Lak­ers make the sur­pris­ing choice of go­ing with Rus­sell over Okafor

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike Bres­na­han and Eric Pincus

NEW YORK — Mitch Kupchak had a ques­tion for the new­est mem­ber of the Lak­ers.

He called D’An­gelo Rus­sell shortly af­ter the Lak­ers took him with the No. 2 pick in Thurs­day’s NBA draft.

“Did we sur­prise you a lit­tle bit?” the Lak­ers’ gen­eral man­ager asked the Ohio State point guard as a few peo­ple crowded around the phone.

Ev­ery­one knew the an­swer: Ab­so­lutely.

The Lak­ers passed up the safe se­lec­tion, Duke cen­ter Jahlil Okafor, to take the f lash- and- dash pre­sented by Rus­sell.

He wowed the team with his lights- out shoot­ing at work­outs, not to men­tion a match­ing per­son­al­ity, and was so ex­cited Thurs­day he felt like “bust­ing out like a baby, in tears,” he said at Brook­lyn’s Bar­clays Cen­ter.

Rus­sell said all the right things Thurs­day, ooz­ing con­fi­dence in his Ohio State-col­ored jacket, not to men­tion red shoes that looked more like ex­pen­sive slip­pers.

“I’m still in shock ... but dreams come true. I’m here and I’m ready to make an im­pact right away,” he said.

Kupchak is a known fan of post play­ers, of­ten say­ing a good big man is bet­ter than a good lit­tle man. There was plenty of sen­ti­ment that the Lak­ers would lean to­ward Okafor for that rea­son, not to men­tion his strong post game and re­li­able midrange jump shot.

But Lak­ers scouts and coaches were im­pressed by Rus­sell, who pos­sesses good height for a guard ( 6 feet 5) and av­er­aged 19.3 points, 5.7 re­bounds and f ive as­sists in his only sea­son with the Buck­eyes. In a sense, Kupchak let the ma­jor­ity rule be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion.

He de­clined to say the Lak­ers took Rus­sell over Okafor be­cause of the NBA’s trend to­ward space-and-pace bas­ket­ball epit­o­mized by the Golden State War­riors.

“You look around this build­ing and you see [ Wilt] Cham­ber­lain, and you see [ Ka­reem Ab­dul- Jab­bar] and you see Shaquille O’Neal, those are three pretty good cen­ters,” Kupchak said of the re­tired jer­seys at the team’s El Se­gundo prac­tice fa­cil­ity. “There was also Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Magic John­son. You can de­bate the whole topic.

“Am I go­ing to say that we se­lected him be­cause we think that’s the di­rec­tion this league and the game is go­ing? I don’t think that’s the case. You still need qual­ity big men in this league, and if any of those play­ers on the wall were avail­able, we would have se­lected them.”

More likely, the Lak­ers think they have a le­git­i­mate shot at free agent LaMar­cus Aldridge, the Port­land Trail Blaz­ers’ All- Star power for­ward.

Kupchak did not name names — he can’t be­cause of tam­per­ing rules — but al­luded to the al­lure of next week. Free agency be­gins Tues­day at 9: 01 p. m. PDT.

“There are lot of big men that may be avail­able dur­ing free agency,” he said.

DeAn­dre Jor­dan, Greg Monroe and Kevin Love are other pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The Lak­ers de­bated Thurs­day’s pick for days and kept their plans mostly bot­tled up. Rus­sell didn’t be­come aware of the de­ci­sion un­til the fi­nal few sec­onds of the f ive- minute win­dow to make the pick.

Okafor was then snapped up by Philadelphia at No. 3. As ex­pected, Ken­tucky cen­ter Karl- An­thony Towns went f irst over­all to Min­nesota.

“I think Okafor is go­ing to be a good cen­ter in this league,” Lak­ers Coach By­ron Scott said. “I just think D’An­gelo has a chance to be a su­per­star.”

Rus­sell was def­er­en­tial to Kobe Bryant, hop­ing the old vet­eran would stick around awhile, per­haps be­yond the one year left on his con­tract.

“Not know­ing how much he has left in the tank is the scary thing, know­ing how much he brings to the game,” Rus­sell said. “But I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to him tak­ing me un­der his wing if pos­si­ble and re­ally just feed­ing me the most knowl­edge he can and just let­ting me use that as f ire against my op­po­nents.”

Rus­sell shot a com­mend- able 41% from three- point range at Ohio State but was prone to er­ratic games, in­clud­ing a three- for- 19 ef­fort as the Buck­eyes were elim­i­nated by Ari­zona in their sec­ond NCAA tour­na­ment game. Con­versely, he scored 28 points against Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth in the Buck­eyes’ tour­na­ment opener.

Rus­sell, 19, will make about $ 5.1 mil­lion in his first sea­son when he of­fi­cially signs his con­tract. He could be side- by- side in the back­court with Jor­dan Clark­son, who had a strong f in­ish to his rookie sea­son, if Bryant moved to small for­ward.

Rus­sell pre­sum­ably would be the start­ing point guard, but Clark­son could han­dle the ball plenty of times at shoot­ing guard.

The Lak­ers took Wy­oming power for­ward Larry Nance, Jr., with the 27th pick, sub­stan­tially higher than most pre­dic­tions had slot­ted the se­nior.

Nance’s path hasn’t been easy. He has Crohn’s dis­ease and also had mononu­cle­o­sis and a torn knee lig­a­ment in re­cent years.

He worked out at the Lak­ers’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity last Fri­day. Clearly he made an im­pres­sion.

“If there’s a ball on the court, f irst quar­ter, fourth quar­ter, I’m on it. Whether I get it or not, I’m go­ing to be on the f loor work­ing for it,” Nance said at the time. “It’s ef­fort plays that you can re­ally count on from me.”

The son of for­mer Phoenix Suns for­ward Larry Nance was pro­jected as the 54th pick by DraftEx­press . com. The Lak­ers had the pick as part of the Jeremy Lin trade.

The Lak­ers se­lected Stan­ford for­ward An­thony Brown with the 34th pick, their last of the draft. Brown, 6 feet 7 and a grad­u­ate of Ocean View High in Hunt­ing­ton Beach, av­er­aged 14.8 points and 6.9 re­bounds last sea­son as a se­nior.

Ethan Miller Getty I mages

LARRY NANCE JR.’ S dad won dunk con­test.

Elsa Gar­ri­son Getty I mages

I T WAS A NIGHT OF SUR­PRISE for Ohio State’s D’An­gelo Rus­sell, left, taken by the Lak­ers with the No. 2 over­all pick, and for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, who re­ceived a hug as he was cho­sen by the 76ers at No. 3.

Kathy Wil­lens As­so­ci­ated Press

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