LA Lakers Emphasizing Free Agency, Even LeBron James Long Shot, over Draft

MIAMI — Another theoretically meaningful game came and went on the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2013-14 schedule Thursday night.

Forget Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James in the NBA Finals. We can’t even get them together for a regular-season game anymore. (And not for the All-Star Game either, if a reluctant Kobe were to get his way.)

For a Lakers franchise that has conditioned itself to view moral victories as abnormal, the head coach made plain that this game in which the Lakers never led against Miami Heat and lost their 14th out of 17 wasn’t all bad at all.

Mike D’Antoni, whose Lakers did put forth a nice fourth-quarter effort against a Heat team he admitted was in its own “battle of complacency,” did a lot of shrugging afterward. And D’Antoni said: “Some things have to go perfect for us to beat them.”

For some Lakers fans out there, things did go perfect, same as in the loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday: The Lakers played reasonably hard and were competitive…and they—hurrah!—still lost. So the Lakers (significantly) decreased the playoff hopes for this season and (incrementally) increased the chances of a higher pick in the June draft.

Let’s be clear about this much: The Lakers do not—listen up, you most skeptic of septic tankers, they do not—plan to get back to championship level through the draft.

To be honest, they’ve rightly planned far more for the chance to snag the best player in the game who was still very much doing his thing for Miami on Thursday night with 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Same as they did in preparation for 2007 free agency on the chance that James wouldn’t be staying in Cleveland, the Lakers have structured their payroll to be ready whenever James is next a free agent. They’re ready if he opts out this summer (though it’s u...

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