By Danny Kohan
They say the third time’s the charm.
Not the second, not the fourth, but the third. Why? I have no freaking clue. They just do.
The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping that this random old adage holds true, as they prepare to make the number two pick in the NBA Daft for the third consecutive season on Thursday, June 22nd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Yes, the Barclays Center, the saddest venue possible for such an event. Where fans of the home team Nets will get to up close and personally experience the awkward gut-wrenching vomit-inducing feeling of being present at their long-time ex-girlfriend’s wedding.
Consensus number one overall pick, Markelle Fultz, should have been there’s. To have and to hold from that day forward, to love and to cherish till free agency do them part. Instead, as Fultz’ name is announced by
the Warlock of Qarth Commissioner Adam Silver, they’ll be sitting there silently fidgeting, at that weird singles table next to Lil Dicky, a single tear rolling their cheek, while Danny Ainge caresses Fultz’ back and glances back at them with that evil patronizing shit-eating Danny Ainge grin.
A top two selection in the NBA draft has always carried with it the burden of immense fan and media expectations. Top picks are assumed to be franchise saviors and are often projected to produce immediate results. The second pick in the 1999 NBA draft, Steve Francis, was not dubbed “Stevie Franchise” just because his last name happens to be two letters removed from the word “franchise” (okay, yeah, that’s mostly the reason why) it was also his prominent position in that year’s draft order.
When a top two pick is made by The Los Angeles Lakers, the most famous basketball franchise in the history of the world, the hype bar is raised to a Shaq-tacular level.
After all, when your team has had a rookie fill in for the league’s MVP, play all five positions, score 42 points, grab 15 rebounds and have 7 assists in the clinching championship game and win Finals MVP, well, you kind of get spoiled. The modicum of patience afforded top picks of small market franchises all but vanishes when a player puts on that purple and gold.
With a glorious history of 16 titles, can you really blame Laker fans for becoming increasingly frustrated as they watch D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram go through the growing pains of their awkward teenage years? Can you blame them for viewing Paul George career highlights on a constant loop while simultaneously exploring LeBron’s L.A. home on GoogleEarth for possible hints at a permanent 2019 move? (Wait, what? Oh, that’s just me huh?)
The Lakers previous top two picks cannot fairly be categorized as “busts,” (Google the words “Hasheem” and “Thabeet” if you think they are) however, they have failed to live up to the expectations of their draft position thus far.
D’Angelo Russell was supposed to be the next Magic Johnson remember? You don’t? You should, it was only two years ago. It hasn’t even been that long. Before the 2015 NBA Draft, D’Angelo Russell was Lonzo Ball.
The big 6’5” point guard. The floor general with an incredibly high basketball I.Q. The guy with the uncanny ability to make passes no one else would even dare consider.
D’Angelo Russell was the 19 year-old kid being gushed about on every media outlet as having un-teachable vision. The ideal point guard for today’s NBA. A super confident composed ball handler with the deep range and clutch shot making ability needed to compete with other elite point guards around the League, point guards like Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry.
D’Angelo Russell was the kid who was only about winning, the no-brainer phenom that would run the team and inspire veterans with his self-self-assurred charisma. The guy who possessed the rarest of rare abilities, the ability to make everyone around him better. Jason Kidd, n0, Magic fucking Johnson with a jump shot.
Hmmm, where have I heard that before?
After it was clear that Russell was not headed for a Finals MVP in his rookie season, Laker fans quickly shifted their attention to the 2016 Draft.
After all, there were two can’t miss prospects coming out that year, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.
Thankfully, Ingram wasn’t burdened with any outlandish expectations, nothing extreme like “the next Magic Johnson,” he simply had to live up to a more contemporary player comparison…Kevin Durant. You know, because their both really skinny and they play basketball. Totally fair.
Ingram was billed to have both the ideal length and outside shooting prowess necessary to fit seamlessly into today’s NBA of pace and space and switch everything defenses. His much-ballyhooed ability to shoot even made him the preferred number one overall pick in the eyes of many scouts going into the draft.
Needless to say, in his debut season, Brandon Ingram was no Kevin Durant. I wouldn’t even call him Kevin Durant-lite or even Durant “without” a jump shot. He was just a quiet skinny dude trying to fit in. While Durant averaged 20 points in his inaugural season, Ingram underwhelmed averaging a mere 9 points and 4 rebounds on 40% shooting.
Still, if the Lakers had a do-over for the last two drafts, would they have done anything different?
If given the opportunity to hop in the Delorean, new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and G.M. Rob Pelinka would undoubtedly choose both Kristaps Porzingis and Devin Booker over Russell and even give Myles Turner some consideration before pulling the trigger.
D’Angelo’s old-man slow-motion lackadaisical approach to the game (especially on the defensive end) has irked a Laker fan base raised on the gritty hard-noised play of longtime floor general Derek Fisher. They’re used to seeing their point guard diving for loose balls, taking charges…laying people the eff’ out.
Russell has been prone to careless turnovers and the majority of his play in his first two seasons has been, well, lets call it uneven. Still, if D’Angelo ends up being the fourth or fifth best prospect from that draft, you cannot fairly categroize his selection as a “whiff.”
While the pre-draft hype surrounding his passing ability and leadership skills seems to have been overblown, he has shown flashes of brilliance, including becoming the youngest player in Laker history to record a 40 point game in a contest late last season. As soon as the Lakers start winning games, fans and the media alike will begin referring to him as “crafty” rather than “lazy.”
Brandon Ingram, on the other hand, would still be the Lakers pick in a 2016 draft re-do. Admittedly, that’s mostly because his rookie class performed at a historically poor clip, but it’s also because he’s STILL just 19 years-old with great length, better ball handling and decision making skills than expected, the ability to defend multiple positions, a reportedly strong work ethic and undeniable upside.
Yes, both previous number two picks have failed to live up to the initial hype, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to trade D’Angelo, it doesn’t mean we should give up on Ingram.
On Thursday June 22nd at the Barclays Center deuces will be wild for the Lakers. They well have the number two pick and Lonzo Ball (who wore #2 in college) is primed to take D-Fish’s #2 Lakers jersey and make it his own.
However, as Lonzo works out for the team for a second time today, lets not forget the lessons of the last few years of lottery Hell. Lets refuse to dive head first into the pre-draft hype, refuse to guzzle the sweet sweet nectar of that purple Kool-Aid. If the last couple years has taught us anything, let it be this: lower the initial expectations and patience, Laker fans, patience. I know I’m preaching to the wind, but patience.
As much as we yearn for it, as much as we try to will it to happen, no 19 year-old is going to transform the team in year one. Magic Johnson is not walking through that door. (Well, yes, he is, but he’s not pulling up those short-shorts).
I know it’s tempting Laker fans, tempting to buy into the local kid from Chino Hills, the flashy phenom from UCLA. It’s tempting to believe that Lavar Ball has harnessed the power of “The Secret,” that he REALLY CAN “speak things into existence.”
Hard not to get attached to the guy that refused to work out or even speak to our hated arch-rival the Celtics, even though they had the better team and the glory that comes with being selected number one overall. Hard not to like a guy who reacted like this when he found out the Lakers may have a chance to draft him:
I know, after being rejected by so many free agents, it feels good to be wanted, it feels good to be loved.
It’s tempting to believe that the above video will end up being the opening scene of ESPN’s 30 for 30 Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies Part V twenty years from now. That Ball vs. Fultz will be the 21st century redux of Magic vs. Bird.
But, I beg of you, don’t be fooled by the pre-draft hype. As the famous adage goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Or as President Bush #2, George W., once put it so eloquently,“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
After all, old proverbs such as these have survived and been passed down for generations for a reason, right? Maybe? Bueller???
There has to be some truth in them. Then again, there’s yet another adage that says ,”All good things come in threes.” D’Angelo, Ingram, Balll. Sounds good to me.
Wait, or was it “Good things come in pairs?”
By Danny Kohan