As Lakers wrap up a losing season, they must think about draft lottery
With the Lakers’ 2014-15 season nearing an inglorious end, the team faces two serious questions moving forward before next season.
At just 20-54 heading into Friday night’s battle against the Portland Trail Blazers in what may be the worst season in franchise history, will the Lakers even have their own first-round pick in June’s NBA draft?
The Lakers will send Philadelphia their selection, but only if it’s not in the top five, as the final debt owed in the Steve Nash trade with Phoenix. The Lakers have the fourth-worst record in the NBA, with an 82.8% chance of getting successfully through May’s draft lottery.
Talented prospects such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell could significantly change the Lakers’ fate, if the lottery balls prove favorable — and not utterly disastrous.
That pick will impact the Lakers’ spending power in July, taking up between $3.1 million and $4.8 million of salary cap space this summer. The NBA projects the cap will climb from the current $63.1 million to $67.4 million for the 2015-16 season.
The second decision, which needs to be made prior to free agency in July, is Jordan Hill’s $9 million team option.
If the Lakers land the fourth pick in the draft, but let Hill go, they’ll have approximately $24 million in cap room. Keep Hill, and that number drops to about $15 million, which may not be enough to land a top free agent in the $18-million to $22-million range.
Drafting an Okafor or Towns may lead to Hill’s exit. The first decision is likely to weigh heavily on the second.
No pick and no Hill, the Lakers would be near $28 million in cap space.
The team will also get a first-round pick from Houston (currently 28th overall), their own second (34th) and possibly a second-rounder from the Clippers (50-26), provided the selection is in the narrow range of 51 to 55. The Clippers are presently slotted at 56th. The Lakers received both additional picks from the Rockets with Jeremy Lin in a trade over the summer.
The only Lakers with fully guaranteed contracts next season are Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly. The team also has four players on non-guaranteed minimum contracts: Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre and Jabari Brown. Ed Davis is certain to opt out for next year at $1.1 million.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are paying out $70.4 million in player payroll. Last season, they tallied a total team salary of $77.1 million — $84.8 million with Metta World Peace, who was waived via the team’s one-time amnesty provision.
Both seasons are a far cry from the Dwight Howard season (2012-13) that had the Lakers paying out $99.9 million for the roster plus $9 million more in luxury taxes.
The Lakers signed 6-foot-3 point guard Dwight Buycks to a $48,028, 10-day contract Friday.
The Marquette product went undrafted in 2011, playing with the Toronto Raptors, in the Development League and overseas.
With so many injuries this season, the Lakers were granted a hardship exception by the NBA to sign Buycks as the team’s 16th player.
Pincus is a Times correspondent.
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