….and with the second selection in the 2017 NBA draft the Los Angeles Lakers select Lonzo Ball of UCLA.
Its been a whirlwind few months for the Lakers. The return of prodigal son Magic Johnson to the help turn the franchise’s fortunes around, coupled with the lottery ping pong balls bouncing their way leading to their drafting of local legend Lonzo Ball. It all has the Laker faithful talking about the team’s future with enthusiasm usually reserved only for the Catalina Wine Mixer.
It all takes me back to the summer of 1996. A summer that transformed the Lakers thanks to the deft front office maneuvering of The Logo, Jerry West. He managed to clear out cap space with a flair that would make Darryl Morey blush, all leading to the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal to the west coast.
As part of the mechanism to clear that space, West had sent the Lakers starting center, Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for the #13 overall pick in the draft, a high school kid from the suburbs of Philadelphia named Kobe Bryant.
It was only one year prior when Kevin McHale, the then GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves selected high schooler Kevin Garnet with the 5th pick in the draft. Which is to say it had not yet become fashionable to stake your future to a kid who may not yet be able to run to the store to grab Divac another pack of cigarettes.
But Kobe Bryant was no ordinary high school. This is a kid who had taken Brandy to the prom (If you’re too young to know who Brandy is, she was a pop star turned television star, think Christina Milan. If you’re too young to know who Christina Milan is, then I don’t know how to help you, go away). He had grown up around pro ball, following his dad who had played in Italy, and was mature beyond his age.
This leads us to present day. The Lakers by all accounts believe they’ve found the heir apparent to Kobe as the face of the Lakers and that face is Lonzo Ball’s. After a freshman season where his play at UCLA garnered national attention, Lonzo, and his brash, outspoken father Lavar had stated their desire unequivocally for Lonzo to end up on the Lakers. And so their wish was granted.
This is where the narrative of this story takes a turn. I do not believe Lonzo Ball is the next Kobe Bryant. Neither in comparable skill set, nor impact. I do believe the Lakers drafted another guard who’s career path could very well parallel another 1996 NBA draftee.
When the Los Angeles Lakers opened their 1996 training camp they had three first round draftees donning the purple and gold for the first time. Along with the headliner, Kobe Bryant who had been selected with the 13th pick, the Lakers also had used their own pick, the 24th pick to select guard Derek Fisher out of Arkansas-Little Rock. Additionally the Chicago Bulls attempted to get fancy. They had selected Connecticut Husky Travis Knight with the 29th pick and waived him to avoid his rookie deal being a 3 year guaranteed deal. Their intention had been to sign Knight to a non-guaranteed deal, in line with a second round draft pick. Once he was waived though Knight had other ideas, signing a 1 year deal with the Lakers. Leading to the Bryant-Fisher-Knight rookie triumvirate.
Knight lasted one season in La La Land before Rick Pitino saw something that no one else saw in Knight (before or since) and handed him a large free agent deal to head east.
Left standing in Los Angeles were Bryant, and Fisher. Years would go by, multiple championships won, immense amounts of credit given to Shaq, and Kobe (deservedly so), and Phil Jackson. The myth of Robert Horry grew, Rick Fox landed the gorgeous women, and all the while, Derek Fisher plugged along. The steady hand, the glue that held the team together, the productive player that didn’t need his ego fed. That isn’t to say that if he had gone elsewhere that Fisher would have flourished and gained all star recognition. No, he wasn’t that kind of player, but he was the kind of player that all great teams need to have to succeed.
Leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, reading the opinions of numerous draft pundits, and hearing the expert analysis of many of the league’s talking heads, one player I kept feeling was being overlooked was Villanova’s Josh Hart.
Here was a 6’5” guard, with a championship pedigree, that not only had the ability to create for others, to score himself, to rebound, and defend, but who had forged these skills over 4 seasons at college’s highest levels, and would be walking into an NBA locker ready to compete from day 1, not 2 years down the road.
His draft experience reminded me of 2016, when another smart, accomplished, hard working, unassuming guard had slipped through the cracks. You may not even recognize the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year’s photo above, but that is University of Virginia alumnus, Malcolm Brogdon.
All Brogdon did was develop into a solid reliable scorer in the ACC, helped portray what it meant to be part of the winning culture Tony Bennett had crafted at Virginia, played outstanding fundamental defense, and never created a negative ripple in the character pond. Brogdon’s reward for his accomplishments? Waiting until the 36th pick of the draft to hear his name called.
To watch Brogdon perform during the season it was very evident to see that he could have helped any one of the other 29 NBA teams that had made the mistake of passing him over (yes I know not every single team had a selection prior to Brogdon being drafted, some teams had traded away their selections, but that simply doesn’t sound as resounding, so just ya know, let me have this).
So as I watched the draft unfold, I took special interest to see if NBA execs would learn from their mistake of bypassing Brogdon in favor of less accomplished (FAR less accomplished) prospects. It took until the 30th selection, the last selection of the 1st round before the Lakers stepped in and selected Josh Hart.
I find the parallel interesting. The 3 first round picks entering Lakers camp (The Lakers also acquired Utah Forward Kyle Kuzma’s rights on draft night), just as there were 3 first rounders entering camp way back in 1996. The presumed barely battle tested savior of the franchise early on in the draft. The after thought guard selected towards the end of the first round, and the lanky forward that everyone seems to forget about.
Is Josh Hart the next Malcolm Brogdon? An accomplished collegiate senior who shows the league the error of de-valuing experience. Is he the next Derek Fisher, the dependable sidekick, forever overshadowed by his flashier draft mate, but none the less integral to his team’s successes? Is he a little of both, a lot of neither? Its only July, and the Lakers don’t play their first summer league game until Friday (Friday July 7th, 5:30 PST vs. the Clippers in Las Vegas). But soon enough the careers of Ball and Hart will unfold before us. Its just fun to think of how history likes to repeat itself.
For Kyle Kuzma’s sake, lets hope there are at least slight variations.
- Jason Sullivan
- Find me on Twitter @TopDucker