The Los Angeles Lakers don't like to tank, yet they are on the cusp of having to give up a great prospect to the Phoenix Suns unless they embrace the tank. Will they do it?
The Los Angeles Lakers owe the Phoenix Suns a first round draft pick from the ill-fated acquisition of Steve Nash in 2012. The trade has already netted 20-year old Archie Goodwin and a couple of second round picks, but the prize of the trade was a lightly protected first round pick beginning in 2015.
Reminder on Laker pick protections
- Protected Top 5 in 2015 (If the pick ends up 1-5 after lottery, Lakers keep; if the pick ends up 6-30, Lakers give to Suns)
- Protected Top 3 in 2016 and 2017
- Unprotected in 2018
The Lakers have gotten so bad that their 2015 pick just might end up in the Top 5, which would make the pick roll over to 2016 and give the Lakers another year to rebuild the team into a powerhouse.
However, after a quarter of the season is complete, it looks as if at least five teams are as bad or worse than the Lakers this year. Basketball-reference.com projects the Lakers to win 29 games, just the 6th-worst mark in the league. John Hollinger's playoff predictor also has the Lakers winning 29 games, tied with Utah for 6th-worst in the league.
As you will see below, as long as the Lakers don't finish in the worst-4, there's a quality chance the Suns will get their pick. Philadelphia, Minnesota and Detroit appear destined for the bottom three, while Utah is heading that direction (losers of 11 of last 12 games) and Charlotte and the Knicks appear on the verge of giving up on the season whether they want to or not. That's a lot of competition for worst.
Shooting for more
At some point in January, the bottom teams will embrace their suck if they haven't already (I'm looking at you, Philly) and begin to plan for the draft and the offseason while positioning their teams to trade players for future considerations.
The Lakers, though, don't appear to have tanking in their DNA.
"There's nothing that we will do," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said this week, "To try and influence where we are at the end of the season. Our coach and our players have been instructed to win as many games possible."
Kobe Bryant is at the head of that snake who refuses to die. He leads the league in scoring and has been lambasting his team's soft exterior in an effort to make them even more competitive. As long as he stays healthy all season, he will personally make the Lakers competitive. And the GM indicates they won't strip the talent from around him any more than they already have (so don't hold your breath on a Carlos Boozer trade!).
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Here's the ugly table of odds for the lottery teams.
If the Lakers finish with the 5th worst record, there is still a 44.8% chance they will drop to 6th, 7th or 8th, which will convey the pick to the Suns.
If the Lakers finish with the 6th worst record, there is a 78.5% chance the Suns get the pick (74.4% that it's 6th or 7th).
And if the Lakers finish with the 7th worst record, there is an 84.9% chance the Suns get the pick.
But don't hold your breath
Some of you will remember the spring of 2007 when the Suns appeared to be on top of the world. Not only did they have one of the best teams in the NBA, but the Suns also looked forward to a top draft pick as the final compensation for Joe Johnson.
The Suns were owed Atlanta's first round pick as long as Atlanta didn't win the lottery and jump into the top 3. Atlanta finished the season with 30 wins, the 4th worst in the league. The Suns had a 62.3% chance of getting the Hawks' pick. They were targeting Joakim Noah with that pick to put Noah next to Amare Stoudemire and potentially create a multi-year dynasty. I still daydream over those possibilities. There's not a better fit next to peak Amare than Noah, a perennial defensive player of the year candidate who also passes with the best of them.
Still here's a carrot
Who could the Suns get with the 6th, 7th or 8th pick in the draft? That's not my area of expertise, but here's a few mocks to whet yer whistle.
Our own Kellan Olson and Sean Sullivan plan to bring you regular updates beginning in January on the draft's best prospects in the 6-8 range as well as the Suns' own 13-14 range (sorry, Suns fans). Look forward to the #Top5Protected watch coming in 2015!