(Jae C. Hong/AP)
Though tanking is often frowned upon in the NBA, there's little doubt that it's the smart move for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
The Lakers have made no secret of their desire to lose as many games as possible down the stretch of the regular season. The Lakers, due to the disastrous Steve Nash trade, lose this year's first-round pick if it falls outside of the top three in the lottery. That's left them with little choice but to lose tons of games to increase their odds of keeping their first-round pick.
Which makes Sunday's win over a relatively healthy Memphis Grizzlies team all the more costly.
The 108-103 win over the Grizzlies (who rested Marc Gasol and Vince Carter) was just the Lakers' third win in their last 21 games. As a result, the NBA's most transparent tank job is now at risk, according to the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps.
The Lakers are now a half-game ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the standings, who have the league's second-worst record. According to SB Nation's Tom Ziller, unless the Suns win more games than the Lakers in the final 10 days of the regular season, the Lakers' odds of keeping their pick goes from 55% to either 45% or 50%. Though it seems like a small drop, it matters.
There are further implications, too. Shortly after the Steve Nash trade, the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and also sent a future draft pick to the Orlando Magic. Sporting News' Danny Leroux lays out the complex pick-swapping formula that could cost the Lakers two first-round picks.
"We are now in the final season of this being a protected pick, but there is an additional impact since it has taken so long. This choice went to Phoenix for Steve Nash, and the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard less than a month later but could not move another first-rounder until that obligation resolved. As it turns out, that means if the Lakers retain this selection for another year, they do not have to send a first to Orlando and instead give the Magic their 2017 and 2018 second-round choices. If the Lakers lose their pick this season, they must send their 2019 first-rounder to Orlando unprotected."
So, the Lakers' 2017 and 2019 first-round picks are at stake here. For a team with no sure-fire young stars (D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram have all shown promise, but not consistently), keeping first-round picks is a must. Though Los Angeles is always mentioned as a free-agent destination, they haven't landed any big-name free agents in years. A lack of obvious future stars makes that even harder.
Though players themselves never want to lose games, over the final five games of the season, expect the Lakers to do everything they can to avoid winning any more games.
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