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Friday, December 20th, 2013 at 11:35 am  |  9 responses

Throw in The Towel

Tanking could be the Lakers’ best bet.

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by Daniel Buerge / @danielbuergeLA

There’s no mincing opinions anymore; it’s time to tank in Lakerland. It’s one of those, ‘Boy I hate being right all the time’ moments, but in this case it’s true. I’ve argued for months that the best course of action for Los Angeles this season is to lose and to do it often, and now that case is even more accurate than before.

The loss of Kobe Bryant for (at least) six more weeks should seal the deal. It’s time to throw in the towel. Bryant’s not sniffing the hardwood again until February, and even that will be a long shot. All of a sudden he’s trying to overcome a broken leg and an Achilles tear? Even for Kobe, that’s a tall order.

So as the rain fell in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon, the eye of the storm was over the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. The news of Kobe’s injury was coupled with that of Nash’s ongoing issues, which will keep him out for a minimum another month. I’ve said before I think Nash’s career is over, and setback after setback is (unfortunately) trying to prove me right once more.

Of course now the question becomes, where do the Lakers go from here? Well, if they’re concerned about their success in the future, they might want to set their sites on that NBA Draft lottery.

This will be a special Draft for several different reasons. The obvious talent in it is unquestioned. Names like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins draw all the attention, but even names like Julius Randle (UK), James Young (UK) or Zach LaVine (UCLA) are littered throughout the lottery. It doesn’t take Powerball magic to have a successful Draft in 2014. There are strong, potential cornerstone pieces littered throughout the first round.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Obtaining one of those picks is the tough part. Especially for the Lakers. Let’s explain why.

Even without Kobe or Nash, the Lakers are probably sitting around 40-ish wins at the end of the season, give or take a couple of games. As of now, that would leave them out of the Western Conference playoffs, and offer them a direct ticket to the lottery. From there, you’re looking at a top-14 pick, with the opportunity to strike it rich and get in the top 10, and maybe even the top five. Sure, it’s a long-shot, but it’s still possible.

But if the team makes the Playoffs, even as an 8-seed, they run into a problem. Even if the Lakers finish ninth in the conference and are handed the 14th pick, the absolute lowest a lottery team can receive, they’re in much better shape than if they finish eighth.

Why?

The Eastern Conference is terrible. And that’s putting it lightly. How terrible are they? If the Lakers were in the Atlantic Division right now, they would be in first place. Seriously. This means there are a lot of Eastern Conference teams with sub-.500 records that are going to be participating in playoff basketball next April. In fact, you’re looking at possibly three or four teams with .500 records or below in the postseason.

How does this impact the Lakers? Because if the Lakers make the Playoffs they’re suddenly seeded lower than all those Eastern Conference playoff teams purely because they reached the postseason. So they’re not going to fall from the 14th pick to the 15th, they’re likely looking at the 18th, 19th or even 20th pick in the Draft. And let’s say the Lakers turn it on at the end of the season like they did last year, and beyond all odds get themselves up to the seventh or sixth seed (which is possible considering how tight the standings are), then you’re looking at a pick in the mid-20s.

In a deep Draft you can find a franchise player with the 13th pick. Just ask Kobe Bryant. You’re not finding the future of the franchise, a player that will lead you to championship glory, with the 20th pick in the Draft. It’s just not going to happen.

Now the question remains, why is this year so crucial? Is it purely the level of talent in the draft that makes this the most plausible (and rational) option? Unfortunately, not.

The Lakers didn’t have a first-round pick last season. They don’t have a first-round pick in 2015 (PHX), and they don’t have a first-round pick in 2017 (ORL). This doesn’t exactly leave them with a lot of rebuilding-through-the-Draft moments for the next few seasons, increasing the importance of their 2014 selection.

Of course, with the Lakers, there’s always the possibility that some high-priced free-agent falls into their laps, but the way the League is changing with stricter penalties for luxury tax violations and a lack of franchise-changing talent looking to head to Tinseltown, the Draft might be the team’s best bet.

I’ve taken quite the verbal beating from Laker fans, who don’t think that losing is acceptable no matter the circumstances. But, thinking with the brain rather than the heart, is losing actually failing this season for the Lakers? It doesn’t seem like it.

The simple fact remains, what do you want more? A top draft pick with the chance to begin construction of a contending team in the future, or to watch the battered, bruised and broken Lakers lose four playoff games and limp to a late first-round pick?

It’s not a hard decision to make.

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  • Jake

    You’re right. It hurts, but you’re right. They honestly should just try and get Nash/Kobe healthy for next season and make one strong push for a championship run before Kobe retires. If he can get healthy enough to average 22,5,5, for 2-3 more years, they could see themselves back in the finals. Or, they can get a 7 seed this year, get jumped in the first round, get a bad draft pick, sign no free agents and be right back where they are now.

  • Drig

    It kills me to say this but the Lakers best interests would be in trading Pau and Lakers draft pick for one of the top 5 picks in a 3 team deal.

    This sucks. Totally sucks.

  • i_ball

    Nash is just gettin them checks from now on. He is done. Next season he will be 40. No way you can reach the Finals with a 40 year old point guard who was never good at defense

  • Albert L.

    When you mean tank, do you just mean not make the playoffs regardless of record? Or there’s a certain ranking of bad records with other teams?

  • http://www.offthebackboard.wordpress.com/ Off The Backboard

    Well, mistake #1 was signing Kobe to a 48 million dollar extension before he played a single game. OK, loyalty is good, but this was just a stupid business decision. Give him 12 million, hell, 14 million….but 24 million with no negotiation? At least wait 5-10 games Jim Buss!

    I agree that they need to tank. This roster has a crappy coach, a bunch of fringe players, and a core that’s so old that they can’t even really play together. The key to tanking is to convince Kobe to sit the season out, which is what is actually best for him (so he can fully recover and strength train).

    I don’t agree with the whole “trade Pau” approach though, simply because, in order to get value for him, they need to take on multiple contracts, which won’t make sense. Ride him out (the Lakers are worse with him on the floor) and then use his cap space for the best available piece next year.

    The Lakers have been a disaster since that Chris Paul veto.

  • AddingVelocityDontTellMe

    The lakers are in an unfortunate era. Usually lakers dynasties revolve around a dominant big man and a good guard.

    There are a lot of Good guards in this upcoming draft, but no dominant big who is capable of immediate impact.

    The lakers are stuck in no mans land

  • Ugh

    Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks?

  • Ugh

    Good in theory.

    But you’re not going to find a franchise player again at 13, either. Historically it just doesn’t happen. Kobe was an oddity caused by the uncertainty of going with a high schooler (see also Shawn Kemp at #17). The only other championship winning franchise player taken out of the top 10 since 1970 was Dr J, and he got his rings in the ABA. His NBA ring came with him as the #2 player behind MVP Moses Malone (akin to Wade getting his 2nd and 3rd ring behind LeBron).

    Sure, you can get a non-championship franchise player outside the top ten, and you can argue only fate stopped Karl Malone (13th) and Stockton (15th) from getting there. Likewise Reggie Miller (11) or Steve Nash (15th) and Kemp. But they didn’t actually get there, no matter what arguments you make for them not winning the ring.

    You can get Tony Parker at 27 or Rajon Rondo at 21, but you can’t seriously argue those guys would have been the players they were if they didn’t have HoFers around them. Same goes for Dennis Rodman taken at 35 or Manu at 57. And this is actually an argument for LA not tanking. Stay the course, draft wisely, groom an unheralded pick by putting them in a line-up with Kobe and Pau and watch them bloom into a Parker or Rondo kind of player. Fantastic, right?

    Truth is you’re as likely to get a John Stockton at 15 as you will a Tony Parker at 27, or a Roy Hibbert at 17 as Dennis Rodman at 35 or a Manu Ginobili at 57.

    You’ll keep sponsors more interested if you win 45 games than at 30. So unless LA intends to lose every single game from now until April, they have no reason to tank.

  • Nick Holden

    Kidd was pretty stellar defensively though

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