The Lakers came away with a 108-103 win over the Grizzlies on Sunday, mainly because Marc Gasol and Vince Carter (among others) were sidelined for Memphis due to injuries or a need for rest. The victory pulled L.A. into a tie with Phoenix for the second-worst record in the league, which could ultimately be disastrous for the team’s chances of hanging onto its 2017 first-round pick.
If the Lakers don’t land one of the top three picks in this summer’s NBA Draft, it goes to the Sixers. L.A. initially traded it to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash deal in 2012, and the Suns later sent it to Philly as part of a three-team trade with the Bucks that netted them Brandon Knight. The pick is top-three protected this year, and should the Lakers manage to keep it, their first-round pick in 2018 will then be sent to the Sixers.
The NBA determines the draft order through the use of a lottery system. The teams with the worst records in the league have the highest odds of landing those top three picks, and there’s a significant difference in those odds depending on exactly where a team finishes.
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Coming into Sunday, the Lakers were in sole possession of the league’s second-worst record, which meant that they had a 55.83 percent chance of landing a top-three pick. They had one fewer win than the Suns, so if they lost every game remaining in the season, they’d have finished in this second-worst spot.
But now, there’s a chance they finish with the league’s third-worst record instead, which would drop their odds of holding onto this year’s pick to just 46.93 percent.
The Lakers are already tanking, at least as much as can reasonably be expected. They traded their leading scorer (Lou Williams) to the Rockets at the deadline, and have shut down veteran players for the remainder of the season. The young guys in the lineup don’t play at anything less than 100 percent, however, and coaches aren’t going to actively attempt to lose close games down the stretch.
But the reality that winning could cost the team its draft pick remains, as unfortunate as that may seem.