Lakers have found value late in NBA drafts – but will they buy back into this one?

In a business with as much uncertainty and misdirection as the NBA draft, there are precious few signs that a team really likes you.

For Syracuse’s Cole Swider, the callback really drilled it home.

The 23-year-old sharpshooter (41.1% from 3-point range last season) out of Syracuse went through 12 NBA predraft workouts over the past two months, and three of them were repeat visits: Milwaukee, Atlanta and a final stop back with the Lakers.

The buzz out of Tuesday’s closed-door gym session with six total prospects was that Swider’s 3-point stroke was a standout from multiple people who watched, sources told Southern California News Group. And Swider – an older, more developed prospect with at least one definable NBA skill – is the kind of player who the Lakers might try to grab on draft night, even though as of Wednesday afternoon they did not possess, you know, a pick.

“For me, honestly, it’s just about finding the right fit: I’m willing to go undrafted,” Swider said after his latest workout. “I’d be ecstatic to be drafted, but at the end of the day, there’s guys like Duncan Robinson who’ve signed five-year, $90 million contracts. There’s been guys Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, and obviously Austin Reaves, when you see what he’s done this year.”

The Lakers (and new head coach Darvin Ham) have a lot to sort out about their roster, but on the back end, the organization has plenty of confidence it can find value in the field of Thursday’s NBA draft and undrafted free agency. The franchise has built its history on star power, but recent grassroots success stories – Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Mason Jones among them – have spurred their confidence that they can develop second-round or unsigned talent.

The most recent example is Reaves, the wing out of Oklahoma who was willing to tell off other teams to wind up in L.A., then parlayed that opportunity into a roster spot at the start of fall camp. Reaves’ nearly immediate impact as a role player (7.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg) lends additional credibility to the front office’s ability to scout out underrated talents.

Trades, however, have whittled the Lakers’ ability to make these diamond-in-the-rough draft picks: The Lakers traded their second-rounder in this draft back to Washington in 2019 in the lesser-remembered machinations of the Anthony Davis trade. This is a running theme of future drafts: The Lakers owe either picks or pick swaps in four of the next five drafts.

General Manager Rob Pelinka mentioned earlier this month in an interview with Spectrum Sportsnet that the Lakers intend to get younger after sporting an opening night roster with nine players who were 32 or older last season. Such a move would likely require the Lakers to send cash for a pick.

“It would be a goal for us to try to somehow get in the second round to get a young player that we can develop,” he said. “We’ve had great success, if you look at our draft history, and the guys we’ve drafted and developed, and we think we can do it again in 2022 if we can pull off a trade to get a pick.”

Who falls in that range exactly involves more guesswork than most parts of the draft. Multiple people with knowledge of the Lakers’ draft workouts said they thought the last session on Tuesday – with Swider, Fresno State’s Orlando Robinson and Houston’s Kyler Edwards among the standouts – was the best of the team’s eight publicly reported workouts.

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Some of the higher-rated prospects by various evaluators and media outlets who have passed through include Colorado’s Jabari Walker (son of former Laker Samaki Walker), Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Lofton Jr., Purdue’s Trevion Williams and Gran Canaria’s Khalifa Diop.

With his shooting, Swider believes he would fit in alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis – though he admitted he felt a little bashful to be mentioning himself with such company.

“It’s still a dream: I’m saying it because I can see the fit, but I still haven’t been around those guys,” he said. “For me, it’s cool to say, but at the same time, it’s one of those things where hopefully I’m in position to play with some of those guys.”

The Lakers also are hoping to be positioned to find that type of complementary player – they’ve done it before. But they might have to buy back into the draft to do it.

Former Syracuse forward Cole Swider – an older, more developed prospect with at least one definable NBA skill (3-point shooting) – is the kind of player who the Lakers might try to grab in Thursday’s draft, even though as of Wednesday afternoon they did not possess a pick. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)