Fans of the Cavaliers and Suns are having quite a tug-of-war, and it has nothing to do with their own teams. For those fans, it’s all about the Lakers.
That’s because the Lakers’ success (or lack thereof) will determine where (or if) those teams get a second first-round draft pick.
Neither the Cavs nor Suns will make the playoffs. In fact, the Cavs seem well on their way to finishing dead last in the Central Division for the third straight season. That’s a franchise first — which is hard to believe, when you consider the overall misery of the Ted Stepien era in the early 1980s.
Anyway, here’s the deal:
If the Lakers miss the playoffs, they enter the draft lottery, and their pick goes to the Suns.
If the Lakers qualify, the Cavs have the right to swap the Lakers’ pick with the Heat’s first-rounder (which the Cavs also own). Clearly, that is something the Cavs want to happen.
If the Lakers make the playoffs, the Cavs’ second first-rounder is likely to fall into the No. 15-17 range. The Heat’s pick, on the other hand, is likely to be somewhere between 28 and 30. That’s pretty much a second-rounder.
So, where are the Lakers today?
Well, right now they’re 35-32 and possess the No. 8 seed in the West. That’s one game ahead of Utah and three ahead of Dallas for the final spot. It doesn’t matter what the Lakers do once they’re in the playoffs — all they need to do is make it, as far as the Cavs are concerned (and miss it, as far as the Suns are concerned).
Bad news for the Cavs: Lakers star Kobe Bryant has a sprained ankle. He tried to play on it Friday at Indiana, but just couldn’t do it.
Bad news for the Suns: The Lakers beat the best team in the Central Division (99-93), anyway.
The Lakers’ remaining schedule includes the likes of the Kings, Wizards, Hornets, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers and Mavericks. Oh yeah, it also includes the Suns — who will probably be approaching the game as if it’s for the NCAA championship.
And when it comes to where the Cavs and Suns end up drafting, it probably is.
• Speaking of the NCAA tournament, it’s likely to determine much of the order for the coming draft, an NBA scout told FOX Sports Ohio. “The regular season didn’t produce one guy that you absolutely must have,” the scout said. “This could also be a year where a guy from a smaller school, like (Portland’s) Damian Lillard, gets selected in the lottery. It’s a very weak draft overall.”
• In other sort-of tourney news, the NBA summer league will adopt a bracket-style format this year to crown a definitive champion. Before, the guys just sort of played. Now, the league will pay expenses for the team that wins the tourney.
• In other sort-of draft news, all you need to do is look at Oklahoma City to know it’s just as valuable being lucky as it is good when choosing players. The Thunder landed Kevin Durant at No. 2 overall in 2007 – or one pick after Greg Oden. They also got James Harden (now with Houston) one pick after Memphis took Hasheem Thabeet, and Russell Westbrook after Miami and Minnesota selected O.J. Mayo (now with Dallas) and Michael Beasley (now with Suns), respectively.
• In free agency news, word is the Hawks’ first priority will be to keep unrestricted free agents Josh Smith and Kyle Korver during the off-season. If it proves too costly, the Hawks will shop one (or both) in a sign-and-trade.
• Meanwhile, the Jazz are expected to sign and keep either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap (both unrestricted), but not both. Like the Hawks, the Jazz are more likely to get involved in a sign-and-trade then just let either player walk away for nothing.