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Mitch Kupchak hunts for a gem among other teams' discards

September 26, 2013|By Eric Pincus
  • Wesley Johnson has played three NBA seasons, including last year with the Phoenix Suns. The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft signed with the Lakers in the off-season.
Wesley Johnson has played three NBA seasons, including last year with the… (Matt York / Associated Press )

The Lakers rarely pick in the first round of the NBA draft.

The only player on the roster who was drafted by the Lakers in the first round was Jordan Farmar (26th overall pick in 2006), and he was picked up this summer as a free agent.

Technically even Kobe Bryant was acquired in a 1996 trade with the Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans).  The last first-rounder taken by the Lakers who actually joined the team immediately was Javaris Crittenton in 2007.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has acquired a number of high-drafted players who have yet to truly make their mark in the league.

"A lot of time a general manager or a team won’t pick up the fourth-year or the third-year option, only because they haven’t had enough of a look at the player," said Kupchak on Wednesday.  "Sometimes those guys are better off with the second team they’re with.

"Shannon Brown is a great example.  Shannon came out of college early and couldn’t find his niche and then we brought him here and he found his niche, so we’re hoping that one or two or three of those guys can be the same way with us."

Brown was a two-time NBA champion with the Lakers after a 2009 trade with the Charlotte Bobcats.  He was originally drafted 25th overall in 2006 by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Lakers signed similar players this offseason: Nick Young (16th pick in 2007), Wesley Johnson (fourth pick in 2010), Shawne Williams (17th pick in 2006) and Xavier Henry (12th pick in 2010).

"They’re very talented.  They were drafted very high for a reason and maybe because of age or the makeup of a team or a coach, they didn’t get to grow as quick as they could have grown," said Kupchak.  "So we have the roster spots, it makes for a healthy opportunity for players and they play the way [Coach] Mike [D'Antoni] wants to coach, so I think it’s good."

Young and Johnson have guaranteed contracts. Williams and Henry need to compete to make the team.

The Lakers also picked up Ryan Kelly with the 48th pick in this year's draft, along with undrafted players Elias Harris, Marcus Landry, Darius Johnson-Odom and Eric Boateng. 

Williams and Harris have partial guarantees of $100,000, but the rest of the players have no promises as they attempt to make the 15-man roster.  The Lakers could keep only 13 players but may be more likely to carry 14 or 15. Opening night is Oct. 29 against the Clippers.

"In years past, it would probably be a lot tougher to justify keeping 14 or 15," said Kupchak.  "I think ownership would be more open to it this year than they would in years past."

Complicating matters is Kelly's foot injury, which may keep him out of some or all of the preseason. Do they keep the 6-foot-11 power forward who can shoot from outside in favor of another, injury-free player?

The answer isn't clear.

"It’s been a really rough time for him for a second-round choice, a frustrating period not to be able to play basketball for six months," said Kupchak of the forward from Duke.  "Expectations for a second-round pick are not really high anyway, but we like his size and his ability to shoot the ball.

"Unfortunately, he went to a university that I don’t support and that’s my problem," joked Kupchak, who played at North Carolina.  "We like what he can bring to the court if he’s healthy and he can play like he played at that school, then he’ll help us."

Kelly underwent foot surgery in April, but his recovery has gone slower than originally expected.


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