- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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With no head coach to run the team and up to 12 open roster spots to be filled for next season, there is very little that's settled about the Los Angeles Lakers as they head into this week's NBA draft.
The one position they have covered to some extent is the backcourt, with two future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash under contract with L.A. to embark on their 19th seasons in the league.
The pair played only a combined 21 games last season, however, and with the uncertainty surrounding their health, plus the competition at guard in the Western Conference, going after a guard in the draft makes a lot of sense for the Lakers.
During a nine-game stretch from late February through early March of last season, the Lakers faced Memphis' Mike Conley, Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas, Portland's Damian Lillard, New Orleans' Eric Gordon, the L.A. Clippers' Chris Paul, Denver's Ty Lawson, followed by back-to-back games against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook and another two-game set against San Antonio's Tony Parker.
It's a brutal league, quite simply, if you don't have the right personnel.
Here's a look at seven guard prospects the Lakers could end up targeting with the No. 7 pick in the draft:
6-6, 196 pounds | 18 years old| Australia
The Lakers' interest in Exum was one of the worst-kept secrets in the league in the months leading up to the draft. Fellow Aussie Luc Longley, who is an assistant coach on the national team, leaked the news all the way back in January that the Lakers had inquired about the point guard. The fact Exum signed with Rob Pelinka as his agent -- who also represents Kobe, as well as Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson -- only fueled speculation that both sides were trying to find a way to land him in L.A.
Exum burst onto the scene after averaging 18.2 points and 3.8 assists at the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Prague last summer.
"I've only known of him for the last three years, probably," said San Antonio's Aron Baynes, a teammate of Exum's on the Australian national team. "That's about as much as I've known him, but even in the last three years, his development [has] just been huge. I'm excited to see where he goes and even more excited to play with him over the summer and see what he can bring to the table for not only the national team, but for Australian basketball over here in the states."
Baynes struggled to think of a player currently in the NBA that Exum could be accurately compared to.
"He's a big point guard," Baynes said. "He's a smooth player, but I wouldn't really say anyone right now that plays similar to what he does. That's what makes him so interesting. He brings a different dimension to the point guard role."
San Antonio's Patty Mills, another Australian, also chimed in on Exum.
"From what I've seen last year playing with him on the national team, he's got huge potential," Mills said. "I think he's going to have a big impact here in the NBA and obviously for us on the national team, so I'm really excited for him and wish him all the best."
Mills broke down Exum's game.
"He's very long," Mills said. "He shoots the ball well. He's athletic. He can handle it very well as well, but his height and his athleticism lets him get to the rim with ease no matter who is guarding him.
"I think he obviously still has a lot of years to fill into his body and once he does that, he'll be tough."
Chance he’ll be available: Next to none. Exum is slated to go No. 3 to Philadelphia in Chad Ford's latest Mock Draft 10 for ESPN.com. The Lakers would have to move up in the draft to try to land him and they just don't have enough assets to pair with their pick to make that a feasible scenario.
6-2, 227 pounds | 20 years old | Oklahoma State
Smart impressed the Lakers in a pair of predraft workouts, with one source who witnessed the sessions telling ESPNLosAngeles.com that Smart's "tenacity was off the charts." He has the body to play both guard positions -- even though L.A. brass was slightly disappointed in his height when he came in -- and has the dual ability to finish at the rim thanks to his explosiveness, and/or absorb contact and get to the free throw line thanks to his durability.
Smart would have been a surefire top-five pick in the 2013 draft had he left the Cowboys after his freshman season, but he said he was glad he came back for his sophomore campaign.
"If I could do it again, I'd do it all over again," Smart said after his second workout with the Lakers. "The same thing. I'd go back. I don't regret anything about going back. I had fun and I had another year to mature mentally and get a little bit more physicality and just learn a little bit more about the game."
Smart upped his scoring average to 18 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting from 15.4 points on a 40.4 percent clip. Perhaps most noteworthy was his 2.9 steals per game average in his two seasons in college, however.
His promise as a two-way player in light of all the defensive deficiencies that L.A. showed last season is paramount in terms of what has the Lakers interested in him.
Chance he'll be available: Iffy. Ford has Sacramento nabbing him at No. 8, meaning he'd still be on the board when L.A. picks. But in that scenario, Joel Embiid is going No. 6 to Boston. If Embiid slides even further, Smart could vault up and not be around anymore when it is the Lakers' turn.
6-3, 185 pounds | 20 years old | Louisiana-Lafayette
The son of former football great Elfrid Payton Sr. who played defensive end in the CFL, the younger Payton made a name for himself on the defensive end of the hardwood, winning the Lefty Driesell Award as the national college defensive player of the year.
Payton, who said he models his game after Boston's Rajon Rondo, is lauded for his defense (2.3 steals per game as a junior) and playmaking ability (5.9 assists per game), but also has the quickness and craftiness to call his own number and get in the paint (8.6 free throw attempts per game).
Like Smart, the Lakers were impressed enough by Payton to bring him back for a second workout.
What is the biggest lesson he has learned from all those workouts that have him shooting up mock draft boards?
"That I belong," Payton said. "I belong and I can play on this level."
Another guy who has flourished after playing for a small school -- Portland's Lillard went to Weber State -- helped pave the way for all the attention being showered on Payton of the Sun Belt Conference.
"I think it didn't hurt," Payton said. "It didn't hurt that he's had a successful career. I think it helped."
Chance he'll be available: Likely. Despite Payton's meteoric rise, Ford has had him going either No. 8 to Sacramento or No. 12 to Orlando. If both Smart and Payton were available, the Lakers probably would take Smart. But depending on what happens with picks Nos. 1-6, L.A. could take a chance on Payton or even trade down to get him later in the draft and receive an extra asset in return.
6-4, 181 pounds | 19 years old | UCLA
The Lakers have always had a thing for guys who grew up playing in their backyard -- last year's roster had a UCLA product in Jordan Farmar and a USC product in Nick Young on it -- and LaVine could be the latest to fit that trend.
The former Bruin turned heads during the predraft process with his extreme athleticism and was measured for a 46-inch vertical during the first of two workouts with the Lakers.
His body still needs to fill out and his skills need to be honed (he had just a 1.8-to-1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his lone season in college), but his physical gifts make you think he can become a change-of-pace guard off the bench.
Chance he'll be available: Strong. Ford has him going No. 18 to Phoenix. The Suns also have the No. 14 pick. If the Lakers were enamored enough by LaVine and figured he would still be around after the lottery, they could find a potential trade partner in the Suns.
6-1, 175 pounds | 22 years old | Connecticut
The senior guard was brilliant during UConn's run to the NCAA championship, averaging 21.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in six tournament games while shooting a blistering 46.5 percent on 3-pointers.
While his age might be looked at as a deterrent for some, he should be able to step in and contribute at the NBA level right away.
L.A. liked him enough to bring him in for a private workout last weekend.
Chance he'll be available: Strong. Going after Napier would put the Lakers in a trade-down scenario. According to Ford, Atlanta is eyeing the former Husky at No. 15.
6-7, 207 pounds | 20 years old | Michigan
With the San Antonio Spurs reminding everybody in the NBA finals how valuable it is to have a team full of shooters, Stauskas should certainly feel good about his abilities as he sets to enter the league.
In his sophomore season with the Wolverines, he flirted with the 50-40-90 club (finishing with a 47 percent clip from the field, 44.2 percent from 3 and 82.4 percent from the foul line).
The Lakers have reportedly dangled their No. 7 pick to Golden State in hopes of acquiring Klay Thompson, who just so happens to be the player Stauskas says he models his game after.
"I think I offer a skill set that not many people have -- the ability to really shoot it and then put it on the floor and create for others," Stauskas said after his workout with the Lakers. "There's still parts of my game where I'm working on, but offensively right now, I feel like there's not many people that can do what I can do."
Chance he'll be available: Probable. Stauskas seems to be a surefire lottery pick -- Ford has him going No. 10 to Philly -- but with some of the athleticism he showed during workouts (he was measured as having a 40-inch vertical leap when he visited the Lakers), don't be surprised if multiple teams find him an attractive option on draft night.
6-1, 182 pounds | 19 years old | Syracuse
Despite some concern about Ennis' slight frame, one source who witnessed his workout with the Lakers told ESPNLosAngeles.com, "he's ready to play in the NBA right now."
The point guard led the ACC in steals and assists as a freshman, and while his overall shooting numbers weren't all that good (he shot 41.1 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3), his floater is a shot that he should be able to get at the next level (think Ramon Sessions).
Ennis was matched up against Smart in his lone workout with the Lakers, however, and L.A. clearly favors Smart out of the pair.
Chance he'll be available: Very strong. Ennis would be another trade-down guy if the Lakers went after him. Ford wrote that Toronto would be looking to take him at No. 20. A sign-and-trade deal for Kyle Lowry, if it came to that, would certainly be intriguing.
1dAmin Elhassan and Baxter Holmes