- Jim Mone/AP
The Los Angeles Lakers are pulling the most obvious tank job in the league to try to save, not just one, but two future first-round draft picks.
The Lakers’ 2017 first-round pick is top-three protected, and if they fall out of the top three in the draft, they’ll lose it to the Philadelphia 76ers. And if they lose their 2017 pick, they also lose their 2019 first-round pick to the Magic, due to a complex scenario set up by the Steve Nash and Dwight Howard trades.
In order to best secure these picks, the Lakers have to lose, and lose they have. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are 4-16, shutting down veterans such as Timofey Mozgov, Nick Young, and Luol Deng while trading away Lou Williams and buying out Jose Calderon to try and decrease their chances of winning.
But sometimes, as fate may have it, a loss isn’t in the cards. This is what happened to the Lakers on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs when they tried desperately to lose and still couldn’t do so.
To begin the game, head coach Luke Walton also sat a healthy D’Angelo Russell, lessening the team’s chances of winning even further. But the Lakers opened up a 41-14 lead in the second quarter, and Walton got desperate.
Walton then benched rookie Brandon Ingram, last year’s No. 2 pick, who had eight points, two rebounds, and three assists in the first half, after halftime.
When the Lakers still led 76-70 going into the fourth quarter, Walton went further. He then benched Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr., removing 80% of his starting lineup, and played a fourth-quarter rotation consisting of household names such as Tyler Ennis, Tariq Black, David Nwaba, Corey Brewer, Thomas Robinson, and Metta World Peace.
The Lakers outscored the Spurs 26-25 in the final frame and held on for the win, their second in a row.
According to SB Nation’s Tom Ziller, the Lakers will have a 55% chance of retaining their pick if they have the second-worst record, a 47% chance if they have the third-worst record, and a 51% chance if they tie the Phoenix Suns for the second-worst record. With the Suns losing to the Warriors on Wednesday, the Lakers lottery standing took a small blow.
There are still four games left for the Lakers, and every loss counts! If such blatant tanking moves didn’t work against the Spurs, it will be fascinating to see what the Lakers devise over the final four games.