Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak drafts 6-5 Russell but notes key role of big men

Mitch Kupchak

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak smiles after hosting workouts for six potential draft picks on May 26.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers passed on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to select Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday.

“We’re very happy to have D’Angelo be a Laker,” said Kupchak.  "[There were] a lot of good players in this draft.  We felt he, at No. 2, was a player we couldn’t pass on.”

While Okafor is a talented, 6-foot-11 inside scorer, the Lakers went with the 6-foot-5 playmaking shooter.

The decision wasn’t necessarily based on changes in the NBA game, which saw the Golden State Warriors win their first title in 40 years playing small against the Cleveland Cavaliers.


“You look around this building and you see [Wilt] Chamberlain, and you see [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] and you see Shaquille O’Neal, those are three pretty good centers,” said Kupchak, referring to the team’s retired jerseys at the Lakers’ team practice facility in El Segundo.

“There was also Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Magic Johnson,” he continued.  “You can debate the whole topic.  Am I going to say that we selected him because we think that’s the direction this league and the game is going?  I don’t think that’s the case.  You still need quality big men in this league and if any of those players on the wall were available, we would have selected them.”

The Lakers still have the34th picks in the draft, but presumably will need to find size in free agency, where the team could have about $22 million in spending power.

“There are lot of big men that may be available during free agency,” said Kupchak.


Options may include LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan or Greg Monroe, among others.

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