Rumors surrounding how the Los Angeles Lakers will use the second overall NBA draft pick now say that the once-mighty organization may have already promised Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell that he will be the Lakers selection — letting Duke big man Jahlil Okafor slip possibly as low as fourth.
If that happens, the New York Knicks seem like a sure bet to scoop up Okafor, who was previously rumored to be a “lock” as the Lakers pick — after the Minnesota Timberwolves use their top overall pick to draft Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The NBA draft is set to take place on June 25.
Why does the rumor mill now have Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak looking to draft Russell rather than whichever of the two big men remains available?
The change appears to stem from Russell’s sudden cancellation of a weekend workout with the Philadelphia ’76ers, who many draft experts had pegged as the team most likely to scoop up D’Angelo Russell, considered the best prospect in the draft after the two big men, Towns and Okafor.
The Sixers won the third pick in the NBA draft lottery, giving them the choice of any but two of the available players.
According to new reports out of Philadelphia, Russell — who worked out for the Lakers at the team’s El Segundo, California, training complex on Monday — told the Philadelphia front office that he was taken “real sick” and was forced to back out of the showcase workout session.
“So of course the speculation started swirling about whether Los Angeles promised Russell he would not drop past them in the second spot,” wrote correspondent Anthony F. Irwin on the SI.com blog Fansided.
Russell himself was non-committal about which team he would prefer to end up with once the NBA Draft is complete.
“I just want to go to a team where it’s a great fit for me and I can help the team in the best way I can and win as much as possible,” he told the NBA.com site after his workout with the Lakers. “Most of these teams are in the same situation to pick the top guys because they didn’t win. So I definitely know they want a guy to come in and help them win games. That’s my main focus.”
If, in fact, the rumors are correct, the Lakers did make a commitment to Russell that he was definitely the Los Angeles pick at Number Two, it would be a puzzling decision, with the team needing a powerful presence in the center and at least one of the two top big men guaranteed to be available for the taking.
[Image: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images]