Lakers Draft Preview 2009
El Segundo, June 25--
Fresh off defeating the Orlando Magic to become the 2009 NBA champions and hoping to restrain payroll in an effort to re-sign free agents Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, the Los Angeles Lakers went overseas with the 29th pick in Thursday's NBA Draft, selecting selecting nine-year old Otto Schuster of Schmalkalden, Germany (at left, during a recent family vacation).
"Having just completed a championship season and with a roster with very few openings, we were looking for someone we could keep in Europe for a few seasons," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. "Otto fits that profile."
Pudgy and bookish, the 4'4" fourth grader has shown great aptitude for word puzzles but has never played organized sports, nor does basketball run in his family.
"I once saw Detlef Schrempf play," said his father Ludwig, a manager at Schmalkalden's electric power facility. "Perhaps we should buy Otto a ball?"
That the Lakers looked to Europe was not surprising, though the selection of Otto, who was not profiled by any of the pre-draft services and is consistently picked last for playground games at Hermann Hesse Elementary School, was unexpected. More conventional international prospects, including 6'9" Swedish forward Jonas Jerebko and French point guard Rodrigue Beaubois, were still available when the Lakers made their selection and could have also been stashed in Europe for the near future. That, Kupchak said, didn't fit into the organization's long term plans.
Kupchak noted how international players like Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, and Marc Gasol frequently play so well teams are tempted, or perhaps even compelled, to add them to their roster.
"Our scouting department, led by Ronnie Lester, has been responsible for finding many solid players deep in the draft," Kupchak said. "Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf in the second round, Sasha Vujacic late in the first, for example. Given the state of the economy and our projected payroll over the next few seasons, we couldn't risk drafting someone who might somehow, someday, end up on our team. Ronnie Lester and his staff are to be complimented for finding a young man who will under no circumstances suit up for a game in a Lakers uniform."
Prohibited from simply trading the pick after sending first round choices in 2008 and 2010 to Memphis as part of the Pau Gasol trade, the Lakers were willing to draft a collegian at the behest of another team and trade him for a future selection, but Kupchak said he was unable to find a partner. "These days, nobody seems to want to pick up an extra player. We were willing to take a first round pick as far out as 2094, and even make it protected through the first 29 picks. Still, no takers. It was a weak draft, for sure."
Reached for comment during an episode of Phineas und Ferb, Otto seemed confused and underwhelmed at the news, even after being told that frequent courtside guests at home games include Zac Efron and David Hasselhoff. Instead, he asked his mother for a warm slice of the apfelkuchen for which she is greatly admired among friends and family.
The Lakers had two picks in the second round as well. With the 42nd, they chose Carver High point guard Morris Thorpe, considered by many a strong defender. With their 59th pick, the Lakers selected former NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik in a move described by Kupchak as "an homage."