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Tank Watch: The Lakers are barely hanging on to the second-worst record in the NBA

Tanking sucks, but someone has to do it.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been about a month since we last checked in on the Los Angeles Lakers’ tanking efforts, and things have gotten considerably more precarious for the team since then.

The Lakers (21-52) are now just half a game “ahead” of the Phonix Suns (22-52) for the second-best odds to keep their first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, a pick which will convey to the Philadelphia 76ers if it falls outside of the top-three selections.

The second-worst record in the league would give Los Angeles a 55.7 percent chance to keep their pick, while a third-worst finish would drop those chances to 46.8 percent. If the Lakers lose their pick to Philadelphia this year, they also lose their 2019 first-rounder to the Orlando Magic.

Are you tired of having to care about odds like that? I know I am. So is Tom Ziller of SB Nation, who made a solid argument against the existence of the NBA Draft on Sunday.

A post-draft world seems highly unlikely for a lot of reasons (which Ziller admits), but under a plan like his Los Angeles would seem to have an advantage.

If the best young players were given a choice of places to spend the first few years of their career, wouldn’t it stand to reason they would be as likely to choose to live in Los Angeles as anywhere, provided the organization begins to show some competency under its new front office regime? That’s a big if, but the answer would seem to be yes, based on the behind the scenes jostling from players to get to L.A. over the last few drafts.

Rather than force fans to root against their team as they enter the stretch run if they want any chance to get the best young players to build around, Ziller’s plan would reward teams whose young players (or any players) showed promise and looked like solid teammates the most talented first-year players would want to grow alongside as they chose their first destination.

Doesn’t that sound like a way more fun viewer experience than rooting for a team’s young players to play well but still lose? I would think so.

However, that glorious post-draft world seems highly unlikely to comes about any time soon. Until then, we tank. A quick reminder of the categories:

Tank Play of the Month- Which single moment aided the Lakers’ tanking efforts more than any other?

Tank Commander - Who would team tank struggle to replace the most?

Anti-Tank Mine - At what point did the tank look most vulnerable?

Tank Reinforcements - Who aided the Lakers’ tank the most from afar?

Top Five Today - A quick glance at the other teams currently vying for lottery position.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the full state of the tank.

Tank Play of the Month- Too many to choose just one:

I’ve made the argument time and time again that when we talk about tanking, we’re referring to an organizational philosophy rather than players intentionally trying to lose so their team can acquire players to theoretically take their jobs.

I still believe that, but boy oh boy have the Lakers done their best to prove me wrong over the past month. The Lakers have had plenty of the types of gaffes one would expect from a bad team, but stuff like this are pure “Shaqtin a Fool” material, making it more perfect Shaq was calling this game:

Despite Brewer’s best efforts, somehow that still wasn’t even the worst turnover the Lakers had in March. That honor goes to none other than D’Angelo Russell:

Bonus tanking points go to Russell for his gaffe coming in a must-tank game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Somebody is ready to play with Lonzo Ball next season.

Tank Commander - Corey Brewer:

Speaking of Brewer, his “heroics” (or villainy, for those of you on team tank) against the Minnesota Timberwolves aside, the veteran has been mostly sub-par since being acquired by the Lakers midway through his 10th NBA season, and so have the lineups he’s played in.

Brewer has scored 5.2 points per game while shooting just 21.4 percent from 3-point range in March, and the Lakers have been outscored by 20.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this month. He was forced into the starting lineup Sunday due to Ingram’s injury, and if the Lakers want to continue to do their best to keep their draft odds up, they should continue to play Brewer more.

Anti-Tank Mine - The Phoenix Suns benching Eric Bledsoe:

The Lakers were beginning to seem like a lock for the second-worst record, but the Suns shutting down their starting point guard and most consistent performer was the most tank-friendly move they could’ve made this side of hiring Byron Scott.

The Suns are winless in seven games since benching Bledsoe, and the team has been outscored by 12.9 points per 100 possession over that period.

How bad are the Suns without Bledsoe? Perhaps the most illustrative stat is that they lost by double-digits in Boston despite Devin Booker scoring 70 points. Did he get some of that 70 while the game was well out of hand? Sure, but still, HE SCORED 70 POINTS IN A LOSS. THE SUNS TANK IS UNSTOPPABLE.

Tank Reinforcements - The Nets (maybe):

Let’s start with this caveat: It’s almost definitely too late for the Lakers to catch the Nets in the lottery race. They trail by five games with nine games left to play, and given that the Nets have 16 wins all year, that’s almost assuredly too big of a hill to climb.

HOWEVER, a recent 4-6 stretch by the Nets was a tantalizing tease for Lakers fans hoping against hope that the purple and gold could throw enough bad passes to pass Brooklyn.

The Nets face two games against playoff teams and one against the Detroit Pistons down the stretch, but otherwise are slated for a stretch with some winnable games and no incentive to tank (with their draft pick bound for the Boston Celtics no matter what).

It’s still probably too late, but with no other team outside of the Suns really in range to catch the Lakers for the second-worst record, this is the pipe dream Lakers fans can pray for as the season winds to a close.

Top Five Today - Phoenix is getting so, so close:

Weekly Lottery Sim- I swear this was the first try:

Never mind, forget everything I wrote above. The lottery works. Let’s keep it!

All stats per and Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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