All season long, subsets of the Los Angeles Lakers fan base have been divided, a purple and gold civil war between those who identify as "Pro-tanking" and "Anti-tanking". Most of the arguments against tanking have run along the lines of "poisoning the organization with a losing culture" and "devaluing the Lakers brand to both fans and free agents alike".
To address the first argument, the establishment of a losing culture only really matters if the players that are a part of it are going to still be around. That does not apply to a Lakers team projected to turn over more than 50% of its current roster.
Julius Randle is spending the year rehabbing with the team's training staff, so the effect of all the losing on his on-court play should be minimal. Ryan Kelly is playing out of position, so it is hard to see him taking too much away from this lost season. Jordan Clarkson is getting minutes and seems to be growing at a more accelerated rate than most rookie second round picks. Robert Sacre is at best a fourth or fifth big on a playoff team. If Nick Young has developed losing habits, it happened in Washington and Philadelphia, not in Los Angeles. We may have to worry about that Kobe guy though, he seems like he might be the type to pick up some losing habits.
The second argument seems to be a facile one as well. Sure players want to join winning teams! But it is hard to see how the Lakers going, say 28-54 versus 19-63 with a bunch of guys who are leaving either way is going to make them a more appealing destination. What that argument is really positing is this: having 19 wins and a top five pick is less appealing to free agents than 28 wins and a participation medal with a wink and a promise they will try to improve next year.
Players are not stupid, the ones who want to win care more about what you can do moving forward than what you have done in the past. The Cavs were a dumpster fire of Comic Sans-spewing, Andrew Bynum-signing dysfunction the entire time LeBron was gone, but homecoming narrative aside, he left the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions to go to a team bad enough to win the lottery 3 out of 4 years. If that example isn't enough to put a final nail in the coffin of the "are assets more appealing than a winning team" argument I do not think you are really listening.
Finally, the Lakers knocking this season's draft and trade deadline out of the park are a necessity because of how few rebuilding assets the Lakers have moving forward, other than their copious projected amounts of cap space. That cap space will only matter, however, if players want to sign in L.A., and that is why the upcoming draft is so important.
If the Lakers keep their own pick, their roster looks much better than if they do not (duh). A top five prospect, plus the Rockets' middling first rounder, and hopefully healthy versions of Bryant and Randle with room to add more players in 2016 can be sold pretty easily to free agents. Without that top five pick, and coming off the worst two-season stretch in franchise history, all the Tobey Maguire-narrated recruiting films in the world will not be able to save the Lakers' sales pitch.
Some, including Jeanie Buss, have argued that it is not such a big deal to keep this year's pick, as if it is conveyed to Phoenix then the Lakers control their 2016 pick. Unfortunately, what that argument glosses over is that such a draft pick will likely fall much lower in the first round because one would have to think next year's Lakers will be at least a little better than this current bottom-dwelling bunch.
After next year, the Lakers' chest of future assets is even more empty. Basically, Lakers fans should get used to the idea of not seeing any Lakers in the Rising Stars game, like this past weekend, for a while.
According to Real GM, the Lakers not only owe a first round pick to Phoenix as the last remnant of the Steve Nash trade, but they also owe Orlando for Dwight Howard, the complicated protections are as follows:
If at least two years after the L.A. Lakers conveyed a 1st round pick to Phoenix, then the L.A. Lakers' 1st round pick to Orlando protected for selections 1-5 in 2017 and 1-5 in 2018 and unprotected in 2019; if the L.A. Lakers have not conveyed a 1st round pick to Phoenix by 2017, then the L.A. Lakers will instead convey their 2017 2nd round pick and 2018 2nd round pick to Orlando.
TL;DR, the Lakers will give a first round pick to the Magic after their obligation to the Suns is met, and it will be a first round pick unless the Lakers are bad enough to hold onto their first rounder for the next 3 drafts. Barring an unforeseeable amount of injury misfortune, the Lakers will give Orlando a first round pick.
This leaves the Lakers without many future avenues to secure young talent, and thus why they:
a) need to be as bad as possible this year to keep their first round pick and
b) need to look into other ways to grab some draft picks.
Trade Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin for any draft picks teams will give you. Buy out Carlos Boozer and cut Steve Nash to give their roster spots to D-League players that have at least a small chance of sticking around for future playoff teams. All of the reasons listed above are why "Lakers Twitter" has been harping on those being necessary moves basically since October. This team is horrific, and a few more wins have a much better chance of crippling the franchise going forward than they do of helping it.
For all the criticism of Kobe's contract, Jim Buss in general, and the failed Nash and Howard trades, the Lakers can still put themselves in a great position moving forward into 2015-16 and beyond. They just need to make the right moves over the next few weeks. No pressure guys.