Showtime: 5:00pm PT
Plot: For nearly a year now, ever since Dwight Howard fled for fewer years and less money to the Houston Rockets, the Lakers fan base has collectively implored for the team to intentionally lose. It's been a strange experience for a franchise that's seldom had the word "lottery" in their vocabulary, let alone considered actually putting that concept into practical application.
But after a miserable 27-55 season that left me with far more data on Wesley Johnson than I could ever have anticipated, the moment is finally here: the NBA Draft lottery.
For the uninitiated, years ago former Commissioner David Stern implemented a lottery system to discourage intentional losing by teams to improve their draft position. In this weighted drawing, franchises would have their selections determined by a series of ping pong ball drawings. The team with the worst record would have the most little plastic orbs in the cycle, the second worst record with the second most and so on and so on.
This system, by the looks of things, has been just short of a failure.
Teams are still badly trying to lose, as exhibited by the shameful tanking performances of the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. While the system has dampened the race for the worst record to a certain extent (I'm sure teams would overtly attempt to lose at an even greater clip without the lottery), there is no doubt that the NBA still rewards teams for losing.
More on the draft
Finding gems outside of the top-four
Lakers fans everywhere: settle down. Historical precedence shows us that there are franchise players to be outside the upper crust of the NBA Draft lottery.
More on the draft
And hopefully for the LA Lakers and their fans, the reward is as good as the team was bad last season.
The Lakers are rolling into the 2014 NBA Draft (taking place on June 26th in Brooklyn, NY) with their first lottery pick since 2005, when they selected All-Star center and now murderer of Indiana Pacers basketball Andrew Bynum with the 10th overall selection. The 2004-2005 Lakers, led by a few guys named Jumaine, Smush and Kwame, stumbled into a 34-48 record, like a drunken freshman finding himself in a bush at three in the morning (...I've heard). They were rewarded with a player who, regardless of the likely final outcome of his career (a chemistry killing, perennially injured journeyman), was a key piece on two championship teams and an All-NBA-caliber talent.
As for the 2014 Draft, the Lakers are currently slotted with the sixth worst record in the NBA, meaning they'll most likely nab the sixth selection. However, due to the weighted nature of the lottery, the team still has a shot at the number one overall selection, but could conversely fall all the way to number nine on the Draft board. Let's take a look at the numbers, all courtesy of the fine folks at Lakers.com:
The NBA Draft standings, pre-lottery (percentage chance of getting first overall selection):
1. Milwaukee Bucks: 15-67 (25%)
2. Philadelphia 76ers: 19-63 (19.9%)
3. Orlando Magic: 23-59 (15.6%)
4. Utah Jazz: 25-57 (11.9%)
5. Boston Celtics: 25-57 (8.8%)
6. Lakers: 27-55 (6.3%)
7. Sacramento Kings: 28-54 (4.3%)
8. Detroit Pistons: 29-53 (2.8%)
9. Cleveland Cavaliers: 33-49 (1.7%)
Lakers potential Draft Position (percentage chance of getting that pick)
By the numbers:
- The Lakers have a 21.5% chance to move into one of the first three selections
- The team is most likely to stay at the 6th spot, with nearly a 44% shot of doing so
- They're almost as likely to call to 7th, with just over 30%
- There is even less of a chance that the team moves to 8th or 9th than grabbing the 1st overall pick
The most obvious takeaway here is that the team is a longshot to grab the 1st overall selection and more likely to slide down a slot than to catapult themselves into the top three. If we're going by the numbers, the Lakers are probably going to have either the sixth or seventh selection, which isn't the most ideal scenario, but not the worst either (we'll get to that in a minute).
There is some historical precedence for massive jumps in lottery standings--the Chicago Bulls did it just four years ago, when with a 33-49 record, they catapulted all the way from nine to the number one spot. Their bounty? NBA MVP Derrick Rose. In fact, the team with the worst record rarely actually gets the first overall pick--the last time that happened was with the Orland Magic in 2004, when they selected Dwight Howard.
We'll certainly go over this in greater detail as the Draft inches closer, but the difference in picks 1-4 varies fairly significantly than picks 5-8. The draft's top three players--a consensus collection of youngsters including (in no particular order) Kansas center Joel Embiid, Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins and Duke forward Jabari Parker--are all projected to be multi-time All-Stars, if not potentially franchise changing players. The next three or four could reach that lofty status, albeit with much more risk attached to all of their names: mysterious Australian point guard Dante Exum, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Kentucky big man Julius Randle and explosive Arizona forward Aaron Gordon. The Lakers are currently looking like they'll be selecting from that second batch of names rather than the first, but that's exactly why this draft lottery is so crucial. The team's last number one overall pick, 1988 Finals MVP and Hall of Famer James Worthy, will be presiding over the purple and gold deus in New York on Tuesday night, hoping to bring the same luck to the drawing as was there nearly three decades ago.
In case you're a little late to the game, I wouldn't go so far as to say the Lakers are absolutely screwed for the next four or five seasons, but I would say that it'd take a fair bit of luck for them to dig themselves out of the hole they're in. In order to compete for a championship within the next several years, they'd have to strike big in free agency (with massive cap space corresponding with elite players actually getting to the end of their contracts) and either select a gem with the sixth pick or be the recipient of a fortuitous bounce of a ping pong ball. With the team's lottery pick next season likely belonging to the Phoenix Suns, this draft gains even more importance to the organization than it already has.
The first step to the next Lakers dynasty starts with the NBA Draft lottery. This day, even though its outcome is beholden to nothing but sheer luck, is just as important to the franchise as any singular moment in any offseason in the history of the franchise.
Cross your fingers, kids. Tuesday is a big, big day.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino