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Lakers put prospects through paces

6/5/2014

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- For the first time in a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers opened their doors to lottery-level draft prospects by hosting a large group workout Wednesday.

The upside to suffering through a 27-55 season for the Lakers is the chance they'll find a franchise-changing talent in the draft come June 26. L.A. holds the No. 7 selection and brought in 12 players to basically audition for the part.

"I still think we'll get a good player," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who observed the workouts along with vice president of player personnel Jim Buss and the Lakers' scouting staff. "I do. Hopefully we pick the right player. There's a lot of talent."

And the Lakers have many needs.

With only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young (who is expected to opt out by June 30) currently under contract for next season, the Lakers purposely put together a wide-ranging workout group.

It was headlined by forward Aaron Gordon from Arizona, big man Noah Vonleh from Indiana and combo guard Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State, but included three other point guards (Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, UCLA's Zach LaVine and Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton), four shooting guards (Michigan State's Gary Harris, Kentucky's James Young, Weber State's Davion Berry and Nevada's Jerry Evans), and a pair of senior forwards (Creighton's Doug McDermott and Pepperdine's Brendan Lane).

"You can argue, because we've only got four players on the roster, we're not really limited to looking at a position," Kupchak said. "We need help everywhere. So, I think we'll be in position to take the best player at almost any position. And even the position we do have covered, he's been around 18 years. So we have to look for beyond that position too. So, that is a good thing. Sometimes you get put in a position where, 'Well, we need a point guard. Let's focus on point guards.' And you may overlook a player that's going to be a better player down the road."

The Lakers split up the workout session into two groups of six. First, every player was measured and put through athletic testing. LaVine impressed with a 46-inch vertical jump, setting a record for the highest leap of any player to go through a pre-draft workout with the Lakers. By comparison, Andrew Wiggins set the basketball world ablaze by tweeting out a photo of his 44-inch vertical while the NBA pre-draft combine was going on in Chicago last month. Gordon also showed just how in shape he is by being measured as having just 3.0 percent body fat.

"I think I just have to show people that I'm not losing what got me here, which is my athleticism, my motor, my intangibles, and everything else is just icing on the cake," said Gordon, who struggled with his outside shot in the portion of the workout that was open to the media.

The on-court portion of the workout involved drills ranging from ball handling, post moves and off-the-dribble sequences asking for different finishes (such as a dunk, a floater, a reverse layup), according to Vonleh. Each group also played two-on-two and three-on-three before finishing the session with each player attempting 60 shots from all over the court -- midrange, 3-pointers, one-dribble pull-up, etc.

Smart and Ennis were pitted against each another in the morning session.

"I think that's definitely a way to show competitiveness," Ennis said. "Going against other point guards and Marcus being one of the top point guards coming out of college, to be able to go against him in this workout setting is a great opportunity for anybody."

Smart agreed.

"You might as well get used to playing against guys that are higher ranked, lower ranked or just at your level right now," added Smart, who is ranked above Ennis on most draft boards. "My mindset was whoever they put in front of me, I'm going to go out there and I'm going to compete every day. Tyler is a great point guard, so it was a fun matchup for me and him. We competed and left it all on the court."

Gordon and Vonleh, two freshmen projected to go in the top half of the lottery, were split up between the first and second sessions.

"The representatives get very involved," said Kupchak, explaining why the matchup didn't occur. "They're looking out for their clients' best interests. You try to make everybody happy, but you can't. At the end of the day we had two cancellations yesterday and those cancellations changed everything. So I expect to get phone calls from some representatives later on today that aren't very happy, but that was out of our control."

Berry and Evans were last-minute replacements after Duke's Rodney Hood and Michigan's Nik Stauskas pulled out of the workout on Tuesday.

There was also an interview portion.

"They asked me three base-level questions," Gordon said. "What position do you want to play? What's your family like? And basically, who would you like to play for, or where do you think your range is?"

The question Lakers fans want to know is if the Lakers can add another pick or two in such a stacked draft. They do not currently hold any other selection in the first or second round outside of at No. 7.

"We'd still like to add to our draft selection," Kupchak said. "Could we move this pick and get multiple picks? Maybe. Could you buy a pick? Or trade a future pick for a present pick? Yeah, that's possible. I think picks now are more valuable than they were, so I think it's not as easy as it used to be, but I think that's still a possibility."

With being in the lottery such a rarity for the Lakers, Kupchak was left referencing Bryant, whom the Lakers acquired on draft day in 1996, and Andrew Bynum, whom the Lakers selected No. 10 in 2005, as examples of how the Lakers' pick this year could end up developing.

"If you remember back 18 years ago, we drafted Kobe, and Kobe played limited minutes his first year and in fact he was frustrated his first year," Kupchak said. "He didn't play as much as he wanted. And of course, Andrew didn't play much at all his first year and we had to wait on Andrew longer than we had to wait on Kobe."

Now the Lakers will wait as the days pass until draft day in nearly three weeks, with more workouts like Wednesday's sure to come.

"Right now, you'd like to bring in as many [players] as possible," Kupchak said. "No. 1, to make sure you have the No. 7 pick covered. And then you don't know what may happen a week or two from now where you get another pick. But you're probably looking at 10-12 guys that will be considered at that position."