Lakers newsletter: Inside the top secret NBA draft room

Lakers newsletter: Inside the top secret NBA draft room

CHICAGO — Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike and now that I’ve finally been reunited with my electronic devices (I’ll explain), it’s time for the Lakers Newsletter.

This week, I’m writing from the NBA Draft Combine in my home city, Chicago, where the Lakers are a common topic of conversation even if they don’t have any picks.

Before we get to that, I want to let you in on a secret.

The room where it happens

Cellphones and smart watches head into a manila envelope while NBA security carefully watches. Anything that transmits can’t go inside this room.

It’s inside Chicago’s McCormick Place, a gigantic convention center.

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Down the hall, some of the biggest names in NBA history are preparing for the announcement of the NBA’s draft order, Damian Lillard and David Robinson among the on-stage representatives.

San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson sits on stage during the 2022 NBA draft lottery.

(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Everyone will see them react to the lottery results — results myself and my temporary roommates already knew for an hour.

“We’re all locked down,” an official said meaning nobody was going anywhere, bathroom included, for the near future.

Representatives from each of the lottery teams milled around while piano music played. Salads and sandwiches near the door have mostly been ignored.

“All right, let’s get the ball rolling,” Jamin Dershowitz, one of the NBA’s lawyers, said.

NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell goes through the rules of the draft lottery process. He assures everyone that the lottery machine has been checked and regulated. The pingpong balls have been too.

The gist of the process is this — for 20 seconds, 14 pingpong balls are mixed before one is drawn (someone has a stopwatch and his back to the machine, signaling for one of the accountants to draw a ball).

The four-digit combination matches up to a team, giving the team that pick.

It’s incredibly complicated and convoluted while also being low-rent enough where it’s kind of charming. Yeah, there are flatscreen monitors — but there’s also a giant Post-it board where someone is writing the number combinations in marker as they’re called.

After the drawing is finished (only the first four picks are decided this way. The rest are by record), official envelopes are stuffed with the team logos to be delivered to the stage for the TV broadcast.

Everyone in the room just sort of waits for the show to go on the air, the only 30 people or so in the world who know the order before it’s announced.

And once it’s announced, the doors open and we’re free, able to breathe fresh air and, more importantly, pick up our cellphones.

The Westbrook decision

Russell Westbrook shoots during a Lakers-Spurs game in March.

(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

I’ve spoken with more than a handful of executives here in Chicago about the Lakers and Russell Westbrook, and there’s really no clarity in what the team is going to do. Most execs believe any Westbrook deal would require the Lakers sacrificing at least one future first, which is a hefty tax to pay with just a year left on his deal. Some think there might be a deal to be had where the Lakers simply take back long-term deals from other teams in exchange for more immediate cap relief.

But the only thing solid to report is that the Lakers haven’t ruled anything out when it comes to Westbrook’s future. They’ve definitely discussed him with potential coaches in their interview process. But that’s just one option. A trade is certainly still on the table, too.

It just seems like a complicated decision that the Lakers have yet to make.

Song of the week

“Pot Kettle Black” by Wilco

Friends of mine know I think “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is one of the best records ever, and it’s not just because of the iconic album cover of two of Chicago’s most unique buildings. I just love how all over the place this music is, and near the end of it, is this perfect jam.

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