Teams have dreams of moving up in the NBA draft lottery.
Not the Lakers. They were elated to stay where they were.
After finishing with the NBA’s second-worst record, the Lakers ended up with the second overall pick in next month’s draft, courtesy of four ping-pong balls drawn out of a plastic hopper with a 2-3-7-14 combination, one of 199 assigned to the Lakers ahead of time.
It came after Philadelphia already won the top pick with a 1-10-5-9 combo and led to the most relieved man in the NBA world Tuesday: Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
The Lakers would have lost their top-three protected pick had two teams passed them in the 14-team lottery. There was a 44.2% chance that would happen.
The typically stoic Kupchak even managed a grin afterward. It certainly beat chagrin, in his mind.
The lottery provided “drama that really, at this stage of my life, is unnecessary,” the 61-year-old Kupchak said.
Simmons is a 6-foot-10 “point forward,” capable of finding open teammates with ease and rebounding with aplomb. Defenders bounce off him when he drives the lane.
He can’t shoot, though, making only one three-pointer in 33 games at LSU. He took three all season. Despite his 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game, the Tigers failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Ingram is a 6-9 smooth shooter whose outside game is considered more NBA ready. His most glaring weakness is his 190-pound frame, but he swore Tuesday he would get stronger by consuming 5,000 calories a day and, presumably, working out maniacally as well.
His numbers weren’t as sharp as Simmons’ but he was on a more well-rounded team — 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and two assists a game. He made 80 three-pointers and shot 41% from behind the arc.
Superstitions were everywhere Tuesday for the Lakers.
Kupchak had a handful of lucky charms with him and disclosed one of them to reporters — a lapel pin with a Lakers logo from 1996, the birth year of his son, Maxwell.
Longtime Lakers publicist John Black wore the same tie, suit and championship ring (2001) from last year’s lottery, when the Lakers jumped from fourth to second and took D’Angelo Russell a month later.
This lottery had more urgency. The Lakers were coming off a grueling 17-65 season and, quite simply, needed something like this.
“After winning only 17 games, to then have the lost the pick would have been brutal,” Black acknowledged.
Looking forward, Kupchak said he wasn’t buying into this draft being only two great players. He said he would have been fine with the third pick (17.1% chance) — just not fourth or fifth.
That was somewhat surprising because there were a glut of players lined up behind Simmons and Ingram, none of them differentiating so far for the third spot. The list is long: Croatian power forward Dragan Bender, Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, California guard-forward Jaylen Brown, Marquette forward-center Henry Ellenson and Utah center Jakob Poeltl.
The Lakers would seek frontcourt help in the draft and free agency because their backcourt was solid enough, Kupchak said.
There was a chance they’d trade the pick, though Kupchak was amused by rumors they’d already decided to deal it before even knowing it was secured.
“Do we keep the pick? Do we trade the pick? That’s something we haven’t discussed,” Kupchak said.
The Lakers also have a second-round selection, 32nd overall, in the draft. They will have about $55 million to spend on free agency this summer, a staggering sum.
Despite the overwhelming sense of relief from Kupchak, the lottery was technically as straightforward as ever.
After Philadelphia took the first pick Tuesday, a different four-ball combination was drawn for the second pick. It was another combo owned by the 76ers so it was discarded. The next combination belonged to the Lakers and the second pick became theirs.
Their first-round pick in the 2017 draft will again be top-three protected, not that Kupchak wanted to be reminded of it.
“I don’t want to be here next year,” he said, repeating it for emphasis.
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