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            After the Los Angeles Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick of the 2015 draft, some fans were left with a feeling of confusion and somewhat disappointment. Many reports in the weeks leading up to draft night had all but cemented Duke Universities’ Jahlil Okafor as the next Laker, after all the Lakers have always been a team with great big men. The last championship run saw the Lakers tout the three-headed monster that was Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol. Before them was Shaquille O’Neal. And before that the Lakers had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin, Mychal Thompson, AC Green, etc. You can even add Dwight Howard to the list of great centers, disappointing as that season was. Their history of big men is as storied as it is varied.

            But here’s the kicker, THE LAKERS DON’T DRAFT CENTERS. Sure, obviously they have picked some centers in the draft but none of them as long-term talent. Andrew Bynum was the closest to that type of player but the Lakers shipped him away for the then best center in the league, Dwight Howard. Vlade Divac was a serviceable center drafted by the Lakers but when the front office locked down the generational talents of Shaquille O’Neal, Divac was traded to Charlotte for a seventeen year old Kobe Bryant.  The Lakers let other teams develop centers then trade or sign them in free agency. Shaq, Kareem, Wilt, Thompson all signed or traded for. Meanwhile players like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, James Worthy, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Eddie Jones, and Derek Fisher have all been drafted and groomed to be great Lakers, and some of them all-time greats. Following this same recipe the Lakers hope to uplift themselves within the staggering Western Conference.

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The Lakers front office has a keen eye for talented guards, so it is no coincidence that they’ve hit home-runs with their draft selections. Last year the Lakers front office bought the Wizards 46th pick to get Jordan Clarkson, who exploded onto the NBA scene earning himself a Rookie first team honor. Julius Randal is a power forward but he’s a new breed of player. Randal likes to get a defensive rebound and run the ball up the court himself, a skill usually dedicated to guards. This year’s pick, D’Angelo Russell, will look to continue the success of Lakers guards. Luckily for him Byron Scott is the perfect coach to learn from.

Byron was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1983 but was traded to the Lakers that same year where he would go on to be a key player during the Showtime era. Byron Scott would then go on to mentor then 18-year-old rookie Kobe Bryant. As a coach Scott has shown great ability with developing and using guards, his Nets teams appeared in back to back NBA finals in 02 and 03 with Jason Kid leading the team. He then coached the New Orleans Hornets from 04-09 where he developed star point guard Chris Paul, earning a Coach of the Year Award in 2009. Then he became he head coach of the Cavs and mentors Kyrie Irving another start point guard who won rookie of the year honors. If history is to repeat itself D’Angelo Russell just landed in the best position to earn Rookie of the Year and grow up to be a star in this league. The mentorship from Byron and Kobe will be invaluable to D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson who can develop into a formidable duo in the backcourt. Clarkson has explosive athleticism and works well off the ball, Russell possesses a silky smooth jumper and uncanny court vision, imagine the damage these two can cause especially with help from one of the best players of all time in Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott who was no slouch himself. Many don’t know that Byron averaged roughly 50% shooting for his career, led the league in three-point shooting in ’85 and led the championship winning Lakers in scoring in ’88. Kobe and Byron have a combined eight NBA championships between them, what better mentors for two young guards. Russell has the monumental expectation of replacing Kobe but Russell looks like the type of player who will have the confidence to TAKE the reins. Because Number 24 isn’t going to give them up willingly.

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The Lakers are best equipped to develop guards, making their choice on draft night not as surprising as it appeared. They have historically followed this formula and have the personnel to mold the next great guard of the NBA. With their guards of the future locked down, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers now aim to snag a center via free agency or trade, just like they always have. Some big name centers will be available in the open market this off season, and with enough cap space to sign a max player expect the Lakers to be in every conversation involving a big man. Players like DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, and Brook Lopez are all unrestricted free agents. Other players like Roy Hibbert may opt out of their contracts to test the free market. It all depends on what style of center the Purple and Gold want to go with. Marc Gasol offers the most well-rounded offensive and defensive option but it’s hard to picture him leaving Memphis. Defensive centers like DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert offer great rebounding and rim protection, at the cost of very limited offensive weapons. Offensive centers like Monroe, Lopez or Kantar can be seen as defensive liabilities. Perhaps the Lakers will sign a cheaper option like Kosta Koufos, or Omer Asik allowing them to sign another player in free agency. The out of left field scenario would be the Lakers luring estranged big man Larry Sanders back to the NBA after his leave of absence. Whomever they decide to go after the Lakers front office has been here before, they know what they want and how to get it, and history has shown just successful they can be. So any fan disappointed by the draft selections should relax and sit back while Mitch Kupchak and company work their magic.

Michael Gomez covers the Los Angeles Lakers for MFST, you can follow him on twitter @michaelgom3

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