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NBA AM: Lakers Select Russell, Defy Old Adage

The Lakers defied the old adage of going with talented big men over guards. Will D’Angelo Russell meet expectations?

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Who were the winners of the draft? Jessica Camerato and Moke Hamilton discuss.

Lakers Select Russell, Defy Old Adage

The Los Angeles Lakers defied the old adage floating around NBA circles that a top big man with unique skills should always be selected over a talented smaller player. The Lakers used the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft to select guard D’Angelo Russell. In the process, the team passed up on talented center Jahlil Okafor, who was immediately selected by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Selecting Russell wasn’t some type of Herculean leap of faith exhibited by Los Angeles, as the prospect was considered one of the top three talents in this year’s class. However, the decision to pass on Okafor, coming off a solid freshman campaign at Duke and a National Championship, turned more than a few heads.

Not all were surprised by the pick. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said his “head would explode” if the Lakers didn’t select Russell over Okafor at No. 2 during the network’s draft coverage. But the prevailing wisdom in this business has always been to take the big man.

Flashback to the 1984 NBA Draft. The draft also had a similar theme heading into the festivities with two talented big men at the top of the pecking order and an intriguing guard prospect rounding out the top three.

The Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon with the No. 1 overall pick. Next, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie. At No. 3, the Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan.

The rest is history.

Olajuwon would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, winning two NBA titles. Bowie played in just 511 games over 10 injury plagued seasons before calling it a career. Jordan is arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport.

The Blazers leaned heavily on the talented big man over smaller guy theory and played it safe with the selection of Bowie over Jordan. But the game was different then. Imposing back to the basket centers roamed menacingly around the league and success was usually reserved for teams with one in the fold.

But here’s the thing, Okafor is entering the league with a relatively clean bill of health so he’s not like the injury ravaged Bowie who struggled with debilitating knee issues throughout his college and pro career. Nor is Russell entering the league after elite level success at the collegiate level like Jordan had at the University of North Carolina.

But with the game steadily changing and more guard-oriented offenses thriving, the Lakers boldly defied historical philosophies and selected Russell. On paper, the move makes sense. Future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant is facing retirement and the Lakers have struggled to find consistency in their backcourt with the veteran out of the lineup due to injury.

Plus the Lakers, with plenty of cap space, still have an opportunity to land an elite big man once free agency begins on July 1. Names such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap and Greg Monroe are all unrestricted free agents this summer.

The Western Conference is loaded with talented guards such as Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson. Without Bryant, the Lakers didn’t have anyone in the backcourt who could match this type of explosiveness on a nightly basis.

The move to select Russell over Okafor was a calculated risk, likely rooted in the desire to keep up with other franchises and the belief the club will ultimately land a top-tier big man in free agency over the next few weeks.

This one will be fun to watch play out over the next 10 years.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure from Portland not a done deal

The Portland Trail Blazers have an important offseason ahead of them. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is headed to unrestricted free agency and the team also must make decisions on starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews and center Robin Lopez

Aldridge, of course, is the priority.

The Blazers have been extremely active since the season ended. The franchise traded for Gerald Henderson and young big man Noah Vonleh, giving up longtime starting small forward Nicolas Batum. The Blazers also traded for center Mason Plumlee.

Some say those types of moves were in preparation for Aldridge’s imminent departure. Reports have even surfaced stating the forward has informed management of his decision to leave town.

However, according to Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, those reports were simply untrue.

“I hung up with LaMarcus a half hour ago,” Olshey told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. “LaMarcus and I speak multiple times every week. He was as bemused by the report as I was. Thankfully I had other things to distract me today from getting too infuriated from the misreporting.

“I spoke with LaMarcus. I actually asked him, ‘How would you like me to address it?’ He said, ‘Just say it’s not true. You and I know where we are right now.’ It was misreported. It’s not true. I can tell you he has not informed anybody in this organization his intention not to return to the team. We’ve always know that LaMarcus was going to have a robust free agent market. It was a market we were going to compete in. It’s a market we’re still going to compete in. But in no way has he given us any indication that he’s not returning to the Trail Blazers.”

Aldridge will have plenty of suitors this summer as arguably the marquee free agent of the class (outside of LeBron James if he chooses to opt out AND seriously test free agency). Portland has some leverage in that the franchise can pay him the most money by offering a five-year deal.

But this is Aldridge’s first chance to choose his own destination since entering the league and many in his position over the years have changed addresses in free agency.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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