The Lakers are a week away from their reward for an unforgettably rough season.
Philadelphia, Milwaukee and tons of other teams can also start replenishing their roster in next Thursday's NBA draft after unspeakably bad seasons.
This is all bizarrely unfamiliar for the Lakers, who haven't had a lottery pick since 2005 (Andrew Bynum) or even a first-rounder at all since 2007 (Javaris Crittenton, who made a name for himself by being the target of Gilbert Arenas' locker-room gun incident).
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they won't have a top-three pick next week.
The triumvirate of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been the main draft targets for months now, and little has changed since individual workouts and interviews started with teams a few weeks ago. There has been little separation amongthem beyond one determining factor — four extra inches for Embiid, a seven-footer.
The next seven players selected will all have some minuses, but enough pluses to be top-10 picks in a nicely deep draft.
There are two point guards to watch — Dante Exum and Marcus Smart — and three power forwards — Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh. And throw in high-scoring shooters Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas for a quality second tier.
This draft matters like few others to the Lakers, who didn't have their first-round pick last season (Steve Nash trade), don't have a second-rounder this season (Nash trade), don't have a first-round pick next season (Nash trade) and don't have a second-rounder next season (Dwight Howard trade).
In other words, they can't afford to mess this one up.
NBA Mock Draft Selections:
1) Cleveland: Joel Embiid, Kansas, center, 7-0, 240. He appears to be over the fractured back that kept him out of Kansas' short-lived NCAA tournament run. He'll be a great defensive complement to Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and, the Cavs hope, nothing like last year's No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.
2) Milwaukee: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, small forward, 6-8, 200. Yeah, the 10 minutes he spent at Kansas didn't exactly live up to the hype, including a four-point disaster in the Jayhawks' second (and final) NCAA tournament game. But his potential makes him slightly more intriguing than the next candidate.
3) Philadelphia: Jabari Parker, Duke, small forward, 6-8, 235. The poor 76ers lost 26 games in a row, somehow didn't catch Milwaukee for the NBA's worst record, got leapfrogged by Cleveland on lottery night and now must take the least attractive of the top three. On second thought, that's not such a bad thing.
4) Orlando: Dante Exum, Australia, point guard, 6-6, 196. He didn't have the quality-of-opponent college experience of the top three picks and chose his spots as far as team workouts. But if he's anything like point guard Damian Lillard, drafted sixth overall two years ago despite similar lack of big-game experience, the Magic will be thrilled.
5) Utah: Noah Vonleh, Indiana, power forward, 6-10, 247. He turned heads at the draft combine last month. He had the largest wingspan and biggest hands of anybody, helping the Jazz forget all about the fact he averaged only 11.3 points last season.
6) Boston: Julius Randle, Kentucky, power forward, 6-9, 250. The Celtics begin their refurbishing project — up to 10 first-round picks over the next five years. Randle has a physique like Zach Randolph and his same double-double game but has done it all on a foot that recently raised questions because of a high school injury.
7) Lakers: Aaron Gordon, Arizona, power forward, 6-9, 220. Three power forwards in a row? The Lakers take Randle if he's available after an impressive workout Tuesday but might have to settle for the elite athleticism of Gordon, who couldn't buy a free throw at Arizona (42%) and needs a ton of work on mid-range jumpers.
8) Sacramento: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, point guard, 6-3, 227. The Kings stole Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the 2012 draft, but he's a free agent who will get much more than the $885,000 he made last season. Smart seems like a wise replacement.
9) Charlotte: Nik Stauskas, Michigan, shooting guard, 6-7, 207. It's almost time to label Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo as lottery busts. With Kemba Walker shooting an abysmal 39.3% last season, Stauskas should provide some backcourt relief after making 44% of his three-point attempts for the Wolverines.
10) Philadelphia: Doug McDermott, Creighton, small forward, 6-8, 218. The 76ers will have already picked up a slasher and now they can get a shooter. McDermott might be the second coming of Kyle Korver, a rookie with the 76ers 11 years ago.