Lakers have limited history with NBA draft lottery
Even with L.A. losing in embarrassing fashion this postseason, falling in a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, the ramifications for the team's busy off-season could be a lot worse. At least, the Lakers don't have to attend the NBA draft lottery, scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
The Lakers and mediocrity have proved to be such an unfamiliar pairing that the organization has only been a part of two lotteries since the system's inception 26 years ago. But those two times should still spark some good memories, such as drafting Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum with the No. 10 pick in 1994 and 2005, respectively. Below is a look at the lead-up heading into both of those drafts, including the Lakers' initial expectations before and after the draft and how those picks turned out for the organization's future.
1994 NBA Draft
Lakers' pre-draft expectations: The Lakers entered the draft loaded at the shooting guard spot with Anthony Peeler, Doug Christie, Sedale Threatt and Tony Smith. They also came off a 33-49 season that lacked much front-line scoring and rebounding. Yet Executive Vice President Jerry West maintained that he'd take the best player available because he had a quality pick. "We think that the best player will be a guard at that spot, and we're simply going to take the best player," West told The Times' Scott Howard-Cooper. "When you're drafting a little bit later, you can take someone who has a special skill. But you want to take the best basketball player at this position."
Howard-Cooper reported that the Lakers probably were either going to select Jones, the Atlantic 10 Conference's player of the year; Khalid Reeves, a 6-3 guard who would give the Lakers a small backcourt considering Nick Van Exel was 6-1; or Carlos Rogers, whose 6-10 frame would give the Lakers more size compared with the 6-6 Christie and 6-7 George Lynch.
Lakers' assessment after drafting Jones: Howard-Cooper compared Jones' defense to that of former Laker Michael Cooper, who agreed, saying "it was like looking at a mirror image" and describing Jones as the "best athlete in the draft." Even though Howard-Cooper reported the Lakers tried to trade with the Seattle Supersonics in some fashion after they selected Rogers with the 11th pick, the organization sounded content with Jones, hoping he could jump-start an offense that averaged only 100.4 points per game in the 1993-94 season. The selection created a logjam for the Lakers with four shooting guards, but West and Coach Del Harris argued to Howard-Cooper that Jones would have no problem establishing his niche.
"We're excited. Very excited. Going into the thing, we thought that there might be a small forward, which we've indicated is a need for us. But we just felt we could not pass on this kid," West said. "We indicated we were going to take the best player. And we felt he was the best player there, regardless of position."
"We have some big guards; we'll just have to see," Harris said. "I don't get into those positioning things much. I worked with Don Nelson for a number of years, and one of the things I learned from Don Nelson is to ignore the positioning and play the player. That's the thing about Eddie. We'll just call him a ballplayer and stick him out there."
How it turned out: Jones averaged 14 points per game and 2.1 steals per game in his rookie season and finished fourth in rookie-of-the-year balloting, earned a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team in 1996-96 and 1997-98 and then earned NBA All-Defensive second team honors in both the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns. Jones defined his five seasons with the Lakers by showcasing a dependable mid-range jumper, mentoring a then-young Kobe Bryant once he entered the league in 1996-97 and hustled on defense. The Lakers eventually traded Jones and Elden Campbell to the Charlotte Hornets on March 10, 1999 for B.J. Armstrong, J.R. Reid and Glen Rice.
2005 NBA Draft
Lakers' pre-draft expectations: The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported that the Lakers would look for either a post player or a point guard. The possibilities Bresnahan found included Fran Vazquez, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-10 power forward from Spain; Martynas Andriuskevicius, a 7-3 center from Lithuania who Bresnahan considered had a "good touch" and "defensive presence"; or North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton, a 6-foot junior who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists and three-point accuracy. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak cautioned to Bresnahan that the organization's pick would likely be a long-term project.
""I think it's unlikely that any player drafted 10 through 20 would make an immediate impact," Kupchak said at the time. "You hope that he can play a little bit, make a contribution. If you're a top four or five pick, you'll probably get a guy who's going to start for you."
Lakers' assessment after drafting Bynum: The Times' Mark Heisler reported that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn't crazy over the Lakers drafting Bynum since he was the youngest player ever selected in the NBA draft (18 years, six days) and would be a long-term project. But as Heisler mused about Lakers owner Jerry Buss, "The good news for the franchise was, Buss didn't care." Also, Heisler highlighted concern about Bynum's medical history, a sign of things to come.
How it turned out: Flashes of potential mixed with extensive injuries truly tested the organization's patience with Bynum yet also revealed its reluctance to give up on him. It was bad enough that Bryant argued in a profanity-laced rant in 2007 that the Lakers should've traded him for Jason Kidd. It was even worse that Bynum kept suffering injury after injury, ranging from playing in only 35 games in the 2007-08 season because of a dislocated right knee cap after landing awkwardly on Lamar Odom's foot, and playing in only 50 games the next season after tearing his medial collateral ligament when he collided into Bryant.
That left some Laker fans wondering if it was worth it for the organization to sign him to a four-year, $58-million deal before the start of the 2008-09 season. It took a while. but Bynum started showing his true value the following two seasons. He didn't escape injury in the 2009-10 campaign, missing the last 13 regular season games because of a strained left Achilles' tendon and suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 6 of the first-round matchup against Oklahoma City. But he played through the pain and still made a difference with his length, size and presence to give the Lakers an edge in the 2010 NBA playoffs.
He again frustrated some fans with his controversial decision to delay surgery on his right knee so he could attend the World Cup, resulting in him missing the first 24 games of the season. But that also pointed to his doctor not having appointments available 10 days earlier like Bynum had hoped and his desire for the tear to heal completely. Bynum responded with a strong defensive presence and his best postseason yet, showing that his future can indeed be bright -- assuming he stays healthy, of course.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Eddie Jones. Credit: Otto Greule, Allsport / Dec. 10, 1997