a spot in the top three, where Murray State guard Ja Morant and Williamson’s Duke teammate RJ Barrett are expected to be selected.
For these Lakers, though, owning a top pick would be more valuable than actually using it at the draft in June — with the No. 1 pick maybe an exception, because of how tantalizing a player as big and strong and athletic as Williamson would look next to LeBron James.
The Lakers’ priority is to put the best team and best coaching staff around James, and adding more young talent to develop wouldn’t help that process. They need players James can win with now. Scouts and executives around the NBA believe the young players the Lakers presented to New Orleans last season at the trade deadline, when they tried to acquire All-Star forward Anthony Davis, are every bit as available now.
They saw how the Lakers handled their coaching search, focusing almost exclusively on a group with head coaching experience. They saw what the Lakers looked like last season when Luke Walton and his staff tried to serve two very different masters — winning now because James’ clock was ticking while trying to develop young players.
If the Lakers are going to ride with James — and let’s be clear, they 100% should still ride with someone with a legitimate claim as the best basketball player ever — finding top-line talent in its prime is the best path.
Re-engaging with the Pelicans and their new front office led by former Cleveland executive David Griffin should be a top priority — and doing it before the start of free agency on July 1 makes the most sense.
A little lottery luck would go a long way toward making a stronger offer for Davis, especially with Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball coming off injuries.
If Davis ends up elsewhere, the Lakers could shop the rest of the trade market. Could a new regime in Washington want to move forward by moving Bradley Beal? Would the Lakers value a Mike Conley-James pairing more than Ball’s continuing development? What about Chris Paul if Houston is ready to make changes?
The Lakers still have appeal to players around the NBA, but if they’re hoping to sell free agents on stability, they’ve done themselves a disservice so far this offseason.
Vogel earned a lot of respect for a successful tenure with Indiana, though some of that shine has been washed away by a rocky stint in Orlando and the Pacers’ continued success without him. And with Jason Kidd sitting on the same bench, plenty of people already are predicting some disharmony on the Lakers’ staff.
It’s why the trade market will matter. It’s why the lottery will matter. The best offers, the best path for the Lakers can be made on trade calls, not free-agency pitches.