The Lakers’ first-round pick? Trade it, sign Chris Paul, win now

Injured Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) in the second half of Game 5 of an NBA Western Conference basketball semifinal playoff series Tuesday, May 9, 2023 in Denver.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Veteran point guard Chris Paul, who was injured in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals last month, could be in the free agent market if waived by the Wizards, who acquired him in a trade with the Suns. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

With the 17th pick in the 2023 NBA Draftthe Los Angeles Lakers select…

That’s right! The Lakers finally have a first-round draft pick they can actually keep!

It’s their first such pick in five years, since Mo Wagner’s hiccups.

It’s their best pick in six years since the Lonzo Ball scream.

It’s the pick for the future, the pick for the rebuild, the pick Lakers fans have been waiting for forever, a pick that would be the centerpiece of the Lakers’ offseason, except for one little thing. .

They should trade it.

Don’t brag about it, don’t flex with it, don’t try to build around it.

Just swap it out.

They should swap him with the contracts of Mo Bamba and Malik Beasley for a veteran point guard who can score.

If there’s an All-Star available, they should sign D’Angelo Russell and trade him.

There are several ways to proceed, but the mandate is always the same.

Trade the pick because this is a Lakers team built to win now.

Trade the pick, because this season could be their last chance at a championship for several years.

Trade the pick, because it’s unlikely someone like Jett Howard or Derek Lively II or Nick Smith Jr. will contribute to this title race.

It’s been written in this space many times over the past two years that the Lakers LeBron James-Anthony Davis should be split.

Look at this. Opinion has changed. James is still aging and Davis is still infuriating, but the Lakers finished the season on the kind of turnover that suggests, with their spring roster playing together for a full season, they could seriously challenge defending champion Denver Nuggets.

Let’s be honest, the Lakers were the second-best team in the NBA last season. Even though they were swept by the Nuggets, they had a chance to win every late game, they were never knocked out like Miami in the NBA Finals, and they showed a constant fight that will continue next October.

They should, in fact, come back next season as the No. 2 seed in the West, with Memphis implosing and Golden State seemingly disbanding and the Clippers fragile, and let’s not even talk about Phoenix being loaded because the Suns do not have a veteran role. players and don’t play defense.

The Lakers have James and Davis playing their final season before the two can retire and go elsewhere, so there will be extra motivation there.

The Lakers are expected to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, postseason heroes who help build the team’s work ethic and depth.

The Lakers could also bring Russell back if they overlook his late postseason struggles, and Dennis Schroder because he fulfilled his supporting role so eagerly.

Everything is there for them to flourish for eight months under the guidance of new coach, Darvin Ham. They are only missing one piece.

Hint: They can buy this coin on Thursday in New York, and it shouldn’t be a 19-year-old kid.

“We were on the verge of potentially making the NBA Finals, and in the NBA Finals anything could happen,” general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters in his post-season interview recently. “So I think there’s conceptual proof that they were a very good team. But again, we’re not going to rest on our laurels. If there are opportunities to improve further – whether it’s through the draft, whether it’s through trades or free agency – we’re always looking to improve. But we have a very successful core. And that’s a good point. departure. “

Pelinka understands. He made some great moves to reshape this team during the All-Star break, and he doesn’t want those efforts to go to waste.

If Pelinka makes the draft-day deal and walks away with someone like DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield, then he could look to Washington to add the icing.

That would be Chris Paul.

Wouldn’t that be sweet? The playmaker who was denied entry to Lakerland by the late commissioner David Stern finally walked through the doors in the final moments of his career?

Suns guard Chris Paul, right, races for the ball as Clippers forward Robert Covington heads for the basket.
Suns goaltender Chris Paul, right, rushes for the ball as Clippers forward Robert Covington heads for the basket during a game last season. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Paul was traded by the Suns to the Wizards, where he will probably never play a minute. The first option would appear to be for the Wizards to trade him to the Clippers, where he would be a good fit on his old turf with a coach like Tyronn Lue who knows how to handle him. The Lakers wouldn’t be in that trade market because they just don’t have the parts or the salary cap space.

But what if Wizards and Clippers can’t make this deal? If Paul is waived and can go play somewhere for a minimum of around $2 million for a veteran?

He would definitely come to the Lakers, where his pal James runs the show and where he would have his best chance of finally winning a championship.

Yes, Paul is 38 and still getting injured in the playoffs. But on a deep Lakers roster, he could be managed in charge and enter the playoffs fresh. Once there, he’s still a potent midrange threat who averaged 14 points and nine assists last season.

He’s boring, but not Russell Westbrook – boring. He’s a politician, but I guess once here he would only care about winning.

Whatever the Lakers do in this most important offseason since acquiring James, it all starts on Thursday when Lakers fans should be craving to hear those luscious words.

The Lakers traded the 17th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft for…

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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