Only a few hours remained before the NBA’s draft lottery on Tuesday night when Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka breezed through a hallway at the Hilton Chicago where the lottery was hosted.
He smiled, shrugged his shoulders lightly and joked about what his son had told him about the day: “Two percent is better than no percent.”
The Lakers had a 2% chance at the first overall pick of the NBA draft, which meant this year’s lottery held very low risk for the Lakers. Pelinka would watch it from the drawing room, as he had in 2017 when he was a first-year general manager who clasped his hands in prayer after the Lakers were awarded the second overall pick.
This year they had a 2.2% chance for the second pick, a 2.4% chance for the third pick and a 2.8% chance for the fourth. An exceptionally lucky team in past years’ lotteries remained so. The Lakers notched the fourth pick in the draft, jumping seven spots from their expected slot.
“Of course our focus was more around 11, because that’s where the huge probability was resting,” Pelinka said. “But now it shifts, what we can get at four. I will tell you there are some incredibly talented, impact players there that we’re going to study deeply. And then of course we’ll canvass the league and see what value that pick has. But either of those options is an extraordinary win for the franchise.”
The Lakers had started their pre-draft meetings and workouts before the lottery and before they hired Frank Vogel as their new coach. Miles Simon, the only holdover from the Lakers’ previous coaching staff helped run the workouts.
The front office changed significantly after Magic Johnson stepped down as the president of basketball operations. The Lakers opted not to hire a president of basketball operations and empowered Pelinka as their lead executive.
“My role as the GM right now is the same as it was when we selected Lonzo Ball with the second pick, which is our last high pick,” Pelinka said of the 2017 draft. “My role hasn’t changed since then.”
Pelinka conducted interviews with reporters at the draft lottery as well as in conference calls with reporters in Los Angeles. It was the first time any Lakers executive spoke publicly since the end of the season.
As the NBA draft combine begins on Thursday, he’ll work to determine what exactly to do with the Lakers’ good fortune. Other Lakers executives will join him in evaluating players, such as assistant general manager and director of scouting Jesse Buss and team advisor Kurt Rambis.
With LeBron James entering the second year of a four-year contract, the Lakers aren’t looking to draft a player to help rebuild for the future. They’re looking for a player to help right now, and Pelinka believes he can find one with that fourth pick, either with the selection or by using it in a package for a trade.
“We owe it to our fans to look at every possible use of that,” Pelinka said. “We want to be good next year. We want to be really good. It just gives us an asset to increase our probability to be a really, really good team next year.”