Win 25 games, fans enter hysteria. Win the 26th, teams gets scorned.
The Los Angeles Lakers supplied fans with the ultimate “are you kidding me” moment on Monday evening, as they shoved the Utah Jazz further to the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a 119-104 victory.
Within the nuances of reaction, there was the gleeful feeling of Nick Young’s second 40+ point game of the season, in which he shot 61 percent from the field and hit six 3-pointers. Jordan Farmar‘s wicked crossover to remind Trey Burke he’s still a rookie also falls into that category.
Nonetheless, the anger and disappointment resulting from a 15-point victory became the giddy part of the night. Utah (24-57) now has completed the infamous task of clinching the Western Conference’s worst record, with one game to go (at Minnesota). The Lakers (26-55) on the other hand, have to travel to San Antonio to match up against Popovich’s second unit as the Spurs rest for the postseason.
Why does that matter?
By dropping into the league’s sixth worst record, that also places Los Angeles in sixth position in the draft lottery. For the sake of simplicity and to better understand the situation for May’s lottery, here’s exactly what it means for the franchise desperately wanting superstar youth to succeed Kobe Bryant, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:
If the Lakers finish in sixth position in terms of worst records, they’ll have a 6.3 percent chance at grabbing the No. 1 pick for 2014’s Draft. For the No. 2 pick, they see a 7.1 percent chance, and then 8.1 percent odds for the No. 3. That’s a whopping 21.5 percent opportunity to land a 1-3 draft pick, in a year that any non-playoff team would give an arm and leg for an Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker (potentially), or Joel Embiid.
Assuming the same lottery position holds up after Wednesday’s season finale, Los Angeles would be set with a 4.1 percent chance of sliding down to the 8th or 9th pick placement in June’s draft. The math doesn’t take a genius to calculate, as it leaves a 74.4 percent chance for the Lakers to land the 6th or 7th pick.
One thing that’s important to understand is that the lottery works in mysterious ways. If Los Angeles remains in sixth position, they will have no shot at grabbing the 4th or 5th pick. It’s an odd process that’s impossible for casual fans to grasp the first time, and we probably can all concur that the lottery is a flawed system.
In reality, perhaps the order of selections should be determined in the opposite manner. Tell me: Why do the Phoenix Suns deserve to have their original 2014 pick near 14th on the lottery board, when they fought tooth and nail to reach the league’s prized destination? With a lack of marquee assets and ability to turn “nobodies” (Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee) into effectual role players behind Goran Dragic, Phoenix deserves a better chance to improve their team.
The Lakers, finishing near the bottom when everyone believed they’d be double digit wins over the Suns, should have been awarded this opportunity only for trying during the season, not tanking. It’s exactly what they did, as it’s difficult to compile a winning streak when a player is leaving the rotation with injury every week. Make that two or three players. Phoenix, given the expectations during the preseason, left the Western Conference in shock before being eliminated from the playoffs, and basically have nothing to show for it.
Los Angeles’ situation is simple. Sixth is right where they should be in terms of worst records, and those who don’t understand the team’s history should know this is unprecedented. Since the Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, the worst winning percentage was recorded in 1974-75 at .366 (30-52).
Nick Young is swaggy, and swag must be the key to breaking records. The 2013-14 Lakers can now move into that part of the history book, as one more win would give them a winning percentage of .329, while another loss would place them at .317.
At the heart of the discussion flowing through Lakers fans on Monday, should be the notion that it’s not the player’s or coach’s responsibility to know every single detail of the lottery implications while going through the grind of traveling, practicing, and trying to give fans their money’s worth for using their hard-earned paychecks to watch substandard basketball. The Lakers should’ve traveled to Utah, played the normal rotation, and tried to light up Salt Lake City. They did, and we should have no problem with it.
It’s time to get “tanking” out of the basketball universe, and further improve the intensity of the regular season. By doing so, a system that grants the teams on the edge of playoff contention with the No. 1 pick and so forth, would give the league a spice it may need. Today, the NBA is in better position as a global sport than it ever has been, but don’t tell me it wouldn’t soar through the roof if these bottom feeders took the league by storm and had incentive to reach 9th or 10th in the conference. Give hard-working teams guaranteed position atop the lottery, and force the culture of winning inside these organizations we often label as “tankers.”
The Lakers will be content in the following seasons, because it’s who they are. Re-signing Mitch Kupchak as General Manager (although it’s hard to see how he has any power next to Jim Buss) ensures that, wherever the ping pong balls place Los Angeles next month, they’ll have a promising figure working behind the scenes.
It’s completely understandable for fans to get bent out of shape with the Lakers grabbing their 26th win, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over. You fight for wins for nearly six full months of the year, and I believe that’s what the term “professional” entails. Like Indianapolis’ own Jay Graves would say ….. “stop me when I start lyin’.”
Swaggy P’s “player haters ball” was the correct mentality since the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs on March 15. Wins should carry more weight around the league, despite the talent currently on hand, or the talent awaiting in the draft pools.
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter. You can contact Shane via email: [email protected]