The Lakers’ first-round pick? Trade it, write Chris Paul, win now

Veteran point guard Chris Paul, injured during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals last month, could be on the free agent market if waived by the Wizards, who acquired him in a trade with the Suns. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

With the 17th election in 2023 NBA draftThe Los Angeles Lakers pick…

It is true! The Lakers finally have a first-round draft pick they can actually keep!

It’s their first pick in five years since that hiccup that was Mo Wagner.

It’s their highest pick in six years since the screamer that was Lonzo Ball.

It’s the pick for the future, the pick for the rebuild, the pick Lakers fans have been waiting for forever, a pick that would be the centerpiece of the Lakers offseason except for one small thing.

They should trade it.

Don’t brag about it, don’t bow to it, don’t try to build around it.

Just replace it.

They should trade it with the contracts of Mo Bamba and Malik Beasley for a veteran point guard who can score.

If there is an All-Star available, they should sign D’Angelo Russell and trade it for him.

It can go in several ways, but the mandate is still the same.

Trade the pick, because this is a Lakers team built to win now.

Trade the pick, because this season could be their last chance at a championship for several years.

Switch the pick because there’s little chance someone like Jett Howard or Dereck Lively II or Nick Smith Jr. will contribute to that title.

It has been written several times in this space over the past few years that the LeBron James-Anthony Davis Lakers must be broken up.

Check it out. Opinion changed. James is still aging and Davis is still crazy, but the Lakers finished the season on the kind of roll that makes you think their spring roster played together for an entire season to seriously challenge the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

Let’s be honest, the Lakers were the second best team in the NBA last season. Although they were swept by the Nuggets, they had a chance to win every game late, they were never blown out like Miami in the NBA Finals, and they showed a consistent game that will continue until next October.

They should actually bounce back next season as the second favorite in the West, what with Memphis’ implosion and Golden State’s seeming disintegration and the Clippers’ fragility, not even talking about loaded Phoenix because the Suns don’t have veteran role players and don’t play defense.

The Lakers have James and Davis playing their final season before both can opt out and go elsewhere, so there will be extra motivation there.

The Lakers are expected re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimurapostseason heroes who help build the team’s work ethic and depth.

The Lakers could also bring back Russell if they overlook his late playoff struggles, and Dennis Schroder because he filled his supporting role so eagerly.

It’s all there for them to flourish for eight months under the newly appointed coach, Darvin Ham. They are only missing one piece.

Hint: They can acquire that piece Thursday in New York, and he shouldn’t be a 19-year-old kid.

“We were on the doorstep of potentially the NBA Finals, and in the NBA Finals anything could happen,” general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters recently during his season-exit interview. “So I think there’s proof of concept that this was a really good team. But again, we’re not going to rest on our laurels. If there are opportunities to get even better — whether it’s through the draft, whether whether it’s through trades or free agency — we’re always looking to improve. But we have a core that is very successful. And that’s a good starting point.”

Pelinka understands that. He made some excellent moves in reshaping this team during the All-Star break, and he doesn’t want those efforts to go to waste.

If Pelinka makes the draft deal and comes away with someone like DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield, he could look to Washington to add the finishing touches.

That would be Chris Paul.

Wouldn’t that be cute? The point guard who was once denied access to Lakerland by the late commissioner David Stern, who finally slammed the gates down in the final moments of his career?

Suns guard Chris Paul, right, lunges for the ball as Clippers forward Robert Covington drives to the basket.
Suns guard Chris Paul, right, lunges for the ball as Clippers forward Robert Covington drives to the basket during a game last season. (Allen J. Cockroaches/Los Angeles Times)

Paul was traded by the Suns to the Wizards, where he will surely never play a minute. The first option seems to be for the Wizards to trade him to the Clippers, where he would fit in well in his old stomping grounds with a coach like Tyronn Lue who knows how to handle him. The Lakers wouldn’t be in that trade market because they just don’t have the pieces or the salary cap space.

But if the Wizards and Clippers can’t complete that deal? If Paul is waived and can go somewhere to play for a veteran’s minimum of around $2 million?

He would definitely come to the Lakers, where his buddy James runs the show and where he would have his best chance to finally win a championship.

Yes, Paul is 38 and always gets injured during the playoffs. But on a deep Lakers roster, he could be load-managed and enter the postseason fresh. Once there, he’s still a strong mid-range threat who averaged 14 points and nine assists last season.

He’s annoying, but not Russell Westbrook – annoying. He is a politician, but here he guesses once here that he would only care about winning.

No matter what the Lakers do in this most important offseason since the acquisition of James, it all starts Thursday, when Lakers fans should be dying to hear those sweet words.

The Lakers have traded the 17th pick in the 2023 NBA draft for …

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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